Thursday, 16 December 2010

Rapunzel's Revenge (2008)

Rapunzel's Revenge, a graphic novel by the team of Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale (no relation), is an exciting and inventive reimagining of the classic fairy tale set into a Wild West straight out of Garrett P. Serviss or Edward S. Ellis.

Like the original story, Rapunzel is a girl living in a gorgeous pleasure garden ruled by her mother, Gothel, and attended by an army of 19th century-style soldiers. It is also surrounded by a tremendously huge wall. As little Rapunzel ages, things click less and less about her situation and there is a nagging dream that keeps haunting her. One day she manages to lasso herself over the wall and what she sees shocks and appals her. As far as the eye can see, the Western landscape is marred by mines and factories attended by legions of slaves. One of those slaves happens to be the woman from her dreams... Her real mother.

As punishment, Rapunzel is placed in a massive tree, grown artificially huge by Gothel's growth magic and possessing a convenient living chamber at the top. Thanks to the growth magic, Rapunzel's hair also started to grow incredibly long. Long enough, in fact, to act as a lariat that helps her to escape. A prince does show up, in the form of a duded-up cattle baron who thinks he can take the princess in the tower for a quickie. Newly self-liberated Rapunzel sends him on his way none the wiser. She does hook up with a companion though, being a Native American con-artist named Jack who is carrying a goose and a lucky bean around with him. Together they discover that Gothel has been using her growth magic to oppress the countryside and set out for some vengeance.

One of the features I enjoyed the most about Rapunzel's Revenge is its honest feminism. Rapunzel is strong but not so much so as to appear artificial and overcompensating. She is still naive and needs to learn a thing or two even though she's wise enough to reject a sequined prince and powerful enough to bronc ride a sea serpent. Having the less than princely, and definitely not blonde-and-blue-eyed, Jack along to help her adjust adds further sincerity. It may have been an incidental move, since this story takes place in the Old West and we need "Indians" in it somewhere. How it manifests is a statement unto itself: Jack is no noble savage, but very urban, very ignoble.

Between Rapunzel's Revenge and it's prequel/sequel Calamity Jack, the Hales give an impressive clinic in updating fairy tales. I would even argue that this Rapunzel is superior to another recently filmed version, which tried a bit too hard to add a contrived strength to its lead while still weighting her down with naive dreaminess. Being for children, Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack are not exactly complicated texts, but they are smart ones with more convincing characters than one finds in the fairy tale tropes and the fairy tale anti-tropes.

Shannon Hale's official website has a page for Rapunzel's Revenge, with maps, insights into the creative process, and paper cut-out dolls. Check it out.

1 comment:

Okie said...

This book was a lot of fun. A cool new take on the story with some cool artwork. I haven't read the sequel yet but keep meaning to.

Thanks for a great review. :)