The call for stories for the Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline anthology appeared at the same time as the quarter’s syllabus for Folk and Fairy Tale Traditions class. I’m pursuing a degree in Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute, which is nearly as fantastical a sentence to write as a fairy tale retelling might be. I hadn’t wanted to write Rapunzel, but I saw the image of her standing on a factory floor with her hair in a tight golden bun. I could see the love interest in my mind’s eye tell her that she needed to let her hair down. This was the first hint I had of the story that would become ‘Ramps and Rocket’.
Maiden in the ToweR
- Theft of greens from the witch’s garden, child promised to the witch in payment
- The child — named for the stolen greens — is locked in a tower, and isolated
- Long, golden hair is a ladder
- Prince climbs the tower
- The witch cuts the hair, blinds the prince, banishes the girl
- Girl wanders the desert, the prince wanders blind, eventually hears her voice and finds her
- The tears of the girl heal the prince’s blindness
Aside from setting and narrative frame, I left the initial transgression largely intact. The father in the story steals the rampion, and Gothel takes her payment in kind — a baby named Rampion.
Rapunzel is named after the German word for rampion, a European vegetable used in salads), and her name is the clue for understanding what happens. [….] [T]he sorceress gains the care of Rapunzel because her parents had, first transgressed into her forbidden domain and, second, agreed to hand Rapunzel over. So the sorceress wanted Rapunzel more than her parents did, or so it seems. (Bettelheim 148)
The factory itself was born of the dieselpunk theme of the anthology. The story needed to smell of exhaust fumes and leather belts, of fires and boilers and early versions of internal combustion engines. It needed to be dirty and productive, full of life amidst giant machines. I needed to invent some new machine to cement my story in this aesthetic of time and place.
It’s All About the Hair
Fairness was a guarantee of quality. It was the imaginary opposite of ‘foul,’ it connoted all that was pure, good, clean. Blondeness is less a descriptive term about hair pigmentation than a blazon in code, a piece of a value system that it is urgent to confront and analyse because its implications, in moral and social terms, are so dire and are still so unthinkingly embedded in the most ordinary, popular materials of the imagination. (Warner 364)
The concept of Rampion “letting down” her hair as a passport to her feelings, emotional release and possibly sex was not lost. Though the story never speaks of her isolation from the outside world or the world of sexual maturity, her blondeness implies it. “All though blondeness’s most enduring associations are with beauty, with love and nubility, with erotic attraction, with value and fertility,” writes Warner, “its luminosity made it also the traditional colour of virgins” (367). Gothel cuts Rampion’s long banner of golden hair as a punishment for her indiscretion. “Maidenhair can symbolize maidenhead – and its loss too, and the flux of sexual energy that this releases [….]” (Warner 374).
The name “Rocket” is chosen for the dual meaning. First is the object that blasts off into space — how she might blast off down the road on her motorbike. The second meaning of “rocket” is the British slang for the green that in the US is called arugula. Rampion and Rocket are both expensive salad greens. They are both women. It was important to me on an emotional and intuitive level that the characters were more alike than they were different.
Healing Emotions via the Body
In his introduction to The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim writes of a young boy who found Rapunzel comforting. “Rapunzel found the means of escaping her predicament in her own body — the tresses on which the prince climbed up to her room in the tower. That one’s body can provide a lifeline reassured him that, if necessary, he would similarly find in his own body the source of his security” (Bettelheim 17). I had not read Bettelheim’s analysis of the story until after I’d written my retelling, and I’m very glad for it. He would have spoiled the ending!
"The fantastic element is that which provides that final consolation: the power of the body is imaginatively exaggerated by the overlong tresses, on which one can climb up a tower, and by tears, which can restore sight. But what more reliable source of recovery do we have than our own body?" (Bettelheim 149)
Warner, Marina. From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers. New York: Noonday, 1994, Print