Thursday’s Tale: Rumpelstiltskin

Illustration by Anne Anderson from Anne Anderson's Old, Old Fairy Tales. Racine, Wisconsin: Whitman Publishing Company, 1935.

I don’t know why I haven’t gotten around to looking at “Rumpelstiltskin” by the Brothers Grimm before now. I did read The Girl Who Spun Gold by Virginia Hamilton, a West Indian version of the tale, a couple of years ago but somehow missed this most famous version of the tales of little men who help women spin thread or straw into gold.

In this story, the beautiful young woman is a miller’s daughter. Notice she’s still beautiful, even if it doesn’t actually matter in the story.  Her father is the one who starts all the trouble, bragging to the King that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The King says prove it. The girl is brought to the palace the next day, shut into a room full of straw, given a spinning wheel and spindle, and instructed to spin it all into gold by the next morning or she would be killed.  She has given up all hope, when a little man appears in the room and spins the straw into gold for her in return for her necklace, then again the following night for her ring. On the third night- notice the magical three again, when she had nothing with which to reward him, the strange little man spins straw into gold for a promise that the girl’s first-born child would become his. The King has promised to marry the girl after this third night of spinning- apparently riches are more important than a noble birth or beauty or kindness for this king. So the girl agrees to the little man’s demand, seeing no other choice.

The King does marry her, but after their first child was born a year later, a handsome baby boy, the little man returns to claim his payment: “Now give me what you promised.” The queen was frightened and offered him all the wealth she had if she could keep the child. He refuses, but feeling sorry for the Queen, he finally agrees to give up his claim to the child if she could guess his name in three days. She sends a messenger out to scour the land for names and bringing them back to her. The first two nights she fails, but before the third and final night, her messenger tells her of seeing a grotesque little man in the front yard of a cottage on a hill, hopping about his fire and singing.

“To-morrow I brew, to-day I bake,
And then the child away I’ll take;
For little deems my royal dame
That Rumpelstiltskin is my name!”

When the little man came to the queen on the third day and she revealed his name, Rumpelstiltskin lost his bargain. Rumpelstiltskin was so angry, he “drove his right foot so far into the ground that it sank in up to his waist; then in a passion he seized the left foot with both hands and tore himself in two.”

Quite an ending, wouldn’t you say? I do have to wonder about Rumpelstiltskin’s song. He’s brewing and baking, preparing a feast of some kind in preparation for taking the child. Is he so happy to finally have a child that he is preparing a feast for them to share, or is he planning on eating the child so is getting as much ready beforehand as he can?

I guess the moral is don’t lie about your abilities, or about someone else’s. Or maybe it’s don’t make promises you aren’t prepared to keep.

I haven’t been watching ABC’s Once Upon a Time, but from the first couple of episodes and what I’ve picked up from other people, Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold is a main character, very entwined in every one’s lives, very dangerous. I like how such a mysterious character can be transformed.

You can read variations on the story several places on line, including Sur La Lune and East of the Web.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.

2 Comments

  1. I actually kind of like Rumpelstiltskin in Once Upon a Time. They actually blend Beauty and the Beast with his story. The girl is actually Belle in the show. It’s very cool how they blended all the stories into one big story

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