Friday, November 19, 2010


Next Wednesday, Disny’s newest animated fairy tale opens in theatres nationwide. Though it is called Tangled, it is based on this classic tale from the Brothers Grimm, though it has been given a decidely different slant. I just thought that I should bring out my version first, knowing full well that it will suffer by comparison.

No theme seems more prevalent in these tales than the suffering of beautiful women at the hands of jealous, ugly witches. This particular story, however, has an interesting twist, which was explored most expertly by James Lapine and songwriter Stephen Sondheim in their Tony-winning musical Into the Woods. Here the witch keeps Rapunzel not as a trophy, but as a daughter. She truly loves Rapunzel (or as close as she can come to love) and wishes to shield her from the outside world. But her love is selfish, and leads to her eventual destruction, as does all love which is anything less than pure and selfless.

And if you don’t believe that kind of love can exist, you are most definitely reading the wrong blog…heck, you’re probably reading the wrong author.

any, many years ago, back when you weren’t even born, a baker and his wife lived in a little house near the woods. They were not wealthy, but had everything they really needed. Indeed, the Baker’s Wife was expecting a child.

The funny thing about women when they’re in a family way, is that they tend to get unusual cravings. Some mothers-to-be like odd flavors of ice cream or bizarre food combinations like watermelon and chop suey (ew!). But the Baker’s Wife had a different sort of appetite. See, her bedroom window overlooked the most beautiful vegetable garden in the world. She told her husband that she absolutely needed a salad made from that lettuce.

The funny thing about men whose wives are in a family way, is that they tend to do all manner of stupid things to make their brides happy. Ordinarily, of course, the Baker would not dare fetch any vegetables from that garden, because that garden was kept by a wicked old witch with terrible dark powers. But, the flora of the Witch cast a strange spell on the wife, and she refused all food except the Witch’s Lettuce, so the Baker agreed.

That night, when the Witch was sure to be asleep, he climbed over the garden wall and started picking as many heads of lettuce as he could carry. And just when he had all he could carry and was on his way back over the wall he heard a voice from behind him cry out:

“Stop, thief!”

A bolt of power struck him and he fell from the wall. He looked up and saw the Witch standing over him! A horrible, ugly witch with a hump and a clawlike hand which clutched her magic staff.

“How dare you defile my garden!” cried the Witch. “I should turn you into…into…well, something pretty bad, I can tell you!”

“Please, Madame Witch,” pleaded the Baker. “Have mercy!” He had to say this a few times because the witch wasn’t really listening. She was trying to decide what to change him into.

“Mercy?” she said when she finally snapped out of it. “Why should I be merciful to a petty thief?”

“I’m not a thief, honestly. I only wanted your vegetables for my wife. She is with child and has an uncontrollable desire for greens! And, as everyone knows yours are the finest vegetables in all the kingdom…” This was a pretty lame attempt at sucking up and the witch knew it, but she did stay her hand.

The truth is that witches are not necessarily vindictive and merciless. And this one appreciated the Baker’s predicament. If his wife said she wanted the witch’s lettuce, what could a devoted husband do? And, after all, she had plenty of vegetables to spare…but, darn it, that lettuce was her favorite! And she couldn’t let him get away with it!

“All right,” she said when she had reached her decision. “You may take as much as you wish. But listen well! If you want something from me, I demand something from you!”

“But what could a humble Baker own that is of any value to a witch? We have nothing of any great worth!”

“Don’t you? Did you or did you not, just tell me that your wife was going to have a baby?”

In a fit of desperation, the deal was made. And soon thereafter, the Baker’s Wife gave birth to a beautiful daughter. They begged and pleaded, but the Witch would have none of it. A bargain had been made and the Witch intended the Baker to honor it. However, before she left with the child, she made the Baker and his Wife a promise: That she would protect the child from the evils of the world. And with that, the witch vanished into the night with her stolen daughter.

