Monday, February 23, 2009
A Winning Fairy Tale Variation
I happened to read Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale with graphics by Nathan Hale, winner of the Cybil award for elementary/middle grade graphic novel, right after reading Shannon Hale's adult novel, Austenland. I was struck by how similar they were.
Okay, Austenland is a light romance about a twenty-first century woman off at a Jane Austen theme park to work out her Pride and Prejudice fantasy and Rapunzel's Revenge is a reworking of Rapunzel set in the American west of the late nineteenth century. But they're both feminist-tinged reworkings of what I think of as traditionally girly fairy tales/fantasies. One involves a woman meeting a man who is initially unpleasant but turns out to be a real catch and the other involves a woman being saved by a man who turns out to be a real catch. Hale gives these two stories a contemporary mid-section, but she doesn't change the fairy tale ending.
In the case of Rapunzel's Revenge, Rapunzel isn't a passive figure who is saved by a man as she is in the original fairy tale, at least as it's commonly known. She saves herself, she saves others, and she still gets a very positive ending. Actually, this scenario of a female overcoming adversity could almost be described as our new, twenty-first century fairy tale, especially when, as here, all comes out well in the end.
Rapunzel's Revenge has more going for it than just girl power because it plays with more than just the Rapunzel story. Jack and the Beanstalk and that golden egg laying goose tale I've never been a hundred percent clear about both enter the scene. We have the Old West equivalent of an evil witch here, one who uses spells to enslave others. I wondered if there were more fairy tale twists that I wasn't getting. For instance, Rapunzel saves a golden haired child who is kidnapped and keeps complaining about having to eat sticky gruel. Is she supposed to be Goldilocks?
It doesn't matter, though, because there is a basic story in Rapunzel's Revenge that readers can enjoy even if they've never even heard of Rapunzel, herself. And while I've dwelled on the female interest in the fairy tales Shannon Hale deals with, Rapunzel's Revenge is not just for girls. Rapunzel's male sidekick gives boys someone to identify with, too.
Rapunzel is a first-person narrator in this case, so when we see narrative boxes in this graphic novel, they are used for her to tell us things in her voice. Nonetheless, the story is still carried primarily by graphics and dialogue.
Rapunzel's Revenge is the kind of graphic novel I particularly like--a real, complete story.