When the Brothers Grimm published their collection of tales, the world’s tallest building was a cathedral. Strasbourg Cathedral, to be precise, which is 142 metres high (466ft), or the equivalent of a building with forty or fifty storeys. I found this out today, and it made me think about ‘Rapunzel’ in terms of its logistics. The events in a fairytale don’t need to be possible, of course, but it’s still quite fun to speculate.
With a flurry of Googling, I went to check the facts. Apparently, the longest human hair on record for 2014 is 5.627 metres long, and belongs to a Chinese woman called Xie Qiuping. A typical storey in a building is about 3.3 metres in height. By my calculations, allowing maybe three metres for the distance between the roof and the window and how high the Witch could reach, you could in theory have a tower around nine metres high (just under three storeys), which would have looked pretty impressive when ‘Rapunzel’ was published.
The next thing to consider is how much weight Rapunzel’s hair could bear. According to a scientific website I found, human hair has stronger “tensile strength” than nylon. This means if you stretch a hair and a strand of nylon of the same thickness, the nylon would break before the hair. Given that a lot of rope is made out of nylon, Rapunzel might in theory be able to weave a rope from her hair strong enough to support an adult human’s weight. Unfortunately, if this rope were attached at one end to Rapunzel’s scalp, it would almost certainly be yanked out at the roots long before the witch reached the window. She’d have to knot her hair-rope around something in her room to keep the hairs in their follicles.
In theory, then, using someone’s hair to climb a tower might not be completely impossible. Intriguing. Maybe I should give Xie Qiuping a call and see if she wants to take part in a little experiment…