Once upon a time, there was a land called Rapunzel, named for the plant which grew in abundance all over its fields. The plant grew like prairie grass and blossomed in yellow flowers that sparkled like stars against the deep ocean of rippling green grass. Over time, the people of the land learned several uses for the Rapunzel plant. They used the roots in stews. The seeds were crushed and made into oil. The greens were incorporated in teas and as healing remedies. The juices could be squeezed out and turned into a gold dye for cloth. Everything the Rapunzel came into contact with retained a twinkling golden shimmer. Rumor began to spread to other lands about this “magic” weed. Once, even King Midas traveled to Rapunzel to see this remarkable flower for himself. Amazed by its beauty and greedy for its proposed powers, he filled his pockets with the Rapunzel. But he never made it back home. People believe the Rapunzel is cursed and suggest that it turned him into a golden statue, although no one has ever seen it. As time wore on in the land of Rapunzel, the plant began to encroach upon people’s homes and shops, and the weeds could not be contained any longer, no matter how hard the people tried to prune them back.
The king and queen of the land of Rapunzel wanted more than anything to have a child. After ten years of patiently waiting, the queen was at last pregnant with a little girl. But the queen grew sick. She would not eat. She was tired of eating nothing but Rapunzel stew. In his great love for the queen, the king left and spent a month in the land beyond his realm in search of some food that would tempt his wife to eat again.
The king spent his days in the mountains and wilderness of Briar Rose, searching in vain for something to bring home to his wife. Every evening he returned to the wishing well by the village square. He remembered the first time he ever saw his wife. He got lost in the woods riding back from his sword-fighting lessons when he heard the clearest, most beautiful voice–like a whistle. He looked up as he passed the village square, and sure enough, there was Snow White. She had been wishing to meet her one true love, and he had just enough guts to find out if he were the answer. King Charming smiled as he remembered how naive they had both been back then, but his smile soon wilted in the weariness of sleep. He rested his head against the side of the well and slept.
One evening as the king was trudging back to the wishing well, fully believing that this would be his last chance to wish for the healing of his wife, he smelled something he had never smelled before. He decided to follow the haunting smell. He walked back through the woods until he came to a clearing where he discovered a gingerbread house made of candy. Exhausted from his fruitless search and faint from hunger, the king could not help himself; he scooped a handful of cream-cheese frosting from the walls of the house and ate it. He felt like he was that young boy again–lost in the woods, following a haunting sound that led to eventual happiness. He only hoped that his following a haunting smell would this time also lead him to the happiness he desired. He was just about to take one of the licorice ropes from the window when he was interrupted by a gruff voice. He whirled around and came face to face with a stout old woman. Her face and clothing were so faded and antiquated that she would have looked right at home in an antique rug or upholstery shop.
“Excuse me,” King Charming said. “I’m sorry. You see I’ve been wandering around for hours now, and I was hungry. I smelled your house when I was walking back to the village square. If you don’t mind my saying so, your house is delicious.”
“Thank you,” replied the old lady. “I like to make sweets for when my granddaughter, Red, comes to visit. My name is Gretel. Gretel Hood.”
“I am King Charming. If you please, may I take something back with me for my wife? She is quite sick. I am from Rapunzel, the kingdom beyond these woods. But my wife will not eat the Rapunzel that grows in our kingdom. However, I think she cannot refuse to eat some gingerbread or anything else you may wish to give me instead.”
“Of course. I will give you three loaves of gingerbread. But may I now ask a favor of you?”
“Certainly. Anything at all,” the king responded.
“I have long had a curiosity about this Rapunzel of yours, for it does not grow here in Briar Rose. Would you permit me to live with your people and try my hand at harvesting some of this remarkable plant?”
“Why, of course. We may leave immediately if you wish.” (Although the king had heard the story of King Midas in his time, the consequences were far from his worries now.)
The old woman packed three gingerbread loaves, and the two set off on their journey. The old woman eagerly settled down in a field of Rapunzel, far away from the probing eyes of people. She erected a solitary tower in her “little wilderness” as she called it, much faster than it would normally have been erected (for she used the help of her wand.) Her granddaughter, Red, still came to visit her occasionally, and for now life was uncomplicated and as it should be.
As the king hoped, his wife Snow White ate the gingerbread and was soon healthy again. She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and named her Aurora, or Rori for short. But the joy was short-lived. For one evening, the Rapunzel weeds crawled up the sides of the king’s castle and choked baby Rori in her sleep. Charming searched to and fro throughout the kingdom, looking for anyone (the Blue Fairy, perhaps) who could magically bring his daughter back from the land of permanent sleep. But he searched in vain (for he had forgotten about the old woman and her magic gingerbread house). Rori looked so beautiful in death that the king had a glass coffin built around her bed so that he could go into her room and look at her from time to time.
But eventually, the king and queen’s despair reached the ears of the secluded Gretel. She sat in her drafty, dusty attic and began to form a plan. As the plan took root, she sat down at her spinning wheel and spun through to the end of the thought. When her plan was formed, she looked at the pile of gold at her feet and knew she had to act quickly. She immediately began the journey to the king’s palace. She was exhilarated with possibilities and hardly knew if she flew or walked. But at last she reached the palace and was given audience with the king.