Seventeen years went by, and the little girl (whom the Witch had named “Rapunzel,” being another word for lettuce) had grown into a great beauty. Fair of skin, fair of voice, fair of manner, fair of eyes…and her hair…well, that was the most remarkable thing of all. She had never had it cut, so it grew down to her feet and well past. She had to be careful when she moved, for fear it would snag on something…

Not that she had that much room in which to move. For, you see, the Witch had been as good as her word to the Baker and his Wife, if not better. She had taken tremendous steps to protect Rapunzel from the outside world. She had even built a large tower in the middle of the forest and shut Rapnuzel inside. She was high above the ground and the tower had no doors, or stairs, and only one small window at the very top. The only way the Witch could get in or out was to climb Rapunzel’s hair like a rope! When she wanted to visit, she stood at the base of the tower and sang out:

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair
That I may climb the golden stair!

Every time she heard this, Rapunzel was to lower her hair for the Witch to climb up. Once inside, the Witch would bring food or drink, give Rapunzel lessons or simply talk pleasantly of this and that.

Poor Rapunzel. She longed to see the world with her own eyes. Meet people, have adventures…get a bloody haircut! But the Witch said no. There are dangerous things out in the world, and she would not let Rapunzel get herself into trouble. It looked as if no one would be able to free Rapunzel from her unfortunate predicament…

Nobody, that is, until one day, when Prince Roger was traveling through the forest with his right hand man, Count Basie (an unfortunate coincidence). Roger was an adventurer, and always eager to try new things. He saw the world as a challenge to be faced and fought. Count Basie, for his part, wished that his master would go a little easy sometimes, or at least stop forcing the Poor Count to go with him.

Today they were getting lost. Prince Roger would often get deliberately and hopelessly lost, just to see how fast he could find his way again. In this case, however, he was getting loster than he’d ever lost before. Deeper and deeper into the heart of the forest until, if he took one more step, he’d officially be moving out of the forest.

That sentence makes sense, just think about it for a minute.

“Congratulations,” said Count Basie, sarcastically. “You’ve gotten yourself hopelessly lost in uncharted forest to die miserabley of starvation and/or cold. What are you going to do next?”

“First I’m going to fire my sarcastic companion,” said the Prince. “Don’t worry, Count Basie, this is easy. We’ll be out of here in no time. Just listen for birdsong and that will tell us roughly where we are.”

The men listened, and they did hear a song. But it was not a bird’s song. No bird could sing this beautifully. Birds got into fights over who sounded more like this voice. It was a woman’s voice. The most beautiful voice Prince Roger had ever heard. Without waiting for the Count, he pulled his horse’s reins and sped through the woods after the voice.

It was then that he saw Rapunzel’s Tower. He saw the Witch approaching it and calling out:

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair
That I may climb the golden stair!

And within moments, a beuatiful rope of flaxon hair was lowered and the Witch climbed it and dissapeared within. But this was all Prince Roger needed to hear to know exactly what was happening. The girl, apparently called “Rapunzel” was being held prisoner in this tower by that horrible Witch. He could barely see her through her tiny window as she pulled up her hair, but what he saw was lovely and graceful. And she sang beautifully. This, he reasoned, was enough to rescue her by.

“We should return to the palace,” said Count Basie.

“Yes,” said Roger, not daring to take his eyes away fro Rapunzel. “But tomorrow I will return to this spot, and rescue Rapunzel before that horrible Witch returns.” He said this with great determination, then proceeded to navigate his way out of the woods in less than five minutes.

The next day, Rapunzel was reading a book when she heard a familiar phrase:

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair
That I may climb the golden stair!

Obediently, Rapunzel lowered her hair in the usual way. She started wrapping it around the bedpost about a foot and a half from her scalp and lowered the rest out the window so that the tugging wouldn’t hurt her (you’d be surprised how long it took her to figure that one out). She was shocked, however, when her visitor turned out to be not the Witch, but rather a handsome young man in expensive-looking clothes. Indeed, he looked every bit like a prince from a picture book…which, I guess, he is, in a sense.

