The Straw Maiden (aka Rumpelstiltskin) Part 3

When last we saw our heroine, a small man had entered her chamber filled with straw unnoticed.

“Can I help?” ventured the visitor. Startled, the crying maiden failed to respond. Wiping her face and smoothing her rumpled hair she looked at the man who had just entered. He was no bigger than an adolescent, but had the eyes of an old soul. Despite her shock, she found nothing threatening about him.

“Unless you can spin straw into gold, I fear, I can only ask you for a handkerchief,” she said with a wry smile.

“Lucky for you I can do both,” he said as he handed her a crisp handkerchief. She looked at him and finally took in his whole appearance. He was not as small as she first thought, just slight of build. His face was kind, but guarded as though he was unsure of his welcome. But he quickly warmed when at his task. The straw became gold filigree before her eyes.

“What can I give you in return?” she asked fearful of his demands. She was not naive to the ways of the world and knew some men would press an advantage.

“Your company. Tell me about yourself and I’ll tell you as much as I can about myself,” he replied. They talked for hours, hesitantly at first and then as old friends, laughing and sharing. When dawn broke the work was done and, fearing they would never meet again, she pressed the small bracelet into his hand. Before either could say more, the door was being unlocked and he vanished.

The king swept in and barely noticed the look of contempt on the maiden’s face. He was hungry for the sight of so much gold it blinded him to all else. He finally acknowledged her with a cursory nod.

“Come with me,” he said with a smile that was not for her. He kept her with him all day although he made no attempt at conversation. For her part, she kept her eyes downcast partly to continue her show of modesty, but also giving herself the opportunity to think about her night visitor. At the end of the day, she was exhausted and assumed the guard would return her to her room. Instead a turn down a new corridor brought her to another room with enough straw to dwarf last night’s offering. The same spinning wheel stood in the middle of the straw mountain. After a sleepless night and a day of being observed yet ignored, despair gave way to sleep.

She awoke to the familiar sound of the spinning wheel and her friend in quiet concentration addressing the task at hand.

“I brought you something to remember me by,” he said over his shoulder. “Look in my satchel.”

Inside she found a book of herb lore and healing. She smiled her first real smile since last seeing him and its warmth reached him. She was touched that he remembered her speaking of her wish to learn more about healing to help others. The spinning took most of the night to finish this time, but they passed it as pleasantly as the night before. Before leaving he was emboldened to kiss her. She pressed her mother’s ring into his hand and asked him to return for her.

That day was much like the last except the king smiled at her more. Perhaps it was to put her at ease, but it had the opposite effect. On this night the king himself led her away. She didn’t know whether to fear another room of straw or his bedchamber, but neither choice would have been welcomed. Nevertheless he opened the door to an unfathomable amount of straw, and with a look of pure arrogance said “If you finish this by morning, not only will I spare you and your father, but I shall make you my queen.”

He did not stay for her reaction, so sure was he of her gratitude and the honor she must feel. She dropped to the ground and with such incentive as marriage to this odious man started calculating how she could save herself and her father. It was at this point that her spinning friend appeared from the shadows.

“I have tried in vain to rescue your father, but he knows of the kings plans. He hopes to see you married to him and knows you will be well provided for,” he said with a heavy heart. Her hand had found its way to him and they stood for a moment regarding each other. Then he set to work.

He was like a man possessed working furiously and silently. He finished well before sunrise and in a rush of words, tears and the thought of never seeing each other again, were soon entwined on a bed of gold thread. He promised to return for her with her father to escape. He left then, but the memory of their shared gift stayed with her.

The king arrived as always and was awed by the golden glow “Now we shall be wed,” he said looking at the gold. For her part, she looked to the shadows and hoped her spinner would return in time. It was at that moment, she realized she never asked his name…

To Be Continued

The Straw Maiden (aka Rumpelstiltskin) Part 2

“I’ve come to inspect your daughter. If she proves as impressive as you claimed in the tavern I am to take her to the king,” he said with severity. His tone was brought on by fear and the memory of his meeting with the king. With eyes full of avarice, he told the matchmaker to bring the girl and he would give Conall twice the bride price. If the report was false, Conall, the girl and her boastful father would pay with their lives.

He dismounted and knew at once he had made a grave error. If the miller’s daughter had this ability, why would they live in a mill performing back-breaking labor? He walked into the dwelling of which there was only one room. The girl he saw was indeed beautiful, but her clothes were shabby. Hardly the kind of clothes someone with such a gift for spinning would wear!

