The Twice Upon a Time series by Wendy Mass tells a familiar fairy tale from the point of view of both the heroine and the hero. Rapunzel, The One With All the Hair certainly takes liberties with the tale (Rapunzel is taken by the witch on her twelfth birthday instead of at her birth, for instance), but it provides an amusing and recognizable take on the story.
The two stories are told in present tense, alternating chapter by chapter for the most part. The tone is very conversational, walking an interesting line between formal and modern casual. For instance, there are almost no contractions in the dialogue, but when Rapunzel gets worked up, she WRITES IN CAPS LOCK!!! This could be jarring to some readers, but I found it amusing.
I read an older version of the book, and I much preferred the cover art which featured both Rapunzel and Prince Benjamin—the story very much belongs to both of them.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Rapunzel is 12 and Benjamin is 13. They both get pimples at some point in the book. When Rapunzel can’t bathe in the tower, she starts to smell. Apparently the food and drink are enchanted so she has no need to relieve herself (no doubt answering a question many tween readers would wonder about!). There’s some talk about the dung chutes and how Benjamin’s toddler sister doesn’t use them yet, although she does yell “Poopy bottom, poopy poo!” at her future father-in-law. This book doesn’t just ignore that people’s bodies do things that aren’t always pleasant.
Prince Benjamin is good friends with Andrew, a page. He has to hang out a lot with his slightly older and very annoying cousin, Prince Elkin. Over the course of the book, we learn that Elkin is jealous of Andrew. Benjamin realizes that this isn’t without cause, and the three boys become better and better friends. Elkin isn’t actually such a bad kid, and he even helps Benjamin take risks that he kind of needs to take.
Benjamin is blind without his glasses, which keep breaking and getting lost. In the end, this fills in for the blindness from thorns—instead of having his eyes stabbed out, his glasses break. Instead of curing him with miraculous tears, Rapunzel has his spare glasses that he’d left in the tower—she fixed them and kept them hidden on a necklace so the witch wouldn’t see them. Several times in the story, Benjamin has to rely on other people to help him because his glasses get broken—he accepts this as part of what happens. Then he, in turn, wants to help the people who help him.
Romance and Marriage
Of course, the two have nothing to do with each other! Romance is minimal—we find out that the chamber maid has a crush on Andrew, which the boys use to their advantage when they need her to be distracted. Rapunzel and Benjamin find each other cute, and this is the first time that’s ever happened to either of them. They aren’t really sure what to do about it, and at 12 and 13, they don’t have to figure it out.
Annabelle, Benjamin’s 3 year old sister, is already engaged. Elkin gets engaged pretty early in the book. Toward the end, Benjamin is engaged. In each case, the kids have absolutely no say. After Benjamin rescues Rapunzel, his mother rethinks his engagement—she says that when he’s ready, he can choose who he wants to marry. His bravery and initiative have shown her that he ought to have a say over this aspect of his life.
Stereotypes and Expectations
Benjamin is kind of gawky and clumsy, having recently gone through a growth spurt. He’s unathletic and prefers to read. He’s not terribly princely, but no one is really holding that against him. It’s just that his mother would prefer that he started acting a bit more like a prince.
Rapunzel makes friends with a small green guy who serves as her cook in the tower for a while. His name is Steven—Rapunzel expected something more exotic. At first she’s scared of him, but soon she becomes close to him. In the end, everyone has to learn to accept him, and for the most part they do. He mentions that he thought humans looked pretty weird, too, so he understands that the children are curious about him.
Elkin seems like the typical annoying cousin, out to get Benjamin in as much trouble as possible. However, while he’s not a saint by any means and he does tease Benjamin, once the boys start really talking, they learn that they have a lot of fun together and they become good friends. Elkin really doesn’t want to hunt, which is one of the first surprises we get about his character—he seems like the kind of person who would really enjoy it.
Benjamin never really thought about the peasants that lived in his kingdom until a boy helped him when his glasses broke. He learns about what life is like for the peasants, and he vows that he’s going to learn to be a good king to them. It’s not that things are bad—Benjamin’s father is a good king and no one is going hungry. But the peasants give up their dreams in order to provide for their families. Benjamin respects this decision, but hopes to help make more dreams come true.
Rapunzel’s parents kind of neglected to tell her about the deal they made with the witch. She’s quite angry at them for a while until she realizes that they were under a spell when it happened. The witch is quite dishonest and has no redeeming qualities—she tricked Steven into servitude, too.
Benjamin, Elkin, and Andrew sneak around a good bit. Benjamin’s mother points out in the end that she wishes they hadn’t gone behind her back so much, but she understands why they did.
Quite a number of times, Rapunzel and Benjamin realize that there were other ways to solve problems—so they go through convoluted plans only to realize there was a simpler way to do the same thing. They berate themselves a bit (when Rapunzel realizes she could have asked for shears to cut off her braid rather than enough silk to make a ladder, she says that maybe she’s too stupid to live—it’s a toss off remark, not dissimilar to how my own 12 year old berates herself sometimes—but it’s still something you might want to know about). This both makes the characters easy to identify with and explains some of the things that happen in the fairy tale.
I enjoyed this. I think my daughter will like it a lot. It’s a quick read—not very long, with short chapters and a fast pace. The tone is amusing and easy to read. It’s probably suitable for precocious 8 year olds and up. Although the new covers skew VERY girly, I think both boys and girls who like fairy tales would like this book.
Update: Both my kids really enjoyed this book. I was grateful the copy I borrowed had the old cover, and I rant about why.