"RUMPELSTILTSKIN"
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by Rebecca Cho, Jesy Feliccia, Aimee Galinski, Jesse Rittner, and Jenna Staudt


Background Information:
The Brothers Grimm: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were both born in Hanau, Germany in the mid-1780s. The two were always very close, and when they both attended law school together, they became interesting in collecting folklore and fairy tales that related to German culture. They published their first anthology of fairy tales (Children's and Household Tales) in 1812. As time passed, they continued to collect stories until the book had over 200 tales in it. The brothers continued to pursue their interest in literature by writing more books, such as German Mythology and The History of the German Language.

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Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
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History of "Rumpelstiltskin": This website explains the history of "Rumpelstiltskin". This tale has been known throughout most of Europe, from Italy to Scandinavia to Spain. In fact, when the Brothers Grimm published their anthology of fairy tales, they had found four different versions of the tale in Germany alone. Although its title may change, most versions of this tale essentially have the same plot and moral lessons. The oldest-known version of the story is from the 1490's and was known by many names, such as "Geshichkitterung," "Gargantua," and "Pantagruel."


Original Fairy Tale Version:
"Rumpelstiltskin" by the Brothers Grimm: This original version of the tale tells the story of a maiden whose father, a poor miller, gives her to the King with the promise that she can turn straw into gold. The King locks her away in a room and tells her to turn all of the straw in the room into gold, or else he will kill her. However, the maiden cannot do this impossible task and begins to weep. While she is crying, a little man appears and offers to help her in exchange for her necklace; the maiden accepts. The next night, the King locks the maiden away in another room with more straw; again, the little man appears and helps the maiden in exchange for her ring. On the third night, the same events occur; this time, however, the maiden has nothing to give the little man, so she promises to give him her first born child. After this final night of having straw be turned into gold, the King is pleased and takes the maiden as his wife, making her Queen. A year later, the new Queen gives birth to a daughter, and the little man reappears to accept his payment. When he sees how upset the Queen is, he says that he will let her keep her child if she can discover his name in three days. After failing for the first two days, one of the Queen's messengers stumbles upon a house in the woods where he overhears a little man singing a song in which he reveals his name - Rumpelstiltskin. The messenger relays this information to the Queen, who is then able to correctly guess the little man's name. Furious, Rumpelstiltskin stomps the ground with his foot and accidentally tears himself in half.
An animated version of the original "Rumpelstiltskin"


Similar Tales Across Cultures:
Alternate Versions: This website contains various versions of "Rumpelstiltskin" from different cultures.
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"Zirkzirk": This German version of the tale begins with a woman who refuses to do any spinning. Her husband yells at her for this, which makes her sad. Then, a dwarf comes up to her and says that he will help her; in return, "she [will] give him what she [is] carrying under her apron." The dwarf also says that if she guesses his name, he will do the work for free. The woman agrees, and she later finds out that she is pregnant. She then realizes that she will have to give her child to the dwarf, and she tells her husband what happened. One day, the husband hears the dwarf singing, and he finds out the dwarf's name - Zirkzirk. When the dwarf comes to take the baby, the woman speaks the dwarf's name, and he leaves forever.

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Zirkzirk's payment
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"Gwaryn-a-throt": This Celtic version of the story begins with a servant girl who lives at Monmouthshire farm. There, an elf does all her work for her - "washing, ironing, spinning, and twisting wool" - and only wants a bowl of milk and some bread in return. Each night, the servant girl leaves these items at the bottom of the stairs and goes to bed. She never actually gets to see the elf, as he only works during the night, and when she wakes up, he is already gone. One day, she fills the bowl with poison; the next day, the elf tries to kill her. She screams for help, and the elf runs away to a nearby farm. There, another servant girl gives him milk and bread in exchange for his services. One day, she decides that she wants to see him and know his name. She tricks him into thinking that she is going out, and fter she "leaves," the elf starts to sing. He reveals his name to be Gwaryn-a-throt, and the servant girl runs in and says, "I know thy name now." When she speaks his name, the elf runs away.


