Rapunzella, Or, Don’t Touch My Hair by Ella McLeod

Rapunzella, Or, Don’t Touch My Hair is a magnificent retelling of Rapunzel that is infused with Afro-Caribbean culture.

Rapunzella, Or, Don’t Touch My Hair by Ella McLeod

Ella McLeod is a spoken word poet and performer and Rapunzella, Or, Don’t Touch My Hair is her first novel. Rapunzella is imprisoned in an enchanted forest made of her own Afro, and the power of the evil King Charming seems unstoppable. But that is until Rapunzella discovers the power of her hair and its ability to change her future. Flitting between Rapunzella’s dream world and the life of a young Black girl growing up in London, we are immersed in a world where Black hair contains magic and hair salons are spaces of safety but also of possibility and dreams. More specifically, dreams of hair so rich and alive that it grows upwards and outwards into a wild landscape of its own. 

Rapunzella, Or, Don’t Touch My Hair is a wonderfully unique novel that skilfully genre-bends fantasy and realism by weaving together inner-city life and fairytale universe. Not only is the novel a coming-of-age tale of a young Black girl growing up in London, but it is also a retelling of the fairytale Rapunzel. Here, McLeod deconstructs the original story of Rapunzel and brings forth something new, exciting and empowering. Whereas Rapunzel is saved by Prince Charming from the evil witch, Rapunzella saves herself from the evil King Charming. The feminist twist McLeod puts on the traditional fairytale here is incredibly powerful as she destroys the damsel in distress stereotype. Rapunzella does not wait for a man to save her. She is strong enough to save herself - and this time, it is not an old woman who is the villain but the patriarchy. Even more exciting, it is Rapunzella’s Afro that saves her. This notion of McLeod endowing Black hair with power and magic is incredibly empowering, especially for the teenage Black girls to whom this book is targeted. 

Not only is the concept of the novel unique, but how it is written is too. Rapunzella, Or, Don’t Touch My Hair wonderfully melds together poetry and prose. This blend of writing styles works incredibly well for McLeod’s debut. The whimsical and lyrical quality of her poetry lends itself perfectly to the magical fairytale element of the novel. In addition, McLeod’s choice of second-person narrative is an interesting decision that works in the novel’s favour. By switching the narrative to second-person, McLeod forces us to reimagine ‘what’ exactly the protagonist is. As this is not revealed until the end of the book, it does a great job of building up the mystery and magic of the story. 

Rapunzella, Or, Don’t Touch My Hair is a dazzling debut that marks a fantastic entrance into the world of fiction for McLeod.

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