I was waiting for the traffic signal to change to change when a different light appeared – in my brain, not on the street I was waiting to cross. It wasn’t Maynooth’s classrooms and bookstores that started me thinking, but the medieval castle on the corner between Maynooth’s town and gown.
Like any good teacher, it left me with more questions than answers.
Last week we talked about its lessons in censorship. This week let’s look at my initial response to this old stone tower – the tangled relationship between Rapunzel and a Catholic saint. To start, I’ll tell you their tales. Then you can tell your best friend, who’ll tell it to theirs – and we know what will happen to the story by the time it comes back to us.
Most of us are familiar with the basic story of Rapunzel – the long-haired girl in the tower rescued by a prince. In its current incarnation we have Disney’s Tangled and several increasingly tame versions from the Brothers Grimm. Their original 1812 story, sourced in earlier German, Italian and French versions, was aimed at adults and academics. Her long hair is said to come from even older Persian mythology. Those early Grimm readers saw Rapunzel became pregnant by a soon-to-be-blinded-for-his-deed prince. As the tale became more popular with the public the devoutly Christian brothers removed all references to seduction and sex. Essentially they did to an old tale what Disney has done to many of theirs – tamed it for the mass market of their times: a polite family audience.
OK, there are no particular surprises so far. Where does the church come into the picture? As its version of the story goes, beautiful Barbara was imprisoned in a tower by her pagan father to protect her from the evils of both Christianity and low-minded suitors. In one version, the person climbing the tower to save her was a priest, not a prince. In another, she convinced the workmen who were building part of her prison to insert three windows instead of the planned two, representing the Trinity. When her father discovered that his daughter had converted to Christianity, he dragged her out by her long beautiful hair. After a series of gruesome tortures, he beheaded her. He was immediately struck and killed by lightning, making this martyred virgin the patron saint of artillery. The tale came to light in the seventh century, attributing the events to the third century. In more recent times the Church has removed Saint Barbara from the General Roman Calendar, if not from its list of saints.
And the moral of this tangled tale of pregnancies, priests, royals and artillery? I guess it depends on the teller and their audience. Remember the first rule of advertising: Who’s your audience and what do you want them to do?
So you’re my audience – and all I want you to do is to enjoy these posts. If you’re a regular reader you know that my pretext is to share my experiences visiting Ireland’s indie bookstores, which is what brought me to Maynooth in the first place. Confession: I was also looking forward to lunch at Beetroot, one of my favourite restaurants. I’m glad I let them treat my taste buds with wonderfully fresh food just a few days before we all started staying home and relying on repetitive home-cooked meals and warmed-over deliveries. [Have I ever mentioned that I’m one of those people who’d rather read a menu than a cookbook?]
Here’s what I found – a well-stocked, well run Maynooth Bookshop in town with an attentive professional staff. While I was there, one woman was handling a phone call, covering a book for a schoolgirl, computer checking on the delivery of a new book for another customer and acknowledging me with a smiling nod – all at the same time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a similar performance in a chain store.
In other words, I found what I’ve become used to in indie bookshops: a unique inventory and friendly, knowledgeable staff. I almost didn’t go to their campus bookshop, but my curiosity about a college shop in our digital age led me to walk a few blocks [and to stop at Maynooth Castle for Rapunzel and company] to see what there was to see. I found a larger store with an equally impressive inventory and staff. So I bought two books instead of the one I’d planned on.
This piece is just one of a number I’ve written about my long-term love affair with books. If you’d like to see more simply click on the “Books” category below. You can also subscribe, so that you’ll see these blogs as they’re written, as opposed to social media’s algorithms. As the saying goes, if you like my writing, tell your friends. If you don’t, tell your enemies.