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09 June 2011

What's in a tale?

One of my all time favourite artists is the wonderful, beautiful, amazing Emilie Autumn. If some of you are fans, you will know that she created a song called 'Rapunzel' on her second album, 'Enchant'. If you aren't familiar with this song, I shall post it here for you:


Remembering childhood memories whenever I hear of this song, I think back to the story I was told. This makes me think, what is behind Emilie Autumn's song? Many Gothic-style artists use fairy-tale elements to their songs (Nightwish, Serenity etc.). Furthermore, it is more common that fairy-tales are being reworked for a more adult audience at the cinema and containing a darker air to them (Pan's Labyrinth, Red Riding Hood, The Phantom of the Opera etc.) Are fairy-tales what they seem?
As a child, I used to be read the story of Rapunzel, as written by the Brothers Grimm: The story of a girl locked in a tower with no door, but one window. Rapunzel was locked up by a nasty witch called Gothel, and grew up to have extraordinary long, golden hair. The famous line is of course, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair", said by Gothel the witch (so she can get to the window), whereby Rapunzel would release her hair and lift Gothel up to her tower. In the story, a prince hears Rapunzel singing one day and falls in love. He later sees Gothel speak the words to Rapunzel, and as such, he learns how to reach Rapunzel. Only when Gothel has left does the prince ask her to let down her hair. Rapunzel does so, and they end up meeting and agreeing to marry!

Now, they plan for the escape of Rapunzel; each night the prince brings a piece of silk, so Rapunzel can escape her tower one day. However, one day, whilst talking to Gothel, Rapunzel accidentally reveals her secret of the prince visiting at night. In a fit of rage, Gothel cuts off all Rapunzel's hair and banishes her to the forest. Gothel then disguises herself as Rapunzel and uses the cut off hair.... so when the prince visited that night, she could lift him up to the tower. When the prince reaches the tower window, he realises that Rapunzel isn't there! The witch pushes him out of the window, causing him to land in the thorns below which blind him. However, in her rage, Gothel drops the hair, rendering her trapped in the tower forever!

After his blinding by the thorns, the prince wanders the lands, trying to get back to his kingdom. One day, he hears Rapunzel singing again. They are re-united and as they embrace, her tears restore his sight. Together they reach the princes' kingdom, where they live happily ever after.

So back to my original point: What is behind the fairy-tale? Well, first: The golden hair. A golden colour symbolises the positive quality... In this case, it is likely that it is emphasizing Rapunzel's beautiful hair and her blamelessness for her situation. Secondly, the fact that she is locked in a tower; this isolation is not alone in appearing in Rapunzel, it can be found in other fairy-tales such as Snow White (being asleep in a glass coffin). Thirdly, the age of Rapunzel means she is a child when she is locked in the tower. This is again not unusual, and it marks a 'coming of age' period. We can also see a degree of feminism within such fairy-tales. It is clear that in many fairy-tales, the female character is one that is passive. Perhaps, we can view Rapunzel as this? After all, she has to wait in her tower for her prince. Gothel however, we can view as a strong, active and, to a degree, resourceful female. She is the one who invented the tower with no door. She is also the one who tricks the prince into coming into the tower... where she gets her revenge. Yet, despite this seeming feministic aspect, we learn what happens to Gothel - she herself gets stuck in the tower! Perhaps this is the result of her being a 'wicked witch', the feared character. It is also interesting to note, that in the first edition of the Brothers Grimm book, Rapunzel actually asks Gothel "why are my clothes so tight?" after meeting the prince... the inference here is that she is pregnant. Furthermore, Gothel's action to cut off Rapunzel's hair reflects a punishment in the Middle Ages for women who became pregnant outside of a marriage. Yet, in the later editions of the Brothers Grimm, Rapunzel's question is removed, thus creating a 'nicer', less explicit tale for children!

Overall, we can see there are many interesting aspects behind the fairy-tales we often hear of! They are not so light-hearted as perhaps Disney would make out. I encourage you to think carefully next time you read/hear/see a fairy-tale!

What are your favourite fairy-tales?

Candy x

"Folk and Fairy Tales" by D. L. Ashliman (2004)

P.S., As this was my first post, I welcome all comments! Please tell me if you thought this was interesting/not interesting, too long/short, or unclear!

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