Modern Interpretations
//The Crimson Thread// by Suzanne Weyn: In this modern interpretation of "Rumpelstiltskin," Bertie, the daughter of a textile tycoon, has to help save her father's failing business. With the help of a man named Ray Stalls, she makes dresses from crimson thread; the dresses seem to be made of actual gold. In return, Ray asks for Bertie's first child. She agrees, not realizing that he is serious.

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Book cover for The Crimson Thread
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//The Rumpelstiltskin Problem// by Vivian Vande Velde: In this humorous tale, the author explains that the original "Rumpelstiltskin" does not make sense and is full of plot holes. For example, why did the miller tell the king his daughter could spin straw into gold in the first place? Why would Rumpelstiltskin accept the girl’s ring when he knows how to make an unlimited amount of gold? Why does Rumpelstiltskin want the miller's baby? This novel explores these problems and retells the story with a twist.

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Book cover for The Rumpelstiltskin Problem
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"Rumpelstiltskin" in //Transformations// by Anne Sexton: In this version, the tale is told as a very sarcastic poem. It begins with a description of a small, evil man - "a monster of despair" - that lives within all of mankind. The poem then segues into the tale, which follows the same general plot as the Grimms' version. However, the tone is different. In this version, the miller’s daughter is objectified as being “as lovely as a grape...with no one to pick," and she coddles her child once he is born. In addition, Rumpelstiltskin is a tiny seemingly-sexless dwarf who is upset that he will never be a father or have "a living thing to call his own." When he inevitably splits himself in half at the end of the tale, he reveals his true identity as the figure from the start of the poem: "one part soft as a woman, one part a barbed hook, one part papa, one part Doppelganger."


Parodies and Politically Correct Versions:
"Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye" by Jason Sanford in //Newfangled Fairy Tales//: In this parody, Rumpelstiltskin is a private eye. The tale begins when a miller brags to the captain of the palace guard that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The next day, the miller's daughter is gone, and he concludes that the King has taken her. The miller then asks Rumpelstiltskin to save her. Rumpelstiltskin goes to the castle and finds out from his friend Happy, a castle guard, that the miller's daughter has been successful in turning straw into gold. Rumpelstiltskin then sneaks into the castle and finds her. It turns out everything was a setup. The captain of the guard has been hiding the straw and stealing gold from the treasury to make it seem as if the miller's daughter were actually making gold; now, Rumpelstiltskin will be accused of stealing gold from the treasury. However, Rumpelstiltskin manages to escape and goes to the king's wedding to expose the miller's daughter and the palace guard. He leads everyone to the straw that the palace guard had hidden, and the King throws the con artists in the dungeon.

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Book cover for Newfangled Fairy Tales
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"Rumpelstiltskin" in //Fractured Fairy Tales// by A.J. Jacobs: This story begins with a miller's daughter - Gladys - who is stuck spinning straw and wishes to become famous. A tiny PR (public relations) man appears and helps Gladys fulfill her wish by falsely claiming that she can spin straw into gold. When the King hears about Gladys' "talent," he locks her in a room of straw and demands that she turn it all into gold. The PR man states that Gladys will only do this if the King will make her Queen. The King accepts, and the little man spins the straw into gold; he tells Gladys that he will see her again once she has her first child. Confused, Gladys is given a powerful microscope to see the fine print on the contract she signed; it says that she owes the PR man her child. When the PR man arrives after the Queen gives birth, she tells him that she found a loophole in the contract; she has three days to guess his name and keep her child. After repeated failures, the third day arrives, and a man who speaks strangely randomly appears before the Queen and tells her Rumpelstiltskin's name. The Queen speaks this name to the PR man, and he disappears from the kingdom. The Queen and King live happily together, but they hear reports of a "young girl who [can] make diamonds out of turnips."