“Who are you?” she said.

“My name is Prince Roger,” said the young man, bowing elegantly. “I assure you, I mean you no harm.”

“Why have you come here? How did you find me?”

The Prince explained briefly the events of the previous day and how he simply had to meet the woman who sang so beautifully. He asked Rapunzel how she came to be locked up in this tower, but when he described her captor as a terrible, evil witch, he was surprised when Rapunzel seemed offended.

“Don’t talk about my mother that way!”

“Your…your mother?” said the Prince, incredulously. So, Rapunzel told Roger the whole story. How the only family she ever knew was the Witch, and how in her attempts to take care of her, the old hag had locked her away from the world.

“I know she loves me,” said Rapunzel. “But I wish to see the world with my own eyes.”

“Let me help you,” said Prince Roger. “Let me take you away from all this. I can show you the world.”

“That would be wonderful,” said Rapunzel. “But there are a few problems.”

“Like what?”

“First of all, I barely know you! You cannot expect me to run off with some stranger.”

“A prince?”


“You are right. I will return tomorrow at this same time. And every day until you love me as much as I feel I love you.” With that he bowed again and descended Rapnuzel’s hair.

And, for the next month, every single day at the exact same time, the Prince returned to Rapunzel’s side. They talked on every subject, they played simple games, they fell deeper and deeper in love. Until at last the day came when Rapunzel lowered her eyes and said to her Prince:

“I love you. And I wish for you to take me away from this place.”

“I will. Tomorrow, when I come to see you, I will bring with me a rope ladder. I will climb your hair and we will tie it to the window. Then we will climb down together and take you far away from this terrible tower.” With a kiss, Prince Roger was gone, elated by his newfound love.

The next day, at the usual time, the Witch returned to the tower and called out:

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair
That I may climb the golden stair!

Rapunzel did as she was asked. Moments later, the Witch was in the tower, teaching Rapunzel to play the lute, for some reason. She was having a hard time paying attention, because, sure enough, her mind kept floating back to the handsome prince and his promise of freedom. But, glad though she was to be running away with him, she felt terrible betraying her mother after all these years. She knew she couldn’t just leave without talking to her.

“Mother,” said Rapunzel when she had summoned up all her courage. “You love me, don’t you?”

“My child, of course I love you.”

“Then why do you keep me locked up in this tower?”

“Rapunzel, my precious, it is precisely because I love you that I keep you in this tower. Have you any idea what the outside world is like? There are dangerous, treacherous things out there. Things that a child like yourself must be protected from.”

“I do not feel like a child anymore. I wish to see the world.”

“You may see what you want through your window. You may see the cruelty of men, the savagery of nature, the unfairness of life.”

“Yes, but I want to see them for myself. I want to see the good and the bad of life. I want my own experiences. I want freedom.”

Enough!” yelled the Witch. “You are mine! I will do with you as I wish. And I do not wish for you to see the world.”

“That is not for you to decide. I have made that decision for myself.”

“What do you mean?”

“I have had another visitor. A prince. He loves me, Mother. And I him. This evening he will come for me and set me free. Then I will never see you again as long as I live!”

“This is how you repay me? I have cared for you as my own all your life, and you dare speak to me in this way? I will teach you a lesson you will never forget!” And with that, the Witch took out a large, sharp knife and cut all of Rapunzel’s hair off. Then, using her magic, she took Rapunzel away from the tower and dragged her to a tiny cottage far, far from anywhere and locked her inside. Here Rapunzel wept, knowing that she might never see her beloved Prince again.

Meanwhile, the Prince was on his way back to the tower with the ladder he had promised to bring. Count Basie was along, too because, in those days, when a couple was eloping, the groom chose his best friend to help them make their getaway. He always chose his best, most reliable friend and this led to our modern tradition of having a “best man” at a wedding.