“Your father claims you can spin straw into gold. My king wishes to know you and test your skills. If he is displeased, it will mean all out lives are forfeit,” he said without preamble. He had no time for being kind, and this mistake would cost him more than a commission. At least her beauty would give the king pause.

For her part, she was livid. She saw the truth of the rumor on her father’s stricken face. Being clever, she played for time.

“It is not something of which I boast. Although I want to be of use to your king, can I not merely send him my efforts if he is in need of more wealth?” She kept her eyes downcast for fear he would see the anger in her eyes. He took it for modesty.

“Then you do claim this ability? If that is so, why do you live and toil here?” he said sweeping his gaze across the small space. He was more than incredulous, but hoped he could use being taken in by her lies as a way to save his own neck.

“As part of my gift, I cannot spin for myself or my family – only for others. And only under the light of the full moon.” She said this to hope she would have more time. The next full moon was four days away, and just enough time for her father and her to go into hiding. The matchmaker was unsure what to think, but decided to take no chances.

“You will come with us to meet the king. Your father shall stay here under guard. Say your farewells quickly.” Abruptly, he stepped outside, pushing his way passed the stricken miller.

“I’m sorry seems a small thing to offer, but I am. All I can give you is your dowry – your mother’s ring and necklace. Perhaps, with your cleverness, you can pay a guard for your freedom.” The hug she gave him was for the man he had been when her mother had been alive, and to keep from lashing out at him for his stupidity. With dry eyes, but a heavy heart she left with the matchmaker. Unbeknownst to her, at a discreet distance followed the fairy.

At the castle, the maiden was kept in a room three times the size of her home, but it was most certainly a prison. It was a pretty dungeon, but a dungeon nonetheless. As she paced the floor, tested the door, and pushed at the windows, she plotted and rejected countless ideas. She knew more than her life was at stake if she could not impress the king. Her meeting would be soon.

She was brought before the king and the court the evening of the full moon. Seeing him did nothing to ally her fears. His mouth looked as though it seldom smiled, and his eyes had a hard glint that only softened when looking at the many jewels on his hands and clothes. He looked her up and down as she approached. She sensed he preferred meekness and looked down to appear so. He was not untouched by her beauty, but his bigger concern at hand was gold.

“Is is true you can spin straw into gold as the matchmaker claims? Only for others and not for yourself?” She noted the impatience in his voice and the exclusion of not being able to spin for her family, but now she knew why. The man who had come for her was not a courtier, but a matchmaker! This king was looking for a bride and being told that a woman who could spin straw into gold, but would cease once they were wed would make her less desirable. It was little consolation.

“Yes your majesty,” she said to the floor. She almost said no, but hoped one more night would give her an idea. However, her luck came to an end.

“Then you shall follow this guard. He will take you to a room where you will spin straw into gold. If you don’t you and your father shall die for lying to the king.” She was led away to a small room full of straw to the ceiling, except for a spinning wheel. Even she was hard pressed to look undaunted. Soon the guard left and the door was closed. She finally gave into despair, and indulged in something she hadn’t done since her mother had died – she cried. She cried so hard in fact that she didn’t hear the little man enter her straw cell…

…To be continued…

The Straw Maiden (aka Rumpelstiltskin) Part 1

(See intro here)

Know you the story of the straw maiden? Perhaps it is known to you as a different name, but while another would say no matter, I say it does. Names hold power and this story will show you how much.

Long ago, under a harvest moon, a fairy happened upon a birth. The fairy was new to the world of men and was intrigued by the baby. Her name was one with which he was unfamiliar, so he thought of her as the Bright One. As she grew, the fairy would look in on her from time to time. The fairy learned of the Bright One’s love of nature and her dislike of the small, confined space of the mill. He shared in her joys and felt all her sorrows, but always at a discreet distance. Her worst sorrow was the death of her mother and consequently when all her troubles began.

The miller was pained by the loss of his wife and took to late nights of drinking and bluster. It came to pass, as it usually does with those whose tongues loosen with drink, that he boasted of his daughter.

“Her beauty and skills are truly remarkable. She would have made her mother proud,” he said on more than one occasion. And while there were those who had heard his remarks previously remained silent, there were newcomers to the tavern. Sadly these strangers became mean and abusive when fueled by drink.