Animated clip of Fractured Fairy Tales from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show
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"Son of Rumpelstiltskin" in //Fractured Fairy Tales// by A.J. Jacobs: Rather than explaining the miller's background, this sequel to "Rumpelstiltskin" begins with the description of a little man and his son. The two call themselves “funny little men” and use magic to help people; they write a fairy tale about their adventures. As in the original story, the miller’s daughter is forced to make gold out of straw. The son of the little man decides to help her out; he spins gold out of straw in exchange for the woman's first son. The reason why he wants her child is actually mentioned: he wants to dress the child up in a green suit and make him into a funny little old man. After the miller's daughter becomes the Queen and gives birth to a son, the little man returns. The queen refuses to give him the child, so the little man tells her he will not take the boy if she can guess his name. However, the little man forgets his own name and seeks help finding it. A wise old man tells him to get a mailbox, wait for a letter, and then see what name is on the envelope. When the little man receives a letter, he finds out that his name is Rumpelstiltskin. Rumpelstiltskin is embarrassed of his name and becomes afraid that the queen will laugh it. As a result, the queen lives happily ever after, and Rumpelstiltskin leaves the magic business and changes his name to Louie Smith.
(Taken from: Jacobs, A.J. "Son of Rumpelstiltskin." Fractured Fairy Tales. New York: Bantam, 1997. 149-56. Print.)

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"Rumpelstiltskin" in //Politically Correct Bedtime Stories// by James Finn Garner : The story begins with the introduction of Esmerelda, a miller’s daughter. The miller is ashamed of his poverty and always searches for a way to get rich quick, so he wishes that his daughter would marry a rich man. As in the original story, the miller lies to the king, and Esmeralda is forced to spin gold out of straw. Rumpelstiltskin appears and tells Esmeralda that he could do this task for her, and she answers, “What are you, specially abled or something?” Rumpelstiltskin then shows her how to spin gold out of straw. Later, when he asks for her first child as payment, Esmeralda tells him that she does not have to negotiate with anyone who interferes with her "reproductive rights." Rumpelstiltskin tells her that if she can guess his name, he will let her out of the bargain. Esmeralda immediately guesses that his name is “Rumpelstiltskin” because he is wearing a name badge from the Little People’s Empowerment Seminar. Rumpelstiltskin screams in anger and disappears. With her gold, Esmeralda moves to California to open a birth-control clinic to show other women how to avoid being enslaved by their reproductive systems.

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Book cover for Politically Correct Bedtime Stories


Mass Media, Movies, and Music:
Shrek Forever After: This fourth installment of the Shrek franchise begins in the past with the King and Queen of Far Far Away approaching a little man named Rumpelstiltskin. The couple is about to sign a contract to give away their kingdom in exchange for the safety of their daughter, Princess Fiona, when they receive word that the Princess has been saved. Furious at losing his chance at power, Rumpelstilskin curses Shrek. Back in the present, Shrek has become overwhelmed by his current life; his wife and children occupy all of his time, and he is no longer feared as an ogre. As a result, Shrek is intrigued by Rumpelstiltskin's offer for a change. Shrek signs a contract with Rumpelstiltskin, granting him one day to live as he did before saving Fiona; in exchange, he only has to give Rumpelstiltskin a single day of his life, one that occurred during his childhood. At first, Shrek's new life seems great; he is feared by villagers and has no responsibilities. However, Shrek soon learns that he has been deceived by Rumpelstiltskin, who took away the day that he was born. As a result, Shrek does not exist and was never able to save Princess Fiona, which allowed Rumpelstiltskin to become ruler of Far Far Away. Caught in this new world where he never existed and none of his friends know him, Shrek finds the loophole in Rumpelstiltskin's contract: If he can share a kiss with his true love, the contract will be canceled. Thus, Shrek commences his journey to beat Rumpelstiltskin and restore his world.


