Rumpelstiltskin Explained

For other uses see Rumpelstiltskin (disambiguation).

Folk Tale Name:Rumpelstiltskin
Aka:Tom Tit Tot
Päronskaft
Repelsteeltje
Aarne-Thompson Grouping:500
Country:Germany
England
Sweden
Published In:Grimm's Fairy Tales
The Blue Fairy Book
English Fairy Tales

Rumpelstiltskin is a character in a fairy tale of the same name that originated in Germany (where he is known as Rumpelstilzchen). The tale was collected by the Brothers Grimm, who first published it in the 1812 edition of Children's and Household Tales. It was subsequently revised in later editions until the final version was published in 1857.

The story has been retold in other countries, sometimes with the main character's name changing completely; Tom Tit Tot in England (from English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs), Päronskaft (meaning "pear stalk") in Sweden and Martinko Klingáč in Slovakia.

Plot synopsis

In order to make himself appear more important, a miller/commoner lied to the king that his daughter could spin straw into gold with a spinning wheel to impress the king, so his daughter could marry the king's son. The king called for the girl, shut her in a tower room with straw and a spinning wheel, and demanded that she spin the straw into gold by morning, for three nights, or be executed. Some versions say that if she failed, she would be skewered and then fricasseed like a pig, while others take a less graphic approach and say that the girl is locked in the dungeon forever. She had given up all hope, when a dwarfish creature appeared in the room and spun straw into gold for her in return for her necklace; then again the following night for her ring. On the third night, when she had nothing with which to reward him, the strange creature spun straw into gold for a promise that the girl's first-born child would become his.

The king was so impressed that he let the miller's daughter marry his son, the prince, but when their first child was born, the dwarf returned 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. The dwarf refused but finally agreed to give up his claim to the child if the queen could guess his name in three days. At first she failed, but before the second night, her messenger overheard the dwarf hopping about his fire and singing. While there are many variations in this song, the 1886 translation by Lucy Crane reads

"To-day do I bake, to-morrow I brew,

The day after that the queen's child comes in;

And oh! I am glad that nobody knew

That the name I am called is Rumpelstiltskin!"[1]

When the dwarf came to the queen on the third day and she revealed his name, Rumpelstiltskin lost his bargain. In the 1812 edition of the Brothers Grimm tales, Rumpelstiltskin then "ran away angrily, and never came back". The ending was revised in a final 1857 edition to a more gruesome version where Rumpelstiltskin "in his rage 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 then took his left foot and tore himself in two." Other versions have Rumpelstiltskin driving his right foot so far into the ground that he creates a chasm and falls into it, never to be seen again. In the oral version originally collected by the brothers Grimm, Rumpelstiltskin flies out of the window on a cooking ladle (Heidi Anne Heiner).

Name origins

The name Rumpelstilzchen in German means literally "little rattle stilt". (A stilt is a post or pole which provides support for a structure.) A rumpelstilt or rumpelstilz was the name of a type of goblin, also called a pophart or poppart that makes noises by rattling posts and rapping on planks. The meaning is similar to rumpelgeist ("rattle ghost") or poltergeist ("noisy ghost"), a mischievous spirit that clatters and moves household objects. (Other related concepts are mummarts or boggarts and hobs that are mischievous household spirits that disguise themselves.)

The earliest known mention of Rumpelstiltskin occurs in Johann Fischart's Geschichtklitterung, or Gargantua of 1577 (a loose adaptation of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel) which refers to an "amusement" for children named "Rumpele stilt or the Poppart".

Another tale revolves about a girl trapped by false claims about her spinning abilities: The Three Spinners. However, the three women who assist that girl do not demand her first born, but that she invite them to her wedding and say that they are relatives of hers. With this more reasonable request, she complies, and is freed from her hated spinning when they tell the king that their hideous looks spring from their endless spinning. In one Italian variant, she must discover their names, as with Rumpelstiltskin, but not for the same reason: she must use their names to invite them, and she has forgotten them.

Analysis

Other fairy tale themes in the story include the Impossible Task, the Hard Bargain, the Changeling Child, and, above all, the Secret Name.

Thesis 1 Rumpelstiltskin is a cautionary tale against bragging (hubris in Greek mythology), but in this case not the miller himself but rather his daughter is punished for his lies (this is the most common interpretation).

Thesis 2 An alternative explanation is that the tale could have been meant to teach women the importance of performing a supporting role in their later marriage. The gift of spinning straw into gold is seen here as a metaphor for the value of household skills. Indeed, the king in this tale does not seem to be interested in the girl besides her alleged magical capabilities — even though her beauty is mentioned in passing — and she exists only to bring him riches and bear his children.

Thesis 3 The dwarf's demand for the girl's first-born child probably has remnants of older legends which held that malignant sprites and goblins would steal unattended babies and replace them with a child (or "changeling") of their own.[2] (Similar tales exist about trolls as well, though their motives were generally seen as selfish rather than unpleasant, in that they supposedly found some of their own children too humanoid to exist among them.) However, tales like these in themselves were intended to stop children from playing outside without care, or mothers from leaving their children in danger, and the miller, famously, puts his own child in the power of a greedy king, while she in turn agrees to hand over her child to a virtual stranger.

References in popular culture

In written fiction, Vivian Vande Velde's book The Rumpelstiltskin Problem presents a handful of alternative versions of the tale in a humorous attempt to address the story's plot holes.

"A Day In The Life of Half of Rumpelstiltskin", from Kevin Brockmeier's collection "Things That Fall From The Sky", plays off the version of the story with Rumpelstiltskin splitting himself in half, which lives despite being separated.

The song "I.M. Rumpelstilzchen" off German band Megaherz's 2002 album Herzwerk II references the tale and uses a part of Rumpelstiltskin song in the chorus.

In the blackly humorous comic book The Goon by Eric Powell, the main villain, the "Zombie Priest", is a goblin or demon who used to steal babies but was defeated when a woman learned his true name, and is the source of "Rumplestiltskin."

External links

Notes and References

  1. http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19068 Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm
  2. Maria Tatar, p 128, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, ISBN 0-393-05163-3