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