The Carpenter and His Wife
ONCE UPON A TIME, there lived a carpenter and his wife. More than anything, they wanted a child of their own. At long last, their wish came true – the wife was going to have a baby!
From the second floor window of their small house, the wife could see into the garden next door. Such fine fresh rows of plants and flowers there were! But no one dared to go over the garden wall to see them up close. For the garden belonged to a witch!
One day the wife was looking down at the garden from her window. How fresh-looking were those big green heads of lettuce! “It is just what I need to eat!” said the wife to her husband. “You must go and get me some.”
“But we cannot!” said the carpenter. “You know as well as I do that the garden belongs to the witch, who lives next door.”
“If I cannot have that lettuce,” said the wife, “I will not eat anything at all! I will die!”
What could the carpenter do? Late that night, he climbed over the garden wall. With very quiet steps, he took one green head of lettuce. With more quiet steps, he went back over the garden wall. His wife ate up the lettuce right away.
But eating the lettuce only made her want more! If she could not have more lettuce, she said, there was nothing she would eat at all! So the next night, the carpenter climbed back over the garden wall. He picked up one more head of lettuce. All at once came a high, loud, voice.
“STOP! What do you think you are doing?”
“I…uh…am getting lettuce for my wife,” said the carpenter.
“You thief!” yelled the witch. “You will pay for this!”
“Please!” said the carpenter. “My wife is going to have a baby. She saw your lettuce and wanted it so very much.”
“Why should I care about that?” shouted the witch.
“I will do anything!” said the carpenter. He thought, “Maybe I can build her something.”
“You say you will do anything?” said the witch.
“Yes,” he said.
“Fine!” said the witch. “Here’s the deal. Go ahead – take all the lettuce you want. Your wife will have a baby girl. And when she does, the baby will be mine!”
“What?!” said the carpenter. “I would never agree to that!”
“You already did!” said the witch. And she laughed an evil laugh.
Soon the wife had a baby girl, just as the witch had said. To keep the baby safe from the witch, the carpenter built a tall tower deep in the woods. He built stairs that led up to a room at the very top, a room with one window. He and his wife took turns staying with the baby.
But the witch had a magic ball. The ball showed her just where the baby was, at the top room of the tower. One day when the carpenter and his wife were both in the house, she cast a spell over both of them. They fell into a deep, deep sleep. And at once, the witch went to the tower.
At the top room, the witch said to the baby, “I will call you Rapunzel. For that is the name of the lettuce that brought you to me. Now Rapunzel, you are mine!”
But the witch did not know how to take care of a baby. Rapunzel grew into a child, and the witch did not even know how to cut her hair. The girl’s blond hair grew longer and longer every day.
All the witch could do was keep the child locked in the room at the very top of the tower. She told the girl that the world was a very bad place. That was why she could not leave the tower.
As she grew up, many times Rapunzel said to the witch, “There is nothing here for me to do! Why must I stay in this tower all the time?”
And the witch shouted back, “I already told you so many times! The world is a very bad place. Now go comb your hair and be quiet.”
“But is it really so bad out there? Sometimes I hear people laughing down below,” Rapunzel would say sometimes.
At such times the witch would yell, “How many times do I have to repeat myself? Don’t listen to anything you see or hear out there. The world is much worse than you think! You will stay in this tower forever, Rapunzel. So get used to it!”
On her 12th birthday, Rapunzel said to the witch, “I do not care what you say anymore! I am so tired of staying here alone all the time! When you are gone, I will chip away at the door. I will make a hole. I will run down the stairs and outside, no matter what you say!”
“Think again!” said the witch. With her power, she made all the stairs in the tower fall down. She made the doors close up. Now there was no way for Rapunzel to escape!
A Singing Voice
By then, Rapunzel’s hair had grown very, very long. Once the stairs were gone, when it was time for the witch to visit her in the tower, she would call from outside, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel! Let down your hair!”
Rapunzel would throw her long blond braid out of the window. The witch would grab hold of her hair like a rope. And that is how the witch climbed up the tower wall to the window in Rapunzel’s room.
Five more long years went by. Poor Rapunzel! She knew she must stay in the room. All she could do was to sing sad songs out of the window. Sometimes birds at the treetops would join in her songs. Then she would feel a bit better.
But not much.
One day, a prince was riding through the woods. He heard a beautiful singing voice. Where was it coming from? He rode closer and closer to the sound. At last, he came to the tower.
“This is odd!” he said, looking around the tower wall. “There is no door at the bottom. Yet someone is singing at the very top. How does anyone get in or out of there?” Each day, the prince came back to the tower. There was something about that voice that pulled him back. Who was that young woman singing at the top? Could he ever meet her?
One day when the prince rode up, he saw an old woman standing below the tower. He jumped behind a tree to hide. It was a witch! He heard her call out, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel! Let down your hair!” A long blond braid was thrown out from a window at the very top. The old woman grabbed onto the braid. And she climbed the wall to the window at the top of the tower.
