Once upon a time in a faraway land there lived a cobbler and his wife. They desperately wanted to have children, but however they tried, it was all in vain. These people lived in a little house next to a mansion, and one of their bedroom windows looked out over the wall of the adjoining property, into an enormous garden, where flowers and vegetables grew side by side in abundance. But nobody ever visited the garden, it was rumoured that the owner of the house, an old woman, was in fact a terrible witch, who possessed terrible dark powers, and as a consequence everybody in the little town avoided contact with her.
But one fine morning, the cobbler’s wife was sitting at her window looking out over the garden, when she spotted a little bed full of wonderful radishes. The sight of these radishes filled her with a great desire to have some, and however much she tried during the course of the day to forget about it, the desire to eat these radishes would not go away. Days and days passed, and her inability to satisfy her desire made her quite ill, she could hardly eat anything if she could not have the radishes. One evening her husband remarked that she looked quite unwell, and wanted to know what it was that was ailing her. “Oh, it’s nothing, she said, I’m just feeling a little faint. It will pass,”
More days passed, and the cobbler watched his wife getting more and more ill. So he asked her again: “My dear wife, you must be honest with me, tell me what the matter is.”
She then confessed to her husband that she had developed an insatiable appetite for the radishes growing on the other side of the wall in the witches’ garden. The cobbler loved his wife very much, so he decided to set aside his worries about the witch, and made up his mind to get her some of those radishes, come what may. He waited till nightfall, then got out his ladder, and climbed over the wall. He rushed to the radishes bed as fast as his feet would carry him, and stuffed a few handfuls in his pockets, then scrambled back over the wall, into his own backyard. His heart was beating ferociously when he came back into the kitchen with his prize, and his wife cried with joy. She immediately set about preparing a salad with the fresh produce, and that night enjoyed the best sleep of her life.
For a few days, she was very happy, but bye and bye the desire returned, and she pleaded with her husband to go back into the neighbour’s garden and get some more radishes. The husband consented, he loved his wife so much he would do anything for her. So that night he got his ladder out, climbed over the wall, and rushed, as fast as his feet could carry him towards the radishes bed. There he started pulling out the plants and stuffing them in his pocket, when suddenly he heard a screeching voice next to his ear: “A little birdie told me there was a thief in my garden, stealing my vegetables! Here I have caught you in the act, red handed as they say. Empty your pockets! You will pay very dearly for this, you wretched little man!”
The cobbler’s knees were shaking, and as he deposited the radish bunches on the ground, he knew there would be a terrible price to pay, but he decided he would appeal to the witch’s sense of human decency. “Dear lady, he said, I confess I have done you a terrible wrong, trespassing on your property and stealing your vegetables, but my wife is very ill indeed, and the only thing that keeps her going is the taste of your radishes. If she can’t eat some of these she will surely die!” At this the witch laughed heartily. “Hahaha, hehehe, you wretched little creatures with your petty little desires. Tell me, have you any children?”
“No, the cobbler replied, We have tried for a long time to start a family but we are still without child”. The with smiled, if you can call the grimace that appeared on her face a smile. “I will help you, she said, but you must give me something!”
The cobbler was happy to promise her anything to get out of that garden alive. “You can come and get all the radishes your little wife can eat, the witch continued, but when your wife gives birth to her child, as she will, you must give the child to me! I promise you I will take very good care of her indeed!” The cobbler fell on his knees, and bowed his head, “Thank, you, thank you”, he muttered. The witch picked up the radishes from the ground, spat on them and stroked them, mumbling some incomprehensible words. “Take these, she said, and make sure your wife eats all of them tonight, don’t waste any of them. And don’t forget, if you try to cheat me, or get out of your promise, you will pay with your life”. She turned about and walked away, leaving the poor cobbler on his own with his radishes. He climbed back over the wall, and into his kitchen, where his wife was waiting. He did not tell her what had happened between him and the witch, but set about helping his wife prepare the salad, and then making sure she consumed all of it.
As the witch had predicted, the wife fell pregnant, and gave birth to a cute little daughter. That very same evening the witch appeared at the kitchen door and demanded to see the newborn baby. She was obviously very pleased with what she saw, laughing heartily. “Hello there, my little Rapunzel she sang in her crooked voice. You’re all mine! All mine!” And she disappeared carrying the little girl with her, leaving the cobbler to explain to his wife how they had come to loose their baby. It is said that the wife was so sad at the thought of the witch having taken her baby that she refused to eat anything at all after that and cried continuously, and eventually she passed away. Nobody remembers what happened to the unfortunate cobbler.
The witch, in the meantime, did indeed take very good care of the baby girl, whom she’d named Rapunzel, but the child was never allowed to leave the witch’s house, and never had her hair cut, so that it grew and grew. When she was twelve years old, or thereabouts, the witch took her to an old tower, in the middle of nowhere, where she was locked in a room on the top floor. All around the base of the tower there grew large thorny bushes, so that nobody could get near to it. And to make doubly sure that her most treasured possession would not be disturbed, the witch put a magic spell on the entrance door to the tower, making it disappear.
The witch would visit Rapunzel every day, and in order to get into the room, at the top of the tower, she would call out to Rapunzel to let down her hair, which had grown so long, that it easily reached the ground. As the hair fell down to the ground, the witch used it to hold onto while she clambered up the wall, and through the window, into the room.
