Searching for Rapunzel: An Adventure in Googling

January 31, 2014 § 3 Comments

So, last week I was preparing to post a new entry on A Grimm Project, and I needed an illustration for “Rapunzel.” I have my favorite illustrators from different time periods, from Heinrich Lefler to Arthur Rackham to Paul O. Zelinsky, but I wanted to see if I could find something new, or that I had forgotten about. I did a Google image search. But I forgot the cardinal rule of finding illustrations of fairy tales on the internet: include the word “illustration.” If you don’t, here’s what you get:

Google image search 1/19/14

Google image search 1/19/14
Click to enlarge

This is just a sampling, I’d say it comprises the first 1-2 pages of search results. Notice anything? It’s all the same version of Rapunzel — the main character of Disney’s Tangled (2010). If you’re trying to find anything other than this version and you don’t know exact search terms to add (like “Rackham” or “Trina Schart Hyman” or even a general added term like “illustration”) then it’s going to be very, very hard for you to find anything but the princess pictured above. Even the sub-categories listed above the images pertain to Disney’s version: the “Real Life” sub-category, which is obscured in the image above, is pictures of women costumed like the princess from Tangled. If you’re looking for illustrations of the fairy tale, you have to scroll through several pages before coming up with variations outside this pattern other than DeviantArt postings and cosplay. It made me think, and it made me search further.

Google image search 1/26

Google image search 1/26
Click to enlarge

Google image search 1/26

Google image search 1/26
Click to enlarge

Google image search 1/26

Google image search 1/26
Click to enlarge

Despite some variation (“Sleeping Beauty” shows a few more classic illustrations and amateur art on the first few pages than the others, and “Snow White” shows some images from other recent films, while also including images from Disney-owned series “Once Upon a Time”), these images are pretty overwhelmingly similar in the amount of Disney-branded images offered. And that shouldn’t be surprising — the Disney Corporation certainly has enough money, manpower, and popularity to keep tight leashes on webcrawlers and search engines. One could look at the way its branding dominates a collective platform like the internet and call it sinister, but that’s leaping to extreme language for what is, when you look at the “bigger picture” (forgive me), a pretty accurate and organic representation of how fairy tales still exist in our world. It might, if you’re like me, strike you as sad. The classic illustrations just don’t live in the wider cultural consciousness the way the multi-million-dollar films do.

Fortunately, searching for “rapunzel book” offers a much wider variety of options for those who might want to discover new versions and editions. There are always ways of finding more fairy tales, if you do a little digging. What the images above should tell you, though, is that in this world of hyper-branding and commercialized stories, it takes determination to dig through the Disney. If you, like me, are a fan of alternate illustrations, versions, and explorations of fairy tales, never be afraid to share, and add a little variety to the mix.

Update: I forgot someone…

Google image search 1/31 click to enlarge

Google image search 1/31
click to enlarge

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§ 3 Responses to Searching for Rapunzel: An Adventure in Googling

  • LiAnn says:

    I’ve run into the exact same trouble! I love searching up fairy tale illustrations, new and old, every now and then to use as desktop backgrounds, and it’s gotten harder. I usually have to add “-Disney” to my search, and even that doesn’t entirely separate the Disney images from the stream.

    I think Tumblr is where I’ve found more new illustrative takes on old tales (and favorite new illustrators), like Yelena Brykenskova and Angela Rizza.

    I know I’m late to the party, but I love your Grimm Project!

  • Jennifer Lynn Krohn says:

    What saddens me the most about the ubiquitous nature of the Disney version is how new artist often don’t want to stray far from Disney iconography. I want to see new Cinderellas and Sleeping Beauties.

  • I’m terrified of a Rumplestiltskin Disney movie for this very reason. It’s my favorite fairy tale!!!

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