“Ah, ha!” said the prince. “So that is how it is done!” He waited.
After a bit, the braid was thrown from the window again. The witch climbed back down the tower wall. Then she left.
The prince waited. He stepped up to the tower. In a voice that sounded as much like the witch as he could, he called out, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel! Let down your hair!” In a moment, the same long blond braid came out of the window. “It worked!” thought the prince. He climbed up the wall of the tower.
You can be sure that Rapunzel was very surprised to see the prince climb into her window. She had never seen a person up close before other than the witch, and never a man! “Who are you?” she said in fear.
“Do not worry!” said the prince. “I am a friend.”
“But I do not know you,” said Rapunzel.
“I feel as if I know you,” said the prince. “Since I have heard you sing songs from up here day after day. You have a beautiful voice! And I love it when the birds sing with you, too.”
“Yes, I like that, too,” said Rapunzel. “It may be the only thing I like, since I must stay here in this same old tower, day after day, my whole life long.” Rapunzel told the prince about the witch. She told him that since the world was such a very bad place, she must always stay in the tower room.
“But the world is not as bad as she says!” said the prince. He told Rapunzel about flowers and festivals, games and gardens. He told her about puppies and puddles, strawberries and secrets.
Many hours went by. At last, Rapunzel said he must go – the witch may come back at any time! “Very well,” said the prince. “But I will be back tomorrow.” Rapunzel threw her braid out the window, and the prince climbed down.
The next day, the prince climbed back up to Rapunzel’s room. He said, “I have a surprise for you.” He had brought strawberries for her.
As she tasted a strawberry Rapunzel thought, “Now I know that what I was told is not true. The world can be a very fine place! I must get out of this tower as soon as I can.” But how?
Plan to Escape
One day, the prince said, “If only you could get out of this tower. I can come and go by climbing up the walls by holding onto your braid. But once I am down, how can you get down, too?”
“I know!” said Rapunzel. “Bring me a ball of silk each time you come. I can weave the silk into a ladder. Silk folds up so small the witch won’t see it. When the ladder gets long enough to reach the ground, we will both be able to climb out of here.”
“That’s it!” said the prince. Then he moved closer to Rapunzel. “We will both be free. When we are out in the world, will you marry me?”
“Yes,” said Rapunzel, “I will.” Every day after that, the prince brought a ball of silk to Rapunzel. Over time, she weaved the silk into a long ladder.
On Rapunzel’s 18th birthday the witch spoke to her in a sharp voice. “Before you open your mouth this time,” said the witch, “know this. I am sick and tired of hearing you talk about how alone you are in the tower all the time. It isn’t go to change, Rapunzel! Forever!”
“Who says I’m alone in the room all the time?” said Rapunzel.
“What?!” said the witch. “Who has been up here with you?”
“No one!” said Rapunzel at once, in fear. “I mean, no one but you!”
The witch did not believe her. She started to look everywhere in the room for something to prove that someone else had been there. Soon she found the ladder. She held it high in the air. She yelled, “What is the meaning of this?”
“My friend the prince brought me the silk,” said Rapunzel.
“You will never see this prince again!” yelled the witch. She took out a knife. Snip, snap, and Rapunzel’s lovely braid was cut off!
Holding the braid in one hand, the witch laughed an evil laugh. With a stroke of her magic, Rapunzel was cast away to a far-away desert. Then the witch stayed in the tower room. She knew that soon the prince would come back.
The Last Climb
The witch did not have to wait long. Soon the prince was calling at the bottom of the tower, in a voice that was supposed to sound like her own, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!”
“So that is how he did it!” thought the witch. Holding tightly to one end of Rapunzel’s braid, she threw the braid out the window. The prince took hold and climbed up. When he got to the window, he was much surprised to see the witch!
“Where is Rapunzel?” he called out. “What have you done with her?”
“You will never see your Rapunzel again!” yelled the witch.
The witch pushed the prince so hard that he lost hold of the window. Down, down, he fell!
The prince landed on some bushes below. That helped with the fall, but the bushes had sharp thorns. Some of the thorns went into his eyes. The prince was blind!
For two years the poor blind prince wandered the world, looking for Rapunzel. From morning to night he called for her, but it was no use. At last, he reached a desert. One day, he heard a beautiful voice singing. “Oh!” he thought. “I know that voice!” It was his dear Rapunzel! He went closer and closer to the voice he knew so well.
“My prince!” called Rapunzel when she saw him. The two of them hugged tight. Two tears of joy fell into the eyes of the prince. All at once, he could see again!
And what happened next, well, I’m sure you can guess! The prince and Rapunzel went back to the kingdom where the prince lived. They were married as soon as they could. The prince became king of the land and Rapunzel became queen. The two of them lived happily ever after.