Years and years passed, and Rapunzel stayed locked up in the tower, while the witch brought her food every day. Now it so happened that one fine day, a knight rode by the tower on his horse, and he heard a sweet singing voice coming from the direction of the tower, but try as he might, he could not discover the singer. He rode around the tower, looking for an entrance, but there was none. So eventually he rode on, scratching his head. But so entranced was he by the melodious voice, that he could not help himself but to return to this mysterious place. So one day, as he was sitting on his horse, listening to the enticing tones coming from the tower, he heard another voice, calling out: “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair!”
The astonished knight then saw Rapunzel appear in the window, and threw her long hair down to the ground. A few seconds later, he saw the witch climbing up the Wall, and entering through the window. He determined to wait in a place where he would not be seen, and waited and waited, until some time later, the hair was once more thrown over the window ledge, and he witnessed the witch descending, then disappearing on the road by the forest, towards the town. He did not wait much longer, but then he rode up towards the tower, and stood where the witch had stood, he called out, softly, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, please let down your hair!” He did not have to wait very long, before he saw the beautiful blond hair come falling down, and without wasting any more time, he climbed up against the wall as quickly as he could, using the hair as a climbing rope.
Rapunzel was shocked when, instead of the witch she was expecting, she saw the knight standing there in front of her. She hid her face behind her hands, and crept into the corner of the room. “Don’t be afraid”, said the knight. “I don’t mean you any harm. I was attracted by your wonderful singing voice, and could not resist trying to find out who owns such a beautiful melodious voice!” His gentle voice and manner calmed Rapunzel, and she came out of her corner to have a look at this man. Now you should remember that Rapunzel had never before in her young life been in the company of any person other than the witch, although from some of the stories the witch had told her that other people existed somewhere in the world. Rapunzel had lots of questions to ask the knight, and he calmly explained all that she wanted to know about the world outside the tower. It began to get dark, and they decided that the Knight should go home, and return the next day, and visit her again after the witch had left. These daily visits went on for some time, and the knight realised he was falling in love with Rapunzel, so one day he asked her if she would have him for her husband. Rapunzel was delighted to accept his offer, for she too, had fallen in love with the knight, and she would much rather spend her life with him than with the wicked witch. They made a plan that on every visit, the knight would bring some silk yarn, which Rapunzel would weave into a ladder, which she would use to get out of the tower, as she obviously would not be able to use her own hair to climb down.
But the old witch was becoming suspicious. She had noticed a change in the girl’s demeanour, she seemed to be a lot happier, smiling all the time, laughing and singing out loud. One day she asked Rapunzel what made her so happy, and the girl, who could not lie, told the witch that she was in love and about to get married to a brave knight. When she heard this the witch was furious, and in her fury started beating the girl about the head. Then, taking out some big scissors, she cut off the girl’s hair, and stuffed it under her skirt. “You have spoiled everything, she told Rapunzel. I only wanted to have you all for myself, and I can’t share you with anybody else, least of all some stupid knight who just wants to turn you into a housewife! Now I have to punish you, and later I shall think of a suitable punishment for your friend.” The witch took Rapunzel by the hand, and uttering some magic formulas, the flew out of the tower, across the forest and landed in a desolate stretch of land. “I will leave you here in this wilderness to fend for yourself, said the witch. Before long you will be wishing that you had never met this wretched knight and his sweet talk, because you will surely perish here.” And the witch flew off again, leaving Rapunzel all by herself.
The witch flew back to the tower, because she knew that the knight would turn up before long. And indeed, she had only just returned, when she heard his voice calling from below the window: “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair!” The witch pulled out Rapunzel’s hair from under her skirt, and tied one end to the window, then threw it out towards the ground. After a few seconds she could hear the knight’s huffing and puffing as he negotiated the wall, and then he appeared in the window. She was hiding in a dark corner, and it took a few moments for the knight’s eyes to find her in the shadows. ”Rapunzel, he called out, it is I, why are you hiding in the corner?”. Then the witch approached him, screeching and swearing at him: “You rascal! You would take advantage of a poor little creature and carry her away from me. But she has flown! A cat came and took her away, and now this cat is so wild and angry that she is going to scratch out your eyes!” With these words, the mad witch attacked the knight, scratching at his face with her long sharp nails. He bent away and swayed, and managed to parry some of her blows, but he knew he would have to get away, so he took his chance, and jumped out of the window. But the poor guy landed on the thorn bushes, and the thorns penetrated his hands, his face, and his eyes, and when he got up and scrambled away from the tower, he realised he could not see anything.
The blind knight was left wandering around the forest aimlessly, feeding himself on whatever he could find, fruits and berries he found on bushes, and roots that he managed to dig up. Forever he lamented the loss of his wife, and only the desperate hope that he might one day meet up with her again kept him going. He roamed and roamed, and year went by, until one day he came upon a little fence, with a gate in it. He heard some voices, and his heart jumped, because he was sure he recognised that wonderful melodious voice! He walked in the direction of the voice, calling out: “Rapunzel, Rapunzel”. And it was indeed Rapunzel who dwelt in that little cottage, with her twins, who had been born shortly after the witch had left her for dead in the wilderness. She looked at the figure approaching her on the path, and although his hair was unkempt and long, and his beard had grown long and scraggy, she recognised him immediately and rushed into his arms. She cried and cried with joy, and her tears fell on his eyes, which miraculously cured them, and he was able to see again! They spent the rest of their lives together, and never again allowed anything to separate them. I have tried to find out what became of the witch, but nobody ever saw or heard of her again.
Grimm Brothers re-told by Frans Timmermans