Monday, March 24, 2014

A Month of Rapunzel: Discussion: The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon (spoilers Included)

*Spoilers will be included. I highly recommend this Rapunzel Retelling and wrote a 5 star review saying so if you have not read The Fairest of Them All I suggest checking out my review and then coming back to join in on the discussion.*

1. How is The Fairest of Them All different from the fairy tales it is based upon? What are some similarities?

There were many many differences in this novel, but the biggest difference is the depth added to the story. The original tale of Rapunzel and Snow White are both rather simplistic and don't have time to explore the character's motives and emotions. They don't even really explore their regrets in regards to their actions. The Fairest of Them All takes the time to explore the themes that are not explored in the original tales. 

The Fairest of Them All is a highly original fairy tale retelling and as I stated in my review of the book I think it defies a lot of the stereotypes of Rapunzel's fairy tale. It does in some ways stick to the original tale. As usual Rapunzel is named after a herb that her mother craves during her pregnancy. Rapunzel's hair continues to be the defining trait of her personality. 

As I talked about in my review this Rapunzel is different from most Rapunzel. We meet her when she is older not a child as we so often see. She has not been locked up in a tower, only briefly. Her stepmother has no selfish reason to keep Rapunzel hidden. This Rapunzel has many characteristics that are evil and made me question her character. This novel can be quite dark sometimes, which stays very true to the original tale. 

2. Many fairy tales have omniscient narrators, yet this novel is told from the point of view of Rapunzel. Why do you think the author made the decision to give us Rapunzel's perspective? How did this influence what you felt about Rapunzel's choices? 

I think having Rapunzel as the narrator made it 10 times hard to accept her bad choices. By the time she was making some of her worst decisions in the novel I was really attached to Rapunzel. I thought she was a very complex character and I wanted the best for Rapunzel. Her being the narrator made it hard to accept her choices as the truth. 

3. Many of us dream about living in a world of princes and princess, where magic is real and a part of life. What aspects of Rapunzel's and Snow White's lives were appealing to you? What are some of the challenges you didn't expect them to face? 

This is a fascinating question to ask because the fairy tales we so often see is that their lives are perfect. They always live happily ever after.  Although this story had so many magical elements it has a real life element attached to it also. Honestly I don't know if I would be able to handle Snow Whites or Rapunzel's lives. Although I love the idea of living happily with a prince and getting all dressed up and having my hair done I think I like my independence just a bit too much to live that life. I think Rapunzel's character showed that challenge because she was used to spending a lot of time by herself and Snow White was always used to the structure of life. She had to spend time doing her lesson's and just being a princess.

4. How did Josef fit the stereotypical princes/kings seen in fairy tales? When did his actions suprise you? 

I mentioned in my review how much I wanted to love Josef as a character, but how I never felt the connection with him. Josef was a king and I think he did fit many stereotypes. There always seemed to be something about him that was selfish (Rapunzel had this quality also), standoffish, distant, and aloof. I didn't feel like there was any real connection with him and Rapunzel. I think the feeling Rapunzel felt for Josef would be more accurately described as lust. I really should have seen the moment with the other girls coming, but I honestly thought that Josef was happy with Rapunzel even though he didn't necessarily love her. Rapunzel's affair with the falcon keeper, Gilles, is also a moment that surprised me and confirmed how unsatisfied Rapunzel was in her marriage. I think even a baby would not have saved this relationship. 

5. What was your reaction to Mathena?

I'm still trying to figure out Mathena. She was such a complex Mother Gothel. She didn't have selfish reason to keep Rapunzel locked up in the tower. I often felt her actions were hard to explain. Knowing the original story of Rapunzel the most surprising decision of hers was to kill off the queen. I didn't understand why she wanted Rapunzel to leave because that is usually not a defining characteristics of Mother Gothels in other Rapunzel retellings. Mathena in herself was such a complex character in the novel that I fell in love with her. Although Mathena should have been the evil character in this retelling I don't think Rapunzel's actions were all to be blamed on Mathena. 

6. Love of Beauty and the complications of aging are important themes in The Fairest of Them All; The king and Rapunzel are particularly obcessed with beauty. Discuss some of the pitfalls of a life lived in luxury and the need for everything to be beautiful.

This was something I really wanted to discuss because it was a key to the conflict in the novel. Everything was about image and self infatuation. Rapunzel believed that she was nothing without her hair and her beauty. All her dreams would come true as long as she remained beautiful. When Rapunzel ages and her beauty as she once saw herself begins to fade she starts to think a bit more darkly while Snow White was in her prime age of beauty. Some of the complications Rapunzel faced in the novel would have been avoided if she was so consumed with herself. 

7. Whey do you think Snow White will make a good queen? What made her father a bad king?

Snow White's father was too obcessed with himself and his own interests to really care what bad things were happening in the kingdom. While Snow White has spent much time outside the palace walls seeing the outside world with Rapunzel. She is more understand of the citizens and is more likely to meet their needs. 

8. Describe Snow White's character and the changes she goes through over the course of the story? What did you think of her initial rejection of Rapunzel? How did their relationship evolve? 

Jealously always seems to be an overpowering theme in Snow White retellings and it was no different for The Fairest of Them All. Rapunzel experienced the intial jealously of Snow White be born into the world and grow as a normal girl when her own son died inside of her. Rapunzel is able to overcome that jealous tendency and love Snow White. Snow White really did not know where she fit within Josef and Rapunzel's relationship when Rapunzel first came. Their relationship eventually evolved and they had fun spending time together. Snow White especially loved to learn about all the plants and herbs Rapunzel knew about. Snow White's rejection of Rapunzel when she was a teenager didn't overly surprise me. She loved her father and she could not love a woman who would not even look at her father yet remain married to him. That is when Rapunzel's jealously begins to come back and we see her move full circle with her feelings for Snow White. 

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