Friday, March 18, 2011

Fairy Tale Fridays - Rumpelstiltskin

Rumpelstiltskin, or Rumpelstitzchen as he was originally known in Germany, was a little gnome of a man who "stars" in a tale of the same name that first gained popularity in a collection of fairy tales put together by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. In fact, the brothers actually collected four versions of the tale during their time in Hesse, Germany.  The story has (like so many other fairy tales) origins much further back in time.  The earliest variants of the story appear to go back as far as the early 16th century.  The story is not limited to the tales collected in Germany; there are versions of this fairy tale found in countries world-wide, including "Tom Tit Tot" in England, "Whuppity Stoorie" in Scotland and "Ruidoquedito" in South America. The name "Rumpelstiltskin" literally means little rattle stilt and a rumpelstilt was a type of goblin that made noise by rattling posts.

There once was a miller who, wanting to curry favor with the king, said that his daughter could spin straw into gold.  The king, being avaricious, immediately had the girl brought to the castle and put in a room filled with straw and a spindle.  As if the fear of making her father look like a fool weren't pressure enough, the king told the girl that he would have her killed if she couldn't complete her task.  While she is bemoaning her fate, a little man came into the room and asked her why she was crying.  When she told him why, he told her he could complete the task for her and in return she gave him a necklace.  The king was pleased the next morning, but, being greedy, he was not content and put her in an even larger room filled with straw the next night.  Once again the little man appeared to help the girl and this time she gave him her ring.  On the third night, as he put the girl in a still larger room, the king told her he would marry her if she could complete her task this night.
Coming to her rescue again, the little man appeared but this time the girl had nothing left to give.  The little man said that as payment he would accept her first born child.  The girl, seeing no other way out, agreed.  A year later the girl was Queen and had given the king and heir when the little man reappeared.  The girl had completely forgotten about her promise and begged the man not to take her child, instead pledging all of the riches in the kingdom.  But the little man said "I would rather have something living than all the treasures of the world." The queen begged and cried and finally the little man took some pity. He told the queen she could have three chances to guess his name.  If she succeeded, she could keep her child.  Twice the little man returned but, despite sending emissaries far and wide to collect names, the queen was not successful.

Just before the little man returned for the last time, however, one of the men the queen had sent out returned saying he had heard a little man dancing and singing in the forest about how the queen would never guess that his name was Rumpelstiltskin.  When the little man returned to the castle, the queen teased him for a bit but when she finally guessed "Rumplestiltskin," the little man went crazy "and in his anger he stamped with his right foot so hard that it went into the ground above his knee; then he seized his left foot with both his hands in such a fury that he split in two, and there was an end of that."

Except that for Kevin Brockmeier, it wasn't the end of that.  When he was 22 and still in college, he was so intrigued by the idea of half a person that he wrote the story "Half of Rumplestiltskin" which is now included in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. The story is entirely what life might be like for a person who is literally half a person who has been torn asunder.  Poor Half of Rumplestiltskin must hop every where, he has to use mouthwash with his head tilted so that it doesn't run out of his mouth and into his open chest.  All because he wanted a child so badly.  The story opens with Half of Rumplestiltskin having a dream about spinning himself completely into gold.
"Half of Rumplestiltskin is the whole of the picture and nowhere in it.  He is beautiful, and remunerative, and he isn't even there to see it.  Half of Rumplestiltskin has spun himself empty.  There is nothing of him left."
I really impressed with Brockmeier's writing, particularly in light of the fact that he was only 22 when he wrote this.  You have got to love a story that uses words such as "slumberous" and "scabrous." I've been looking forward to Brockmeier's The Illumination since I heard him talking about it at the Omaha Lit Fest last fall and this story has really convinced me to pick up a copy..soon!


  1. I always loved this story. And as much as Rumpelstiltskin p***ed me off, you know who made me even more angry? The King! What a jerk!

  2. I don't know why but Rumplestiltskin always creeped me out way more than other stories when I was a child.

  3. It always kills me too when I find out how young some authors are! But I suppose that's the age when we can be most creative, without a family to bog us down!

  4. I also think Brockmeier's story sounds rather interesting, and I am glad that I read your post today, or I would have had no idea that Rumpelstiltskin had half of his body torn away after having a tantrum! Great post today! I learn so much from visiting here!

  5. I always thought Rumpelstilskin was one of the creepier fairy tales! This one sounds like an interesting retelling.