Title: Rapunzel’s Revenge
Author: Shannon Hale & Dean Hale
Illustrator: Nathan Hale
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale Retelling, Graphic Novel, Young Adult
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: August 2008
Hardcover: 144 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone graphic novel.
Why did we read this book: How could we close out YA Appreciation Month without covering at least one graphic novel? Since Thea loved Shannon Hale’s Bayern series, and because of the awesome concept for this book, we eagerly agreed to do a joint review of this reimagining of Rapunzel. (I mean come on! It’s Rapunzel choosing not to wait for rescue and going out for revenge on her own. In the Wild West. With her hair as a lasso/whip. AWESOME.)
Summary: (from amazon.com)
Once upon a time, in a land you only think you know, lived a little girl and her mother . . . or the woman she thought was her mother.
Every day, when the little girl played in her pretty garden, she grew more curious about what lay on the other side of the garden wall . . . a rather enormous garden wall.
And every year, as she grew older, things seemed weirder and weirder, until the day she finally climbed to the top of the wall and looked over into the mines and desert beyond.
Newbery Honor-winning author Shannon Hale teams up with husband Dean Hale and brilliant artist Nathan Hale (no relation) to bring readers a swashbuckling and hilarious twist on the classic story as you’ve never seen it before. Watch as Rapunzel and her amazing hair team up with Jack (of beanstalk fame) to gallop around the wild and western landscape, changing lives, righting wrongs, and bringing joy to every soul they encounter.
Thea: Rapunzel’s Revenge is a little different from the few comics I usually read – certainly a far cry from Bill Willingham’s Fables series! – but in a very sweet, refreshing way. I loved this young adult fairy tale reimagining from first glance. This take on Rapunzel has the original Brothers Grimm background, but it dramatically transforms Rapunzel from a passive princess into the heroine of her own destiny, eager to thwart her so-called Mother, (the Evil Witch who stole Rapunzel when she was just a child) and to save her real mother from hard labor in the mines. Throw in a vagabond companion named Jack – yes, THAT Jack – bandits, gunslingers, angry and oppressed ranchers and dwarfs, and you get the wonder that is Rapunzel’s Revenge. I loved it.
Ana: I never read any of Shannon Hale’s books before and now I ask myself why, WHY, WHY?! After reading the first 30 pages of Rapunzel’s Revenge I knew two things: 1) that I loved this version of Rapunzel with the force of a thousand thunderstorms and 2) that I would be glomming Mrs Hale’s backlist pronto. Because this reimagining is imaginative, creative, funny and ever so empowering for girls – Damsel in Distress, saved by her hero?? Hell noes.
On the Plot:
Rapunzel’s Revenge takes the basic Grimm collected fairy tale as its base: a farmer couple finally gets pregnant after years of trying, much to their delight. But the wife develops an insatiable urge for rapunzel, a type of lettuce, planted in the garden of the couple’s witch neighbor. Her yearning for the rapunzel grows so strong that she know she will die without it, so her husband has no choice but to scale the wall surrounding the witch’s garden and steal some of the lettuce. On the third night of his endeavors, however, he’s discovered by the witch (named Dame Gothel) who spares his life in exchange for the life of his unborn child. Once the child is born, Dame Gothel cashes in on her bet and raises the baby girl – named, of course, Rapunzel – as her own. When Rapunzel turns 12, she imprisons her in a high tower in the woods, without doors and only a single window, visiting her every day but leaving every night. One night a prince is traveling through the woods and hears Rapunzel’s singing, falls in love, she lets down her hair to let him climb up, etc. The witch discovers them, cuts off Rapunzel’s golden locks, tricks the prince and blinds him. Later, he hears Rapunzel’s singing, her tears heal his blindness and they live happily ever after.
In Rapunzel’s Revenge, things are a little different. The first part of the fairy tale is true – Rapunzel is taken from her parents when she’s only a child and Mother Gothel raises her as her own. But by the time Rapunzel turns twelve, she is able to scale the wall surrounding the hacienda-like home she shares with her supposed mother – and she sees the ruins of the outside world, including her real mother. When Rapunzel confronts Mother Gothel and demands the truth, she is thrown into an isolated tower. As the years pass, her hair grows incredibly long…and then she decides she’s had enough of sitting and waiting around. Using her hair as a rope, she swings to a tree and makes her way to the ground. From there, she runs into a rogue thief named Jack (who is guarding a goose with his live), and together the two of them strike out back to Mother Gothel’s mansion, to save Rapunzel’s mother and to exact revenge.