“My King. I have not forgotten your kindness to me in letting me come here to live with your people among the Rapunzel. If I may be so bold, may I be granted your permission to have my granddaughter come to live with me? I am very lonely in that tower all alone.”
The king could not help but think how much more alive, and almost golden she appeared after these months spent in seclusion. “You have my permission,” he replied.
“Thank you,” replied the old woman. She left the king’s palace immediately and began her journey back to Briar Rose. Red was delighted to venture to a new land, for she was an adventurous sort and was tired of the routine life that inevitably results when you are the only unmagical person in a magical land.
But the trip back took longer than anticipated. Snow White died, mourning the loss of her sweet Rori. In his need for solitude and peace, the king hired guards to stand watch at the boundaries of the kingdom. These guards were commanded to let none enter or exit. And soon, the Rapunzel had grown up around the kingdom, creating a thorny hedge that none could cross.
Red and her grandmother entered into this forest of Rapunzel. Despite the stories of fierce dragons living in the Rapunzel, the truth is that the Rapunzel responded happily to Red’s touch. Red seemed to be able to see through the plants to the path ahead as if by magic. The only remotely dragon-like encounter was their nearly head-on collision with a wolf. But Gretel made quick work of him and turned him into a statue, ironically a golden one.
Gretel and Red spent a few weeks back at the tower, making their accommodations more comfortable. Red worked out in the Rapunzel and soon transformed the tangled weeds into beautiful hedges of wild flowers, mostly yellow, but some a deep red. In the center of her new garden, Red built her own modest cottage and called it Hearts, and she became its queen. She and Gretel would drink tea together every day, just like they did in Briar Rose. But unknown to Red, Gretel was working magic into the tea. The Rapunzel already had an almost magical effect on Red, for none in the kingdom could rule over it as she could. But now Red was not only working with the Rapunzel, she was also ingesting it in her tea mixed with other potions that only Gretel could name. It was as though she were becoming Rapunzel herself.
After a few weeks in which Gretel worked her magic on Red, the two went to call upon the king, to offer him their condolences on the loss of his wife. When the king saw Red, he was speechless. For now the golden upholstery-glow of Gretel was more vibrant than ever but not nearly as vibrant as the stardust quality that Red had enveloping her. She glowed as if a million stars of heaven had come down to earth and landed on her, smiling and jumping and swarming like bees around a honey hive. He could not take his eyes off her, and soon the magic had taken its toll. Red and King Charming were soon married.
For a time, the kingdom was happy again. The king laughed at Red’s desire to have a birthday-party tea-time every day. He joked and was his past Charming self. But as the days grew colder and Red spent less and less time out in the Rapunzel, her glow began to fade away. The king began to see the Red beneath the gold, and all he could remember were the lives of his two best-loved treasures–taken from him by the Rapunzel. Red could only see her own inadequacy to love the man whom she knew did not love her in return.
The king could not keep his sorrow and anger inside any longer. In his revenge, he ordered that all the Rapunzel be cut and trampled throughout the entire kingdom. The birds that had found their refuge in Red’s hedges had to build new nests. The squirrels that had stored food in her trees had to find new homes. The deer moved far away to more protected lands. And the old woman watched in jealousy as her gold depleted.
The grandmother’s spell had infused Red with a fairy dust that would make dreams come true. The king would have his true love again. Red would face adventure. And she would benefit by spinning Red’s hair into gold every night. But like all magic, payment was due. The king had destroyed the Rapunzel, slowly killing Red along with it. Gretel needed more and more of Red’s hair to spin the same amount of gold. The magic was fading. King Charming and “the Queen of Hearts” needed to have a child soon or Gretel’s plan would never work.
Gretel need not have worried, for Red was sensible of her responsibility to the king and hoped that if she could produce and heir, maybe Charming would truly love her in place of Snow White. But Gretel had not stopped to consider that with the death of the magic, Red would die too. And this time, there would be no cure.
Red did have a child, a beautiful girl named Ellina. She had hair as golden as the yellow Rapunzel flowers. Her skin was as luminous as the dew on the Rapunzel stems. Her eyes twinkled like diamond stars in the dark-blue sky. And she was as dainty as a reed blowing in the wind. Her very essence seemed to dance, much like the “glow” that Red possessed before marrying the king. People say that Ellina’s very energy was visible. Some say the energy was a magical force that could cause her to fly. Others say they saw her fly off with a boy one evening when she was a teenager. But she came back so Charming merely attributes that instance to normal teenage-girl rebellion. The only oddity about her great beauty was that past the age of two, she never grew taller. Charming nicknamed her Thumbellina and told her stories about his first wife, Snow White, who had been forced to clean house for her step-mother because she was so beautiful. But if Thumbellina wanted to learn of her mother, she would fly over to Grandmother’s house for a slice of gingerbread birthday cake and tea and walk through what had been the Queen of Hearts’s garden. She quickly resurrected all the Rapunzel near the tower, as if by magic. For although the king refused to see it, Thumbellina was more Red’s daughter than his.