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Rapunzel

by Paul O. Zelinsky

Publishers Weekly Zelinsky (Swamp Angel) does a star turn with this breathtaking interpretation of a favorite fairy tale. Daringly?and effectively?mimicking the masters of Italian Renaissance painting, he creates a primarily Tuscan setting. His Rapunzel, for example, seems a relative of Botticelli's immortal red-haired beauties, while her tower appears an only partially fantastic exaggeration of a Florentine bell tower. For the most part, his bold experiment brilliantly succeeds: the almost otherworldly golden light with which he bathes his paintings has the effect of consecrating them, elevating them to a grandeur befitting their adoptive art-historical roots. If at times his compositions and their references to specific works seem a bit self-conscious, these cavils are easily outweighed by his overall achievement. The text, like the art, has a rare complexity, treating Rapunzel's imprisonment as her sorceress-adopted mother's attempt to preserve her from the effects of an awakening sexuality. Again like the art, this strategy may resonate best with mature readers. Young children may be at a loss, for example, when faced with the typically well-wrought but elliptical passage in which the sorceress discovers Rapunzel's liaisons with the prince when the girl asks for help fastening her dress (as her true mother did at the story's start): " `It is growing so tight around my waist, it doesn't want to fit me anymore.' Instantly the sorceress understood what Rapunzel did not." On the other hand, with his sophisticated treatment, Zelinsky demonstrates a point established in his unusually complete source notes: that timeless tales like Rapunzel belong to adults as well as children. Ages 5-up. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

School Library Journal K-Gr 3?An elegant and sophisticated retelling that draws on early French and Italian versions of the tale. Masterful oil paintings capture the Renaissance setting and flesh out the tragic figures. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

School Library Journal K-Gr 3?In a lengthy note, Zelinsky explains his research into the pre-Grimm Brothers' origins of "Rapunzel" in French and Italian tales, but his retelling does not vary significantly from other picture-book renditions. However, his version does not sidestep the love between the maiden in the tower and the prince, as some retellers have done. The lovers hold a ceremony of marriage between themselves, and it is Rapunzel's signs of pregnancy that bring about her banishment from the tower and her prince's downfall. What sets this Rapunzel apart from the others is the magnificence of the Renaissance setting. Readers will linger over the opulence and rich details of furnishings and fabrics, and admire the decorative patterns and architectural details of the tower and the rooms. Echoes of high Renaissance art can be seen in the costumes, the buildings, and the landscapes. In their postures and gestures, the richly dressed characters might have stepped out of the paintings of Botticelli and Mantegna and Verrocchio and Raphael. But in Zelinsky's scenes there are no angels, no holy figures, no miracles?only magic. The impossibly high, almost pencil-thin tower looms above the trees. Rapunzel's hair, cascading some 50 feet to the ground, would daunt the sturdiest climbers unless they were a sorceress or a young man in love. Each scene, from the delightful Italianate farm pictured on the endpapers to the last happy scene where the prince and his bride pose with their cherub-like twins, is painted, writes Zelinsky, as a humble attempt to "spur an interest in the magnificent art from which I have drawn." A stunning effort.?Shirley Wilton, Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Book list Gr. 3^-5, younger for reading aloud. After his wildly exuberant illustrations for Anne Isaacs' tall tale Swamp Angel (1994), Zelinsky turns to the formal beauty of Italian Renaissance art as the setting for his glowingly illustrated version of an age-old story. And, like Donna Jo Napoli's YA novel Zel (1996), this story is as much about the fierce love of mother for child as it is about the romantic passion between the imprisoned Rapunzel and the prince. Drawing on the Grimms' and earlier versions of the tale, Zelinsky begins with a childless couple, who are thrilled when the wife finally becomes pregnant. She develops a craving for the herb rapunzel, and when her husband is caught stealing it for her, the sorceress makes a terrifying bargain: if she can have the baby, she will allow the wife to live. The stepmother raises Rapunzel, "seeing to her every need," then locks her in a tower away from the world. Only the sorceress can enter the tower, by climbing Rapunzel's flowing hair. Then one day, the prince hears Rapunzel sing, falls in love with her, and learns to climb into the castle. They marry secretly. When Rapunzel becomes pregnant, the furious sorceress drives Rapunzel out, cuts off her hair, and blinds the prince. The lovers wander separately in the wilderness, where Rapunzel gives birth to twins; then the couple find each other, her tears make him see, and they come home to the prince's court. The rich oil paintings evoke the portraits, sculpture, architecture, and light-filled landscapes of Renaissance art. The costumes are lavish, the interiors intricate. Rapunzel is both gorgeous and maidenly. The sorceress is terrifying: the pictures also reveal her motherliness and her vulnerability, especially in the two double-page narrative paintings that frame the drama. One shows the sorceress taking the baby--and we see how she lovingly cradles it in her arms; in the climactic painting, when Rapunzel, the prince, and their children find each other, the whole natural world of rock and sky and tree seem to close around them in a loving embrace. Children--and adults--will pore over the intricate detail and glowing colors; they will also be moved by the mysterious tale of nurture and passion and terror. --Hazel Rochman

From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

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