No, really. Look it up.

When he got to the tower, he stood at the base and sang out:

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair
That I may climb the golden stair!

In a moment, the long hair was lowered and the Prince climbed up. But when he got inside he saw not Rapunzel, but the Witch! She had taken all the hair that she had cut off and tied it to the bedpost to fool the Prince. Then, with a wave of her magic staff, the Witch pushed the Prince out of the window where he fell on some thorny bushes, piercing his eyes and blinding him.

Count Basie took his friend back to the palace where the king’s physicians were unable to do a thing to help him. He would be blind for life. When the doctors had left, Prince Roger called his friend close to him.

“Basie, you are more than just a servant, more than a companion. You are my brother. And I need your help now more than ever.”

“Yes, your high—Yes, Roger?”

“Find her.”


“Find her. The witch has hidden her from me, but you must find her.”

“How do you know she did not simply destroy your beloved when she found out about you?”

“Because she loves Rapunzel. She could no more hurt her than I could. You must help me find her again.”

The Count could not refuse and acting on Prince Roger’s orders, he assembled all the king’s guards, all the best hunters and warriors, and anybody else who answered his classified ad. “Somewhere in the wide world,” he said to the assembled throng, “there is a beautiful young girl of about eighteen. Her hair is the color of the first rays of dawn. Her voice is the voice of the angels. Her name is ‘Rapunzel.’ And, provided we can track her down, she will be our prince’s bride.”

The search was on. Good men and true formed search parties that covered the countryside like a vast shadow. And, to their credit they found quite a lot. They found a funny little man who claimed to be able to spin straw into gold, a house made out of gingerbread and candy, a frog who swore blind that he used to be a prince, several talking animals, a very small girl whose best friend was a bird, and a bear of very little brain who…no, sorry, that’s another book.

The point is, they found no sign of Rapunzel. Until one fateful day many, many months later, when Count Basie, almost despairing of ever finishing his mission, tripped over something in the underbrush. At first he thought it was a vine, but it was too stringy and thing and…and…blonde!

It was hair! He followed it like a set of footprints and it led him to a small clearing with an even smaller cottage right in the center. A stream running next to the cottage seemed to stop at the end of the clearing, which was enough to convince Count Basie that it was magic. That’s why they hadn’t been able to find her before now. The witch created this magic glade so that it could not be found. But Rapunzel’s hair must’ve outgrown the spell, for it led the Count right to her door.

To knock on her door, explain the situation and help her up on his horse was, with Basie, the work of a moment…the next part, however, took much longer, when they realied her hair was waaay too long for a horseback ride through the woods and they gave her an impromptu haircut with the Count’s sword. Once that was sorted, they raced back to the palace as fast as they could and Rapunzel was let in to see the prince.

“Rapunzel?” he said. “Is that you?”

“Oh, my beloved!” cried Rapunzel upon seeing his sightless eyes. “What has that horrible witch done to you?”

“It’s all right, Rapunzel. I don’t need my eyes to know how beautiful you are, or to hear your heavenly voice…or to love you.”

This was too much for Rapunzel and she wept. The Prince held her in his arms and dried her tears with his hand. At that moment, his eyes began to itch and he rubbed them with the same hand. And the minute her tears touched his eyes, his sight was restored!

Rapunzel and the prince were married the very next day, and (except for the days when Rapunzel couldn’t do a thing with her hair) they lived very happily ever after.


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • “Faerie Tale Theatre” (TV) Series host Shelley Duvall is Rapunzel and Jeff Bridges is her prince.
  • Tangled (2010) Go see it during your Thanksgiving break. Mandy Moore is the girl in the tower with magic hair and Zachary Levi (TV’s “Chuck”) is the dashing thief who becomes her unlikely hero.