Thea: Rapunzel’s Revenge is a melange of familiar fairy tales, using not only Rapunzel as inspiration, but also the likes of Jack and the Beanstalk and the dwarves of Snow White – all set against the backdrop of the wild west. And, I gotta say, I think I prefer this retelling of the fairy tale to the original! First off, Ana and I are suckers for westerns (no seriously, we had a whole Western Week to prove it), and what better way to spice up an old story than with some southwest flair? And, strangely enough, the story fits the setting beautifully. Rapunzel’s Revenge is a traveling tale, where Rapunzel and Jack work for their keep, protecting frightened and disenfranchised villagers, stopping horse thief outlaws, and slaying troublesome critters. In each dustblown town they ride to, Rapunzel and Jack always find trouble – but it’s all part of the fun of their adventure together.
I loved the different episodes they go through (not to mention the scene of their first meeting, when Jack’s dressed up as a lady trying to work as a barmaid), and the rapport that begins between these two characters. The writing is solid, as per usual with Shannon Hale – I loved the Books of Bayern by this author, but I was unfamiliar with Dean Hale’s writing and Nathan Hale’s illustrations. And, I gotta say, this is one talented group. Written by the wife and husband team of Shannon and Dean Hale, Rapunzel’s Revenge uses the same imaginative and subversive storytelling Ms. Hale wrote her Bayern Books with, but with a more comic touch. I am pleased to say that these two authors were able to translate from prose to comic form seamlessly – it’s clever, beautifully plotted and altogether winsome. One of my favorite things about this graphic novel was the dialogue employed, especially for Rapunzel. Really running with the western theme, Rapunzel’s lines are colorfully fun – i.e. “Well I’ll be swigger-jiggered and hung out to dry;” or “I can get off my own horse, you rumdum.” Awesome.
Nathan Hale’s (no relation to wife-husband team Shannon and Dean) illustrations are a little more…illustration-y than I was expecting. They are nicely drawn and use a wide array of colors, and I love that Jack is visualized as a hispanic, darker skinned young man and Rapunzel is channeling Pipi Longstocking with her red braided pigtails. Once I got acclimated to Mr. Hale’s style – as he is a children’s book illustrator and webcomic artist – I loved it.
But the best thing of all about Rapunzel’s Revenge has to be the empowering message it sends to young readers, especially girls. There’s romance and adventure in this book, but it’s all because Rapunzel is willing to get off her butt and save herself. And that, my friends, is a worthy message.
Ana:Yes, Thea, I completely agree. Words cannot describe how much I admired this version of the Rapunzel’s tale – in fact it completely overshadowed the original for me. Already in the first pages , Rapunzel shows spunk and determination and by the end of the novel through the various episodes she and Jack go through, she has turned into a veritable force of nature. From naïve young girl to the loss of that naiveté to becoming a strong-willed woman, every step of the way was a great joy to read and see. A graphic novel is a perfect medium for such a story, as every change in Rapunzel’s life was accompanied by a change in her demeanour. Case in point, the point where she turns into a young woman and replaces a virginal white shirt for trousers and vest. Evidenced here:
(both images copyright Nathan Hale 2007 – from here)
Even though like Thea, it took me some time to get used to the art –which at first seemed rather juvenile (not surprisingly, given this is a YA novel) but eventually turned out to be perfect for the story.
The driving force of Rapunzel’s Revenge is the heroine’s need to set things right – starting with her own story and her own need for revenge but ultimately becoming a proper heroine’s quest for JUSTICE. For all the poor people she and Jack met along the way, that were suffering in the hands of Mother Gothel. The Western set is a perfect fit for the story – oh hell, there is little about the book that is not a perfect fit.
And I absolutely loved the narrative as well, especially how sarcastic Rapunzel could be. At times she would narrate an adventure in one way whilst the illustration showed something else entirely. Like her escape from the tree tower: she says something like how gracefully she jumped from the window and the illustration shows her clumsy making her way out. FUN.
On the Characters:
Thea: It’s all about Rapunzel. Gone is the passive weepy princess of the luscious golden locks – and she’s replaced with a fiery, auburn haired whippersnapper. Shortly after saving herself from her tower prison, she runs across the Hero who was questing to save her – with slightly different results than the fairy tale.
HERO: Are you all right?
RAPUNZEL: Oh…Am I…Am I all right? Well, I was until someone shot my pet pig. I was going to call him Roger.