“What talent could she possibly have that other maids don’t? Go home old man – perhaps that talented daughter of yours can cure your addled mind!” laughed a stranger along with his companions. They laughed uproariously making the man feel shame. Perhaps a naughty imp was hiding in the corner of that tavern or maybe the miller did lose his wits for a moment, for none – not even he – could explain what he said next.

“My daughter has a wondrous gift. She can spin straw into gold. What’s more her beauty and talent are fit for a king!” Now most of the patrons laughed quietly to themselves having known the miller and her daughter for years. However, there was a table with a single man who took note.

Conall was a matchmaker whose circumstances had him in a desperate situation. He had promised a king in a neighboring realm an amazing bride and was nearing the end of his deadline. Not to mention he was in competition with another matchmaker for the bride price. Quickly and quietly, he settled his account and offered the tavern keeper a handsome sum for the name and location of the mill. Then with all haste, he raced off to see the king.

Days passed and the miller forgot his boasts in the tavern. Therefore it was with some surprise that he found two armed riders with livery accompanied by an unarmed gentleman waiting at his mill. He was further confused when they asked after his daughter. The gentleman, who admitted to being a matchmaker, looked nervous and stole furtive glances at the riders who had their hands on their sword hilts.

…To Be Continued…

Story #1 Rumpelstiltskin

As written by J.L.C. & W.C. Grimm (hereafter to be called the Grimm brothers), Rumpelstiltskin is the story of a miller who brags to his king that his beautiful and clever daughter can spin straw into gold. The greedy king takes the girl and tells her she must spin a rooms full of gold, each one bigger than the last, on pain of death. Each night the maiden cries and a little man comes offering to do the task for her at a price. On the third and last night the king says he will marry her if she spins one more room full of straw into gold. Stripped of her possessions from the last two nights of work, the little man demands her first born child by the king. She agrees, the task is completed and the miller’s daughter becomes queen. She soon forgets her promise, but after becoming a mother the little man returns to collect his prize. She begs for him to reconsider and offers him half the kingdom, but he refuses. Instead he gives her three days to learn his name. She searches the kingdom and on the last day a palace guard discovers an unusual little man singing to himself in the woods. He reveals his name is Rumpelstiltskin. The lady rejoices, says his name and a fuming Rumpelstiltskin leaves without his prize.

Most notably the story does not end with the prerequisite “…and they lived happily ever after”. Even the Grimm brothers understood that this story would be a stretch when it came to happiness. When I read this to my daughter the first time I had so many questions that I fully admit I doubt I had when I was her age.

  1. Why did her father brag to the king about something she clearly couldn’t do?
  2. How was she able to marry a man who, the day before, was going to kill her?
  3. Who goes around listening at doors for crying maidens who need their straw spun into gold?

    Rumpelstiltskin finds despairing maiden

    I already had an opinion written out about this story, but what struck me the most while I wrote out the summary was the importance of names. With only one exception, everyone in the story had a title, but not a name. The story is resolved by the power of knowing someone’s name. Yet we never learn the name of the miller, queen, king, palace guard, or the prize, the royal baby (which in some versions dies). It’s things like this that beg for completion. In an attempt to answer my own questions about the story, I’ve rewritten it, but opted to retain the feel of storytelling. Click here for my version of the story, The Straw Maiden.

BTW, I completely appreciate the observation that I’m starting my posts with a story about the importance of names and I have not included my own name in this blog. I too believe names are important and feel a Rumpelstiltskin-like desire to guard it ­čśë

Welcome to My Corner

I grew up with Disney.

Princesses, princes, evil queens and mad sorcerers. Not to mention fathers with motherless children who tried to fix the situation with new mothers. (Disney taught me this rarely works out.) As the years went by we added more studios and cable channels, but the basic stories were all based on the same sources. Whether you know it or not Hans Christian Andersen and the brother’s Grimm raised us, but I’m almost certain you don’t know the original stories (and neither do your children).

In the interest of reading to my daughter because I enjoy reading, want her to read, and have been guilted by mommy blogs everywhere that TV is evil, I decided to try some of the classics. And they’re awful – especially if you’re reading to a girl and hoping to raise a strong, independent woman. Don’t misunderstand me – I have nothing against royalty, real, imagined or historical, and I love a happy ending. However, enforced servitude and “rescue by marriage” are not what I want to endorse as a happy ending. At least Disney has updated their female characters to reflect (most) modern values.

So I have embarked on a mission of sorts to re-examine these beloved classics and hopefully give them more depth, or humor, or at least more girl power. I hope you like my efforts and I invite you to share your insights!