Trailer for Shrek Forever After
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Muppet Classic Theater: This is a humorous retelling starring the Muppets: Miss Piggy as the miller's daughter, Kermit the Frog as the King, and Gonzo as Rumpelstiltskin. The tale starts when a King seeks a bride to cure his loneliness. After seeing many women, the King meets the miller's daughter, who the miller claims can turn straw into gold. When the King tests the daughter's supposed-skill, she is unable to perform the impossible task and must accept the help of a strange little man who appears. The little man helps her three times; on the third time, the daughter promises him her first born child. The King marries the miller's daughter, and the two have a child. When the strange little man reappears to claim his payment, he agrees to let the Queen keep her child if she can guess his name. The Queen explains her situation to her husband, who is willing to help since he married her out of love, not because she could turn straw into gold. Eventually, the Queen discovers that the little man went to summer camp; since all mothers sew their children's name into their clothing under these circumstances, the Queen is able to save her child by reading and stating the little man's name - Rumpelstiltskin.

"Rumpelstiltskin" from Muppet Classic Theater
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//Rumpelstiltskin// (1995): Created by Mark Jones, the director of Leprechaun, this film begins in the 15th century while a mob chases the baby-stealer Rumpelstiltskin. A witch turns the little man into stone until 1,000 years have passed or a crying mother makes a wish on the stone. About 500 years later, a widow named Shelley finds an ugly sculpture (the stone Rumpelstiltskin) and wishes that her husband was still alive. Rumpelstiltskin is brought back to life and tries to capture and consume the soul of Shelley's baby. This movie strays from the original story line to produce a typical horror film with some cheesy wisecracking and B-movie acting.

Trailer for Rumpelstiltskin
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Music: This website provides a list of various musical interpretations based on "Rumpelstiltskin" and other fairy tales.

Folk rock version of "Rumpelstiltskin" by John Otway
Soft rock version of "Rumpelstiltskin" by Brian Dewan
Jazz version of "Rumpelstiltskin" by Andy Summers


Themes and Literary Criticism:
The Rule of Three: This article discusses the "Rule of Three," which is commonly found in fairy tales. Often, the protagonist will fail two times before finally achieving success on the third try. This method allows for plot development by creating, building, and then releasing tension. This rule also has some mystical and religious connotations. Interestingly enough, this idea is seen in "Rumpelstiltskin" three times: the maiden is trapped in three different straw-filled rooms, Rumpelstiltskin agrees to spin the straw into gold in exchange for something on three occasions, and the Queen has three days to guess Rumpelstiltskin's name.

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Motifs: This short entry mentions the typical Aarne-Thompson fairy tale motifs that are present in the tale. These include "Maiden in the Tower," "The Impossible Task," "The Hard Bargain," and "The Secret Name."

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Themes by Marie-Luise Stromer: In this article, Marie-Luise Stromer explores some themes in "Rumpelstiltskin." Selfishness and greed are displayed by the King and miller who both want to become rich; this conflict in turn relates to the idea of class struggles. The idea of regret and dangers of boasting, especially when unable to back-up one's claims, are also discussed. Gender issues are addressed, too: Rumpelstiltskin is a male but excels at the rather feminine task of spinning straw; the maiden becomes more motherly, but she has no say in serving the King as a gold-spinner or marrying him. Most interesting is the idea of the power of the name, and thus the power of language. Language and naming helps to defeat the irrational and unexplainable by making these things more concrete and understandable. In this case, discovering the Rumpelstiltskin's name allows the Queen to renege on her promise to give him her first born in exchange for his labor.

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Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold
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Feminist Criticism by Jack Zipes: Jack Zipes often views fairy tales in relation to "the self-realization of a young woman." As a result, he criticizes "Rumpelstiltskin" for portraying women as spinners since the maiden in the story is known only for her skill at this household task. The article also states that women during the time period were both oppressed by men and assessed for their marriageability based on their productivity; this is seen when King only marries the maiden since he thinks that he can use her to make himself even wealthier. Zipes even argues that most criticisms of this tale are gender-biased and should be changed.

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King and maiden speaking