{Guest Post} "Rumpelstiltskin: Mischievous, Malevolent, or Misunderstood?" by Debz Bookshelf

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Rumpelstiltskin: Mischievous, Malevolent, or Misunderstood

by Debz


Rumpelstiltskin is a tale that has had readers asking questions for centuries. Why would the Miller lie about his daughter? Why would the king believe him? Why is the Miller’s daughter such a push-over? But most questions are about the titular character. Who is Rumpelstiltskin? How did he learn to spin straw into gold? What does he want with a baby? What’s up with his name? What’s up with this wacko bargain? These are things we can only ever speculate over, which is why it is one of the most mysterious and timeless fairy tales. While I could spend hours discussing each of these questions and characters, I’ll focus on just the odd character of Rumpelstiltskin.

The first question one must ask is what is he? Is he some sort of supernatural being, or just a man? There have been many different theories throughout the years. He is described as a manikin, or a small yet average man, so he’s almost definitely not a gnome or something of that nature. If he is just a small human, how did he acquire the ability to turn straw into gold? I have a feeling that it’s either years of studying alchemy, or involved an unfortunate bargain with some sort of sorcerer. My personal favorite theory is that he may have traded his first-born and is now seeking revenge by bargaining for others first-born children.

Now,  why does he demand a child? Of all things he could ask for! The popular opinion seems to be that he has malicious and cannibalistic intentions towards the child, as demonstrated by the rhyme he sings around his campfire:

"To-morrow I brew, to-day I bake,
And then the child away I'll take;
For little deems my royal dame
That Rumpelstiltskin is my name!"

Others have suggested he may have different intentions, wanting the child to raise as his own. I see this as highly plausible, as it is similar to the circumstance in Rapunzel, where a child is the price of an unfortunate bargain, but is raise with care (that borders on obsession and eventual ends with poor consequences). Based on his negotiating skills and unmanageable temper, I have a feeling he wouldn’t make the best parent.

However, he seems to know far ahead of time exactly what to ask for. It is interesting to note how the first two days he asks for payment in items insignificant in comparison to the price of a child. This shows he was smart enough to know to pace himself, but also possibly can be seen as an act of compassion (in an odd interpretation), but more likely as a cruel and selfish trick.
Compassion is clearly demonstrated, though, when he agrees to give the Queen three days to solve the impossible question of his name. If he is so set on the idea of keeping this child, why he would be a push-over like that, I don’t know. Maybe he secretly wants her to keep her child? That would explain the oddity of his dancing around the woods singing his name, coincidentally within earshot of the Queen’s messenger.

The name Rumpelstiltskin is instantly recognizable for it’s bizarreness. By dissecting it we can find several possible meanings. Rumpelgeist, for example, is an alternative name for a poltergeist or goblin, or even the devil himself. That seems like an appropriate name for him, based on his character. The “stilt” part of his name is particularly interesting, as he is repeatedly described as small. As stilts are used by somebody pretending to be larger than they actually are, it can be seen as a cruel twist of irony. At least to me, he comes across as especially intimidating for such a small man, but he shows signs of weakness in the story, showing that he probably isn’t as strong or evil as he wants people to believe.

I may just be too sympathetic towards villains, but I think Rumpelstiltskin might not be as bad as the world gives him credit for. Both in the original tale, and it’s reincarnations, I find him to be the most fascinating character to graze the page or screen. There are so many different interpretations out there, and most only begin to scratch the surface of the tale.

What do YOU think of Rumpelstiltskin?


  1. Disney is actually going to do a retelling of Rumpelstilskin in the future. I have always been fascinated by the fairy tale. I think Rumpelstiilskin is a complicated character kind of like Elsa from Frozen. Evil without really meaning to be evil.


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