THE RUMPELSTILTSKIN PARADOX
I have no idea why, but recently, I’ve been thinking about some of the fairy tales we adored as kids… And some things don’t quite add up. Let’s take a look at RUMPELSTILSKIN. Here’s what I remember:
“A miller lies to the king, telling him that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king calls for the girl, shuts her in a tower room filled with straw and a spinning wheel, and demands she spin the straw into gold by morning or he will cut off her head/lock her up in a dungeon forever. When she has given up all hope, an imp-like creature appears in the room and spins the straw into gold in return for her necklace. When next morning the king takes the girl to a larger room filled with straw to repeat the feat, the imp spins in return for the girl’s ring. On the third day, the girl is taken to an even larger room filled with straw and told by the king that he will marry her if she can fill this room with gold or execute her if she cannot, The girl has nothing left with which to pay the strange creature so he extracts from her a promise that she will give him her firstborn child. He proceeded to spin the straw into gold a final time.
The king keeps his promise to marry the miller’s daughter. But when their first child is born, the imp returns to claim his payment: “Now give me what you promised.” She offers him all the wealth she has to keep the child but the imp has no interest in her riches. He finally consents to give up his claim to the child if she can guess his name within three days. Her many guesses fail, but before the final night, she wanders into the woods/sends a servant to search for him and comes across his remote mountain cottage and watches, unseen, as he hops about his fire and sings. In his song’s lyrics, “tonight tonight, my plans I make, tomorrow tomorrow, the baby I take. The queen will never win the game, for Rumpelstiltskin is my name’”, he reveals his name.
When the imp comes to the queen on the third day, after first feigning ignorance, she reveals his name, Rumpelstiltskin, and he loses his temper and their bargain. He stomps his feet really hard on the floor, falls in and was never seen again. And the King and Queen lived happily ever after”.
And I’d rejoice… The villain had been defeated. But was Rumpelstiltskin really the villain? Let’s take a look at the other characters.
1. The Miller: Had a big mouth. Probably born out of a poor self image. What sort of father would do that to his own daughter?
2. The King: Was clearly a very greedy soul. I’m sure he didn’t marry the Miller’s daughter out of love. He married a “gold-spinner”.
3. The Queen/Miller’s daughter: Poor confused girl… Desperate to save herself. Traded all she had including her unborn child. What if the imp had plans of eating the baby? (Bad parenting is probably in the genes). Perhaps she didn’t thins she’d ever get out of the mess her dad put her into talk more of getting married. She broke her promise nonetheless…
4. Rumpelstiltskin: Poor lonely imp… Loves kids perhaps, and wanted one. Too ugly to have one (would you marry or have a baby for an imp?) Shrewd ‘businessimp’. Not a greedy guy, he didn’t want money. Maybe he just wanted a child to love him and call him dad. I don’t know, neither do you. Should have left his name out of that song, though. But, how was he to have known that someone was there? How disappointed and heartbroken the poor imp must have felt. Betrayed, used, cheated, name it. Was he really the villain?
Rumpelstiltskin might have been an evil baby-eating villain… Or not. We don’t know his side of the story. Same goes for all stories we hear. What we make of them usually depends on who told them. Things aren’t always as they seem.