Book Title: The Book of Gothel
Author: Mary McMyne
Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59568371-the-book-of-gothel
Release Date: 07/26/22
A story that stabbed me straight through the heart.
Everyone knows the tale of Rapunzel in her tower, but do you know the story of the witch who put her there?
Haelewise has always lived under the shadow of her mother, Hedda—a woman who will do anything to keep her daughter protected. For with her strange black eyes and even stranger fainting spells, Haelewise is shunned by her medieval village, and her only solace lies in the stories her mother tells of child-stealing witches, of princes in wolf-skins, of an ancient tower cloaked in mist, where women will find shelter if they are brave enough to seek it.
Then, Hedda dies, and Haelewise is left unmoored. With nothing left for her in her village, she sets out to find the legendary tower her mother used to speak of—a place called Gothel, where Haelewise meets a wise woman willing to take her under her wing.
But Haelewise is not the only woman to seek refuge at Gothel. It’s also a haven for a girl named Rika, who carries with her a secret the Church strives to keep hidden. A secret that unlocks a dark world of ancient spells and murderous nobles behind the world Haelewise has always known… – Goodreads
Rapunzel is one of those stories which is so much much deeper than it seems at first glance. It has some very real truths to speak about women, girls and the relationships between mothers and daughters. I remember when I went to see Tangled with my then 2 year old daughter. She loved it, I loved it. It touched me … especially the scenes between tiny Rapunzel and Mother Gothel. However, the relationship that Gothel has with Rapunzel is a little simplistic in the cartoon. I get it, this is a Disney villain, she needs to be all bad and that is really reflected in the way the character is written. I didn’t pick up on any real love for the little girl, only selfishness and a desire to use the child’s powers.
The relationship between Rapunzel and the Witch/Gothel is much more fleshed out in the stage production of Into The Woods. Which focuses on how the witch wants so desperately to shield and protect her child that she imprisons and hurts the young woman. Do yourself a favor and listen to the song “Stay With Me”. It will rip your heart out. The pleading of a mother who is doing the wrong thing every damn day but tries to convince herself she is doing it for all the right reasons.
Don’t you know what’s out there in the world?
Someone has to shield you from the world
Stay with me
Princes wait there in the world, it’s true
Princes, yes, but wolves and humans, too
Stay at home
I am home
Who out there could love you more than I?
What out there that I cannot supply?
Stay with me
Stay with me
The world is dark and wild
Stay a child while you can be a child
So now that I’ve taken you down my personal Rapunzel rabbit hole I can explain how this book fits into the picture. Haelwise has and loses a mother who loves her unconditionally, which wounds her deeply. Throughout the story she then meets and parts with other women who come to stand in as mothers (and sometimes sisters). Each providing their own measure of guidance and help, some for good and others for ill. Some harm her because even when we try our absolutely hardest to mother our daughters we can fuck things up with the best of intentions.
As women I feel like this story resonates because it is true for each and every one of us. As a mom of a young teen, I’ve lived my own Rapunzel/Gothel story since we went to see Rapunzel all those years ago. I am happy when I know that I’ve done my best to be supportive and kind. I am stricken when I realize the ways I’ve let her down. I am horrified when I contemplate how I was forced to “rapunzel” my own daughter during the pandemic. We took our girls and tucked them away in our homes trying to shield them from a dangerous world. We had to wrap them up, mask them, isolate them from their friends and frightened the living daylights out of children who shouldn’t have to deal with death and illness to this extent during their younger years. Things have calmed down a bit but we still have to protect them from an ongoing pandemic. I know from talking to educators in my area that so many children are suffering anxiety/depression as a result of all of this. It isn’t my fault as a mom, I didn’t create this pandemic. But all the same, how do we ever make up for that? Can we help them manage their stress adequately? Do we hope that someday when they are women they can look back on their childhoods and see how we tried our best to mother them through this crisis? I certainly hope so. It keeps me up at night. Truly.
Anyway, back to the book. Besides the mother/daughter relationship it also has a lot to say about how women’s stories are told and have been told through the ages. In other words, hardly at all. I’m glad that books like this are now taking the old stories (told and interpreted by men) and looking at them through a female viewpoint. I actually read this book twice since I got the ARC. I feel like it’s something I will revisit again in the future. It’s fascinating and heartbreaking but also in the end somewhat hopeful. I loved it. I hope you will read it too. Don’t miss this one.