Rumplestiltskin: Every Tale Needs a Bad Guy

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The Blue Fairy Book (1889) by Andrew Lang

One of my earliest memories of a childhood fairytale was that of Rumplestiltskin.  It originates from one of the many dark tales created by the Brother’s Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm). There has been some conflict regarding the stories being unsuitable for children and revised editions have been written.

The story of Rumplestiltskin has always interested me because it offers an insight into some of the more unpleasant sides of human nature. Whether or not you consider such elements to be suitable for children is very much an open question and there is no right or wrong answer.

The story of Rumplestiltskin contains dark elements:

A miller who wishes to improve his standing with the king, lies to him and tells him that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king is greedy and wants the gold and cruel as he locks her in a tower room that is filled to the brim with straw and a spinning wheel.  He demands that she must spin all the straw into gold by the following morning or else he will threaten to kill her by cutting off her head.

Knowing that she cannot spin the straw into gold, she falls into despair but an imp-like creatures (some consider to be a Gnome), appears before her and promises to spin the straw for her in return for her necklace.  She survives the first day.

The following day the king gets even greedier for more gold and in return the imp asks for more items, such as her ring.  Finally, the king sees her as a valuable asset and agrees to marry her if she fills an enormous room to the brim with an absolute mountain full of gold (she is just a cash cow to him and if she fails, yes, you guessed it, he will kill her).  By this time, the girl has no more trinkets to pay the imp so he puts his ultimate plan into action (what the imp wanted all along) which was to ask her to promise that she will give him her firstborn child.

She agrees to the deal, the king gets his gold and marries the girl.  Upon the birth of her firstborn child the imp returns for his reward, but she refuses.   She offers him money as she herself is now wealthy but he does not want it.  After somewhat of a verbal tustle he agrees to give up his reward if, within three days, she can guess his real name.

She sends out messengers to learn about strange names in the land.  Her guesses fail over the first two days but she is approached by a messenger who saw and heard the imp’s true name was as the little idiot danced around the fire near to his home, singing it loudly thinking that he was alone in forest.

So the third day arrives and the imp returns to Queen who by this time was very pleased with her self.  She feigns ignorance (deception) and pretends to innocently correctly guess his true name.

Realising that he’d lost his game, the imp (in the original first edition) gets angry and runs away, never to be seen nor heard of again.  In later editions he has a more gruesome ending.  He angrily drives one of feet into the ground then grabs his other foot and tears himself in half.  Other versions have him stamping the ground to make a chasm and falling into it.  You get the picture.

The girl was (to be fair) placed in a terrible predicament.  I would question though the morals of the time regarding her own father and the king, who was (in my view) just as nasty, selfish and evil as the imp.  For them, there was no justice and they lived happily ever after.

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