CBR Bingo – Book Club. I saw this on the Cannon Book Club fairy tale list and decided to read one of the original fairytales. It’s been a long time!
I’m sure we all know the tale, but here it is anyway! “Rumpelstiltskin” by the Brothers Grimm is about a little man who helps a beautiful young woman spin straw into gold for an avaricious king. In exchange, the man asks for a reward. For his final request, he demands the maiden give him her first born child after she is made queen. It eventually comes to pass that she has a baby and the little man shows up to take what is his. Frantic, the queen offers the little man riches, but he says, “No, I would rather have something living than all the treasures of the world.” Finally he takes pity on her and says if she can guess his name in three days time, she can keep her child. She sends her messenger out into the kingdom to gather all the names in the land (sounds like a lot of work), but each name she offers is wrong. On the messenger’s last trip, he comes across the little man dancing around a fire and singing that his name is Rumpelstiltskin. When the queen gives his real name, he stomps his foot in fury and disappears into the ground.
When I was young, I was given a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Rackham’s drawings manage to capture both the beautiful and disturbing sides to most fairytales. Compared to how dark some of the stories are (dance until your shoes fill with blood and you drop down dead! decapitate and eat an innocent young woman!), Rumpelstiltskin is a charming lark. I couldn’t find a Rumpelstiltskin drawing, but I included a few here.
The common elements of certain fairy tales are all here: repetitive style, a woman in jeopardy led into “sin,” (here, her father’s lie that she can spin straw into gold), a clever villain, the heroine out-tricking him, and just deserts. This is not a story with a gory end or any particular moral. I don’t think the Grimms were really big on morals, just consequences. The characterizations are familiar—the pretty maiden, the glowering trickster nemesis. The Grimms use Rumpelstiltskin’s size as a way to emphasize his grotesqueness—an awful thing to do, but “ugly” physicality is the mark of most villains in fairy tales. The juxtaposition of Rumpelsiltskin’s malevolence and the (rather dumb) girl’s innocence is familiar. This is one Grimm tale that doesn’t end in bloodshed, just a villain stomping himself down to hell like a petulant toddler.
Frankly, I like the weird, dark fairy tales best, but re-reading this one was comforting insomuch that it reminded me of being a kid (if a morbid one).