Next week: A Thanksgiving Special

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Three Little Pigs

The Silly Symphony based on this story is probably the most successful film Walt Disney ever made. At a time when animated shorts ran only a few days, weeks at the most,it ran for months, often times longer than the feature film it was playing with. One theatre owner put fake beards on the pictures of the pigs out front of the theatre to show how long they’d been there! The theme song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” was the studio’s first hit song and it made a weary nation laugh in the face of a Great Depression. So successful was this cartoon, that it spawned three sequels: The Big Bad Wolf, Three Little Wolves and Practical Pig. It was while accepting the Academy Award for this cartoon that Walt referred to the statue as an “Oscar.” Before then, it was just an industry nickname for the award. After that, everyone started calling it the Oscar.

nce upon a time there was an old sow (that’s a lady pig, kids) who had three sons. The oldest boy was named Hank, and he was lazy and loved to eat. The next oldest was Henry, and he was vain and loved to flirt with girl pigs. The youngest was Huey, and he was smart and kind and hard-working and he loved his family very much.
Well, Hank, Henry and Huey lived with their mother for many years. Until finally, they were old enough to go out into the world and make lives for themselves. Hank and Henry resisted, but Huey was enthusiastic. They all set out with a little money they had saved to make their fortunes. Huey suggested they pool their assets and work together, but Hank and Henry wanted to be on their own.

They knew the first thing they would need was someplace to live. And since this is a fairy tale, they couldn’t just find a real estate agent (and, really, why would they want to?), so they had to build their own houses. Hank spent most of his money on food, so by the time he had to buy building material, all he could afford was straw. Henry spent a lot of money on nice clothes to attract girls, so all he could afford were a few bundles of sticks. Huey, however, saved his money diligently, so he was able to buy bricks and mortar.

Hank and Henry built their houses in no time at all and decided to visit their brother to see how he was doing…and to gloat about being so far ahead of him. When they saw that he had only built one wall in the time it took them to build their whole houses, they laughed and teased him. But Huey didn’t care.

“Your houses may have taken less time to build,” he said, “but they won’t last as long. One good windstorm and you’ll both be homeless.” But his brothers ignored his warnings and went out to play in the sun, swim in the lake…and meet girl pigs.

But while they were out in the woods, goofing around and eating, someone was watching them. A pair of eyes that were greedy and hungry. A pair of eyes that longed for a pork dinner. It was a lone wolf who licked his chops at the sight of those plump, juicy pigs. He leapt out of the trees and snarled. Hank and Henry, of course, ran as fast as they could, which wasn’t terribly fast because, let’s face it, they’re pigs. But Hank got to his house fast and locked the door behind him. The Wolf pounded on the straw door with his paw.

“Little pig, little pig!” he said. “Let me come in!”

“Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!” said Hank. This was an old pig adage that had been handed down from pig to pig to pig over many generations. It was, of course, completely lost on the wolf which infuriated him. And if you think it's a stupid expression, ask yourself what the heck a "kit and kaboodle" are.

“Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in!” The Wolf could just as easily have pushed somewhat hard and the house would’ve collapsed just as easily. But, he saw how flimsy the house was and saw an opportunity to get in a cheap joke. So he took a deep breath and blew with all his might. In seconds, the straw house collapsed and Hank was without a home. He ran as fast as he could, wishing he hadn’t had that third liverwurst sandwich, and got to Henry’s house just in time.

And, again, The Wolf knocked on the door.

“Little pigs, little pigs!” he said. “Let me come in!”

“Not by the hair of  our chinny-chin-chins!” said Hank and Henry.

The Wolf groaned at the phrase, still not understanding, but knowing that it probably meant “no.” “Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in!” This time it took two deep breaths, but the house fell down and Hank and Henry were again exposed. Running even faster than as fast as they could they arrived at Huey’s house just as he was putting on the finishing touch: a horseshoe over the door. But when he saw his brothers running toward him with a wolf on their heels, he opened the door quickly and invited them in and, instead of hanging the horseshoe, he decided to put its luck to practical use and threw it at the Wolf.

