On Rapunzel, Feeling Trapped, & Healing (Part 1)

Note: This episode is part of a series I’m doing on applying the lessons from old folk and fairy tales to our modern lives as women. You can find the first two episodes on the Queen Archetype here and here.

Today, we’re kicking off the first part of exploring the waif archetype, also know as the very passive maiden in the tower, the princess waiting to be rescued, and the good girl – an archetype I’ve long been fascinated with and am even writing a whole book about (coming out next year, still can’t believe it!).

Today’s episode is available when you subscribe to the podcast on ApplePodcasts.com/Heroine (or wherever you get your podcasts). You can also stream it live from any browser here.

Some of you may be wondering why I’m focusing on fairy tales, when most of us haven’t thought about them since we were children. What do they have to do with you now? To help me answer this question, I invited Australian author Kate Forsyth onto the show. Kate has retold many fairy tales through her novels, including Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and Rapunzel. I asked Kate if she thinks that reading fairy tales as little girls actually affects us as adult women. Kate says that yes, fairy tales help prepare us for what’s to come:

I mean in a way the witches and the dragons and the ogres, these are metaphors that allow us to examine things like fear of abandonment, fear of not being loved, fear of failure, fear of death, fear of harm. And because they're generally told in a safe place in a circle of light around a fire, in the comfort of a mothers lap, while tucked up in bed, because the person listening to the story is safe, it enables them to for a while in their imagination do battle with these witches and these monsters and triumph over them. Now we know, neurologically speaking, that anything that we experience in our imagination acts in the brain as if it has actually happened. So when we feel that thrill of triumph at having outwitted the witch well our brain processes it as if we had actually done it.

So these stories help us learn emotional resilience and intelligence, and if we were fed wonky stories, or if we didn’t fully integrate them as little girls, that will affect how we live and lead down the road.  A few years ago, Kate completed her PhD on reimagining the Rapunzel archetype, which is why I specifically reached out to her. I thought she could better help me understand this maiden in the tower.

In this episode, we go over the Rapunzel tale together, which is super important because some of you may remember it differently (I was shocked by the ending, which I had no memory of whatsoever). In her more reduced interpretation (as a trope for female passivity), Rapunzel represents this idea of feeling trapped, which is symbolized by the tower in the tale, as Kate shares:

I mean fairy tales work at this kind of metaphorical or archetypal level and it's a rare human that does not find themselves trapped and disempowered by their circumstances in some way. And so in Rapunzel the tower stands in for anything that is tying back the human spirit, it might be fear, it might be an unhappy relationship, it might be ones own parents, it might be the school that you are forced to go to against your will, it might be a job that is making you deeply unhappy. It's a metaphorical tower and so for that reason it is the most memorable motif in the fairy tale.

So what’s your tower right now? It could be internal or external. That’s my question to you. Or let me put it this way: what is the story you’re telling yourself, about how you’re trapped, and you have no choice to be doing this or that. Remember, an uncomfortable situation and relationship can be bizarrely comfortable because it’s familiar, so we forget amidst that cozy comfort, that we still have choice. Every day, every second, we are making choices. The first step to getting out of your tower is taking back your agency by seeing that you have choice. Rapunzel made choices. She was far more proactive than we think.

I’m only scratching the surface of our conversation in this post, as you’ll need to listen to the episode ( ApplePodcasts.com/Heroine and here) to get the full picture of Kate’s work and the real depth of this tale and heroine.



P.S. In the next episode, we’re going to explore the possibility and power of healing and redemption in Rapunzel (seeing her beyond her usual interpretation, and what we can learn from her). It’s super fascinating, so stay tuned for Part II coming out next week!


Brigid Cabry Nelson leads Lettershop, an award-winning creative studio that serves a wide range of clients—from boutique retailers to large corporations—approaching each and every project with vigor and enthusiasm. Learn more about Brigid and her work here.

Bianca Wendt, an award-winning art director and graphic designer based in San Francisco and London. Learn more about Bianca and her work here.

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