Saturday, August 7, 2010

Book Review 3 - Genre 6 - Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale


Hale, Shannon and Hale, Dean. 2008. Rapunzel’s Revenge. Ill. By Nathan Hale. New York: Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781599902883.

Plot Summary

Rapunzel’s Revenge is a fantasy graphic novel in which the protagonist Rapunzel is separated from her “real” family as a little girl and taken in by the evil mother Gothel. At age 12, Rapunzel decides to look over the wall and see what it beyond. What she sees is desolate and ugly. Beyond the wall, she meets the woman who is her real mother and is separated again from her as she is taken back to Gothel who punishes her by locking her up in a tall tree for four years. During this time, Rapunzel’s hair grows to incredible lengths, and she eventually escapes her prison vowing to find and free her mother. This vow takes her on an adventure where she meets Jack. Jack and Rapunzel become good friends and work together to find a way to free Rapunzel’s real mother from the evil Gothel.

Critical Analysis

Shannon and Deal Hale use the “everything but the kitchen sink” recipe for this fantasy graphic novel. They start with a heavy portion of fairy tale, add a little myth along with morals, and add a Wild West motif. Middle school students will love the strong sense of justice, adventure, and first love. For older students, the overuse of blending so many stories and cultures together may be tiresome.

Since most of the characters are spin-offs from other tales, it does not take long to figure them out. Rapunzel of fairy tale fame has the same advantage of long hair that helps her out except that this Rapunzel is a risk-taker who is not going to sit around waiting for a prince to rescue her. In fact, when a prince shows up, she tricks him. Rapunzel’s sidekick Jack is also of fairy tale fame better known as Jake and the beanstalk coincidentally has the goose who lays golden eggs. The evil mother character embodied in Gothel is a collective of all the evil mothers and stepmothers from various fairy tales. The other characters are an interesting assortment of various cultures. There are Indians, Mexicans, Asian, a French woman and European woodsmen to name a few. The oddest group of characters is some bandits where one is wearing pirate apparel and one of the others looks like a version of Mr. T. These are all familiar characters pulled from various stories.

Most fairy tales are set a long, long time ago, so using the Wild West makes for an interesting twist. Rapunzel starts out as a perfect child in a perfect villa until she decides to see what is beyond the wall. This is very reminiscent of the old adage “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” or in this case wall. Rapunzel finds the other side of the wall is not greener but instead dirtier and uglier. When she finally escapes from the tree that imprisons her, she heads out into unknown territory. The map on page 73 helps the reader understand the landscape that Rapunzel and Jack must travel. The illustrations also help establish the setting. At the villa, the pictures are filled with green and lilac, and then, dark and lots of brown colors in the other areas where Gothel has withered everything away. The illustrations are essential to the setting.

Additionally, the plot follows the usual fairy tale format. There is a quest for Rapunzel. She must escape from prison in the tree and find her “real” mother to set her free. Along the way, Rapunzel meets up with many challenges and obstacles to overcome. She must overcome the obvious ones like hunger and sleep, but also magical ones of sea serpents and overly huge wild boar. As soon as she completes one task, then something goes wrong, and she has one more thing to overcome. Her desire to complete a task is always based on her wanting to right a wrong. This pattern continues until she finally subdues the evil mother Gothel, and everyone lives happily ever after. The plot is very predictable and formulaic especially for older readers.

Shannon and Dean Hale’s style for this story seems manufactured. Using all the usual motifs, characters, and themes from tales makes the story feel retold. Furthermore, the language is an odd combination of Wild West dialect and more modern word usage. In some places the readers hears Wild West words like “swigger-jiggered,” “yep,” “dag-nabit” and “scared spitless,” and in other places more modern words and phrases like “avatar,” and “That’s just wrong” (p. 66). This lack of consistency could be a problem for older readers, which seems to lend itself to an intended audience of middle schoolers. There are jokes about passing gas and embarrassing first kisses that would appeal to this age group. Overall, it is an entertaining twist on old material for younger readers, but maybe too predictable for older readers.

Review Excerpts

Publishers Weekly – “With its can-do heroine, witty dialogue and romantic ending, this graphic novel has something for nearly everybody.”

Alan Review – “This is definitely not your grandmother's Rapunzel—the quietly submissive, longsuffering princess, waiting for the prince to rescue her.”

School Library Journal – “The dialogue is witty, the story is an enticing departure from the original, and the illustrations are magically fun and expressive.”

Kirkus Review – “A dash of typical fairy-tale romance, a strong sense of social justice and a spunky heroine make this a standout choice for younger teens.”


* Share picture book versions of the following stories (there are many versions available) and discuss how they connect to Rapunzel’s Revenge. In addition, a compare/contrast of the illustrations would be interesting.

  • Rapunzel
  • Jack and the Beanstalk
  • The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg
  • Samson and Delilah
  • Pied Piper of Hamelin
  • Pandora

*Create reader’s theater scripts for students to perform.

*In groups, have students select a fairy tale and rewrite it in a different setting.

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