HERO: You’re welcome! All in a day’s work. I’m an adventuring hero.
RAPUNZEL: Well, it’s nice to meet you. It’s nice to meet anyone, really. Can you give me directions to —
HERO: I was getting so bored watching the workers farm my fields all day. So I left behind the civilized comforts of the Husker City, following tales of a beautiful maiden trapped in a high tower.
RAPUNZEL: Oh! That’s so noble of you to come all this way to help her.
HERO: Yes, noble is a good word for me. I can’t actually rescue her, of course. The word is she’s Mother Gothel’s pet and I won’t risk crossing the old lady. But I can tell her I’m going to rescue her. She’s bound to be too naive to know the difference and it’ll be such fun in the meantime!
HERO: So, tiny ragamuffin, as payment for saving you from that rampaging beast, you may point the way to her mystical tower.
RAPUNZEL: Uh, yeah, the tower is a huge tree just back that way, but…but she’s slightly deaf. If you keep calling out, she’ll hear you. Eventually.
Tee hee. Even when Rapunzel teams up with Jack, she’s the muscle of the operation – Jack being more of a thief and conman, naturally. She’s witty, and brave and stubborn as all-get-out, and that makes her a perfect heroine cowgirl in my opinion.
And then, there’s Jack. He’s a true delight as a funny, refreshing hero/sidekick character. He actually reminds me a bit of Razo from River Secrets as a jokester who knows when he’s out of his depth – but he’s much more cunning than Razo in his scheming. When Rapunzel strictly tells Jack that they cannot steal for their food and goods, instead they must earn their way back to Gothel’s Reach, he reluctantly agrees because he is the proverbial thief with a heart of gold. He and his “Punzie” (a nickname that Rapunzel detests) form a strong friendship that evolves into a romantic attachment…and it’s so very sweet.
I mentioned it a bit above, but another thing I think I should mention about Rapunzel’s Revenge is how much I loved the diversity in the characters. By diversity, I mean: Not everyone is white. There are hispanic villagers, there are black characters and asian characters, and best of all, Jack himself (a main character) is dark skinned. Diversity is lacking in a lot of “mainstream” fiction and comics, and I loved to see it represented here especially in this young adult book.
Ana:Again, I have to echo Thea’s thoughts for just about everything. The diversity is welcomed , but most of all, well employed (ie the Hispanic villagers are not used for comic relief for example. *coughlikethemovietheproposalcough*).
Jack was a delight to read as a con-man and a worthy hero – even if his ass had to be saved by Rapunzel over and again , which only added to my delight. Even in the end, in the showdown against Mother Gothel, when everything seemed lost and I feared that Rapunzel would end up having to be rescued, Shannon Hale never let me down and turned my own expectations around. I should have known.
The story really does belong to Rapunzel who shines from cover to cover with her determination, smarts, even her bossiness towards Jack. An absolute delight of a character, an example of a young woman who goes after what she wants.
Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating:
Thea: If you couldn’t tell, I loved Rapunzel’s Revenge. This is a book I will give to my ten year old sister to read because of its imagination, it’s beautiful illustrations, writing, and above all because of its model, empowering heroine. Absolutely recommended.
Ana: I had a LOT of fun reading this, for all the right reasons: writing, illustrations, plot and characters. MORE, please.
Additional Thoughts: Apparently we weren’t the only ones to love Rapunzel’s Revenge – it was nominated for the 2009 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Tweens/Teens (though it lost out to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline). In fact, a sequel is completed and due out next year! Here’s a look at Calamity Jack (love the title):
Jack thinks of himself as a criminal mastermind with an unfortunate amount of bad luck. A schemer, a trickster …maybe even a thief? But, of course, he’s not out for himself he’s trying to take the burden off his hardworking mum’s shoulders. She’d understand, right? He hopes she might even be proud. Then, one day, Jack chooses a target a little more …’giant’ than the usual, and as one little bean turns into a great big building-destroying beanstalk, his troubles really begin. But with help from Rapunzel and other eccentric friends, Jack just might out-swindle the evil giants and put his beloved city back in the hands of the people who live there …whilst catapulting them and the reader into another fantastical adventure.
You can check out some of the other cover drafts and art by clicking on the thumbnails below:
Also, check out this non-official trailer for Rapunzel’s Revenge. We think it captures the spirit of the book beautifully.
Thea: 8 – Excellent
Ana: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson