“Rapunzel grew into the most beautiful child beneath the sun. When she was twelve years old, the enchantress shut her up into a tower, which lay in a forest, and had neither stairs nor a door, but quite at the top was a little window”Rapunzel, Arthur Rackham’s The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
There are many versions of Rapunzel, AKA The Girl in the Tower. In some tellings, Rapunzel is imprisoned by the wicked witch until her true love comes calling. In other stories she is protected by her benevolent guardian who has raised her until her and kept her safe until Rapunzel’s unruly defiance. In many tellings, the witch is a bit good and a bit bad.
[WITCH]Song “Our Little World” from Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods
Look at her complexion
Still untouched by the sun
Children need protection
Just the way they need affection
Or they wonder and they wander
And they run from your little world
Our little world
Our little world
Mother knows bestMother Gothel sings Mother Knows Best from Disney’s Tangled
Take it from your mumsy
On your own, you won’t survive
The mother/witch provides a bit of wisdom and protection and in return takes a bit of power and adventure. So as we read about the girl locked in the tower, we have mixed messages about the one who locked her there – protector or captor.
If you think about times in our own lives when we feel trapped, like Rapunzel in her tower, I wonder what comes to mind? Perhaps this relates to school refusal or low attendance? Perhaps it relates to agoraphobia and not wanting to leave the house? Perhaps there is something or somewhere scary which you avoid such as crowded places, strangers, killer clowns, spiders, public speaking. Perhaps your tower is shutting everyone else out and withdrawing into yourself. Perhaps the tower represents something else for you.
When I am the witch
Sometimes the witch might be part of us; maybe we are the one who shuts ourselves away to protect or punish ourselves. Phrases like “once bitten, twice shy” are true; many people do learn from their mistakes or from past pain and sometimes that lesson is “don’t go there again”.
The threat could be:
- someone has hurt you (fights, rape, assault, muggings, relationship breakups, abandonment…)
- someone has threatened you (gangs, school bullies, family members…)
- fear of failure
Here the tower is a place of sanctuary even if it is a voluntary prison.
There are times when a safe refuge is exactly what we need. But sometimes, from the solitude of the tower, we don’t see changes in the Kingdom. Maybe it would be safe to come out now. Maybe the threat has passed. Maybe the sounds which continue to scare us are nothing more than the rustle of the trees.
When I love the witch
Or maybe the witch character is someone else who we are protecting, and we push aside our own desires to leave the tower, in order to look after their needs or even their desire that we stay with them. Perhaps we are afraid for their safety if we leave.
Bowlby talks about parents and children having enmeshed attachments when the child takes on a caring role for the mother and fears that they can not leave the mother.
Something similar can happen with adult relationships – think about Nancy singing “as long as he needs me” about her abusive partner Bill in Lionel Bart’s Oliver!
This can happen in many different relationships and is often motivated by love for the other person and therefore choosing to stay locked in the tower with them at the expense of our own lives.
Let down your hair?
Letting your hair down is a metaphor for having fun. When Rapunzel lets down her hair, it is about accepting love and taking steps towards gaining her own freedom.
If you cannot leave your tower, when can you accept the visitor who calls to see you? Just as with the witch, the prince may be someone external seeking us out, or it may be another part of ourselves longing to begin our own life.
Dramatherapy Group for year 7-9
During February half term I will be running a dramatherapy group in East London for any young people struggling with emotions which are too big. If you or your child is afraid to go to school or afraid to leave the house or carrying other fears which are preventing you from engaging with life, then this group could be a place for you to explore this with other young people who are ‘in the same boat’. Just as in this article, the group will be using stories to explore feelings and our reactions.
For more information and to arrange a free one to one taster session please email firstname.lastname@example.org