This time, the Wolf was too angry (and in too much pain) to do the whole “chinny-chin-chin” bit so he just screamed in pain and banged on the door, which was locked tight. “Okay!” he yelled. “You asked for it!” And with a deep breath and two full lungs, he huffed and puffed and snuffed and scruffed and ruffed and whuffed until he’d had enuff.

The house would not blow over.

“See?” said Huey. “I told you my house was sturdier. Now, don’t worry. The wolf can’t get in now. We’re perfectly safe.”

And so it seemed. For the rest of the day, the Wolf tried to find a way in while the pig brothers played backgammon. But the doors and windows were shut and locked. The house was too well built to be knocked down with anything less than a battering ram, and even then it would have to be a pretty big one (plus they might not have been invented yet. “Once Upon a Time” is pretty vague, hard to tell exactly what had and hadn’t been invented. These are just some of the problems you face when you’re in a fairy tale)

Finding himself unable to break in, he thought he would employ some kind of deceit or tickery. He tried an old wolf standby: sheep’s clothing. This does not mean he borrowed a jacket and tie from a sheep, rather it was clothing designed to make him look like a sheep. That’s a common mistake, so don’t feel bad if you were confused. Anyway, he put on his sheep pelt and knocked on the door.

“Who’s there?” asked Huey from inside.

“No one really,” said the Wolf in his meekest voice. “Just a poor little lamb who has lost his way.” (Evidently, the Wolf went to Yale) “Will you let me come in and get warm?”

“If you’re really a poor little lamb, let me see your hands.” Well, the Wolf had forseen this, so before he had knocked on the door, he’d covered his paws in flour so they would like white and fluffy. He put his hand in through the mail slot and the pigs saw that it was white and fluffy, very much like a sheep’s hand would be.

“Well, I guess it is a little lost lamb,” said Hank.

“Let’s let him in!” said Henry.

“No!” said Huey. “It’s not a little lost lamb, it’s the wolf!”

“But it sounds like a lamb,” said Henry.

“And it looks like a lamb,” said Hank.

“Yes,” said Huey. “But what does it smell like?” Pigs are known for having very keen senses of smell and one good whiff was all it took. “Flour! You are the wolf. And you’re not coming in. Not by the hair of my chinny-chin—”

Stop saying that!!” growled the wolf. Now he was really angry and more determined than ever to get inside this house. Then the answer came: the chimney! So, cackling at his own ingenuity, he climbed to the top of the roof…which of course, the pigs heard from inside. It wasn’t long before they figured out what was going on…actually, it wasn’t long before Huey figured it out. Hank and Henry actually did take quite a long time and, in fact, they thought it might be Santa Claus.

Eventually, Huey convinced them it was the Wolf, so they took a big pot and put it in the fireplace. They filled it with water and lit a fire beneath. Soon they had brought it to a rolling boil. Meanwhile, up on the roof, the wolf licked his chops again and slid down the chimney…right into the boiling water!

He yowled and howled and screamed and ran around the room trying to cool himself off. Huey opened the front door and the Big Bad Wolf ran screaming into the woods, never to be seen by any pig again (though there is evidence to indicate that, after being dismissed from his wolf pack in shame, he did make trouble for a little girl in a red cape, but that’s another story).

And that’s how Hank and Henry Pig learned not to cut corners and to take pride in their work. They also learned that not even a big bad wolf can hurt you if you’ve got family by your side.


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • Three Little Pigs (1933) See introduction
  • “Faerie Tale Theatre” (TV) Starring Billy Crystal, Fred Willard, Doris Roberts and Jeff Goldblum
  • “Muppet Classic Theatre” Old VHS release introducing Miss Piggy’s brothers, Andy and Randy Pig, in this timeless story

Next Week:
"Tang--" I mean, "Rapunzel"