Post #48: Zel

Zel
Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

Post number forty-eight is for Donna Jo Napoli’s Zel, which is a retelling of the famous fairy tale Rapunzel. While there were definitely some massive similarities between the two stories, there were enough differences to make the book intriguing and different, although it’s quite dark. I enjoyed seeing the twist on the story we all know so well.

Spoilery thoughts follow.

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So the same old, same old, goes with this story: Zel is taken as an infant by a witch, because she caught Zel’s father stealing Rapunzel from her garden. The catch is that the witch in this case was a very religious, pious woman for many years, who finally sold her soul to the devil because she was barren and wanted a child. The devil gave her a gift – an uncanny ability with plants – and told her it was from this gift that she would get her child. The witch – referred to only as Mother throughout this entire book – takes Zel and raises her in a secluded portion of countryside that they call the alm. (I get the feeling this is set in Germany, fwiw, although this is never actually confirmed outright.)

In the initial tale, Rapunzel meets the prince only when he comes to her tower. However, in Zel, it is precisely because she’s met this boy – Konrad, who is actually a Count – beforehand that Mother decides she must be locked away. She’s shut up for two years, throughout which Konrad searches for her ceasingly, and during this time is when the book gets really dark. For being shut away has impacted Zel in some very dark and dangerous ways; she’s basically suicidal, although she doesn’t ever actually hurt herself with the intent to end her life. She also sees visions that aren’t there, and most of them involve Konrad’s horse, Meta. She does some other things that are just disturbing and kind of gross, as well, which basically paint a very bleak mental picture of her.

The ending is the same as always; Mother finds out that Zel has been meeting up with Konrad, and she banishes her from the tower, thereby ensuring that Konrad won’t ever see her again. She also pushes Konrad out of the tower, but at the last minute decides to save his life by conjuring up a bunch of brambles at the base, which he then falls upon and blinds himself.

I couldn’t help but feel extremely sorry for Konrad this entire time. The book starts with him rushing about trying to find something for Zel (she asks him for a still-warm, fertilized goose egg), and when he finally gets it, she’s gone, and that’s the last time he sees her until two years later, when he finally stumbles upon her tower. In the meantime, he spends nearly every waking moment (much to the alarm of his family) looking for her; then he finds her, only to have her disappear AGAIN for multiple years. But at least they get their happy ending, I suppose.

Anyway, it was an interesting retelling of a tale we all know, but I found parts of it to be super dark, which I suppose keeps with the intial fairy tales. But if you’re expecting sunshine and roses, this is definitely not the book for you!

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