REVIEW: “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden” by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden”, in Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019): 17-48 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

As a child, I was always fascinated by the fairy tale “Rapunzel”, because it was the only story that I knew that involved cabbage, and I’d never heard of any cabbage with such an exotic name. For whatever reason — I couldn’t begin to speculate — this fairy tale has always been on the fringes of the canon, even after the advent of Disney’s “Tangled”. It’s just not one of the first ones that you think of, if you think of a classic fairy tale, and it’s certainly not one of the first ones you think if, if you want to rewrite a classic fairy tale.

At 31 pages, “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden” is the longest story in Townsend’s anthology. It starts long after the beginning, when Rapunzel is already grown, still trapped in the ruined tower a witch locked her in. The twist that Townsend gives the fact that the witch who locked her in the tower is in fact her true mother.

Perhaps one reason why “Rapunzel” is always on the fringes is because it is really dark, desperate story of manipulation, neglect, and abuse, both physical and emotional. All three of those threads come out in Townsend’s retelling, and Townsend depicts narcissistic control under the guise of love with fine crafting — the reader can see that Rapunzel truly believes her mother loves her and only acted in her best interests, and it’s horrifying. While Townsend builds a plot that is more than this, for much of the story it was hard to see past it. Only at the very end do we get a sense of freedom and escape, as Rapunzel finally makes it to the realm of her fore-mothers, the Night Maidens.

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