I was recently re-introduced to the macabre tale of Hungary’s Blood Countess, Elizabeth Báthory, ironically because The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s Daniel Brühl starred in the 2009 film about the historical figure. Needless to say, I was wholly unprepared to find Countess Báthory making a surprise — and pivotal — role in the latest addition to Disney’s A Twisted Tale series.
What Once Was Mine Takes Risks, Blending Disney’s Rapunzel with the Legend of the Blood Countess
Brendan and his twin sister Daniella start off the novel at Memorial Sloan Kettering, the hospital where Daniella has been admitted to treat her cancer. Like any sixteen-year-old going through a grim situation, Daniella is clinging to her love for Disney’s Rapunzel and, after asking her brother to read the novel to her after watching the movie for the third time, Brendan devises a plan to reinvent the tale with his own twist. Shift a few key plot points around and you get an entirely new and slightly darker tale.
Instead of the Sundrop Flower that gives Rapunzel the gift of healing, it’s the Moondrop Flower that gives Rapunzel the ability to kill. Of course, no one knows the mistake has occurred until she accidentally kills one of the servants when she is no more than a few days old. Heartbroken, the King and Queen allow Gothel to take their daughter away, telling the entire kingdom that their daughter died, instead of the truth.
The first part of Rapunzel’s upbringing is similar to the movie that we all know and love. She is kept in a tall tower and she fills her days with chores and hobbies until Mother Gothel deigns to return to see her. Rather than long golden locks, Rapunzel has silvery hair that she keeps tightly wound up and braided, out of fear of accidentally killing someone. As her nineteenth birthday approaches, Mother Gothel has been scheming to barter her hand in marriage off to the highest bidder, which includes an offer from the Blood Countess who is interested in bathing in her pure, untouched blood. Yes, Disney did in fact go there.
Rapunzel tries to convince Mother Gothel to take her to see the lanterns, but Gothel punishes her by forcing her to kill a chicken with her hair to reinforce why she has to be kept in the tower, alone, forever. But, after seeing a mysterious man stowing away a crown in a tree below the tower and being unintentionally presented with the wanted poster for the same man, Rapunzel decides to be bold and go after Flynn Rider because clearly, a thief is the best person to take her to see the lanterns.
Some of the main aspects of the original story remain — Flynn is Flynn, the Snuggly Duckling and its colorful cohort exists, but Liz Braswell also introduces a new character by the name of Gina. At first, I thought Gina was going to turn out to be Cassandra, but she is very much her own character and a delightful one at that. She balances out Rapunzel and Flynn’s personalities well, adding much-needed banter and levity, as well as her mother who happens to be a witch.
In an effort not to spoil the entirety of the remaining ¾ of the book, I will leave you with this tease: What Once Was Mine is a wholly unexpected dark turn for Disney and I implore them to indulge in this area of storytelling more often. There were equal parts sweet romance between Rapunzel and Flynn, horrifyingly dark moments where the Blood Countess discusses her plans for her victims, and a beautiful friendship that I wish was canon to the Rapunzel universe.
Disney so rarely takes major risks with their storytelling, opting to color within the lines and stay the course on pure and innocent — but this proves that they can interweave some truly sinister stuff into beautiful and sweet romances. If you have had your reservations with past novels in the A Twisted Tale series, set them aside and pick up Liz Braswell’s What Once Was Mine now.
What Once Was Mine arrives in bookstores on September 7th.