As a kid, I remember Mum reading us Rumpelstiltskin from a big, beautiful book. The art was amazing, and at the time, the story didn’t seem so bad either. I mean, spinning straw into gold? A little evil gremlin? A crafty queen? What could be better?
To my surprise, though, the story popped into my head the other night during my shower (for the first time in 18 years or so). There was a good reason for this, I swear, and I feel a need to explain since saying “I was thinking about Rumpelstiltskin in the shower,” admittedly sounds a little weird.
It started because I was thinking about gravity. The news confirming gravitational waves has been everywhere, and OK Go released their newest music video, where they danced around in zero gravity. Now, it’s not my favorite OK Go video (or song), but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intensely jealous. The first thing I did, of course, was look up how much a flight like that would put you back (as it turns out, it’s about $5,000). As I showered, I was thinking about the price tag and thought, “I’d have to cash in some kind of Rumpelstiltskin deal.”
And boom, that memory of that book came back, and I was immediately hit by how intensely daft everybody in that story is.
If you haven’t read Rumpelstiltskin, don’t worry, I’ve got your back and I’ll break it down for you. Luckily, it’s all over the internet since the Brothers Grimm were around before copyright laws were.
Once there was a miller who was poor, but who had a beautiful daughter. Now it happened that he had to go and speak to the king, and in order to make himself appear important he said to him, “I have a daughter who can spin straw into gold.”
Okay, we’re off to a bad start here. How did the miller think this was a good idea? Actually, how did he even think something like that up? This would have been a better beginning if it was altered to include something about the miller being a drunk or an avid magic mushroom picker.
Don’t worry, things get worse.
The king said to the miller, “That is an art which pleases me well, if your daughter is as clever as you say, bring her to-morrow to my palace, and I will put her to the test.”
No, he doesn’t say, “Hey, if she can spin gold, why are you really poor?” or some other highly sensical question. He just buys it. And this is the man in charge of an entire kingdom. (It’s like having George W Bush at the helm again.)
Anyway, for some reason, the miller dad then decides, “Yeah, okay, I’m going to bring my daughter who definitely can’t spin straw into gold to the palace. This is a good idea.”
I mean, what a shithead.
And when the girl was brought to [the king], he took her into a room which was quite full of straw, gave her a spinning-wheel and a reel, and said, “Now set to work, and if by to-morrow morning early you have not spun this straw into gold during the night, you must die.”
Oh, that’s nice.
Thereupon he himself locked up the room, and left her in it alone. So there sat the poor miller’s daughter, and for the life of her could not tell what to do, she had no idea how straw could be spun into gold, and she grew more and more frightened, until at last she began to weep.
So far, this girl is the only clear-thinking character in the story, and you have to admit, you feel a bit bad for her. Her dad is an asshole, the king is an asshole, and the only character development the Grimm brothers have given her so far is “beautiful and poor.” Things are not looking good for this girl.
Enter Rumpelstiltskin. (Spoiler alert, that is his name.)
But all at once the door opened, and in came a little man, and said, “Good evening, mistress miller, why are you crying so?”
“Alas,” answered the girl, “I have to spin straw into gold, and I do not know how to do it.”
“What will you give me,” said the manikin, “if I do it for you?”
“My necklace,” said the girl.
The little man took the necklace, seated himself in front of the wheel, and whirr, whirr, whirr, three turns, and the reel was full, then he put another on, and whirr, whirr, whirr, three times round, and the second was full too. And so it went on until the morning, when all the straw was spun, and all the reels were full of gold.
By daybreak the king was already there, and when he saw the gold he was astonished and delighted, but his heart became only more greedy. He had the miller’s daughter taken into another room full of straw, which was much larger, and commanded her to spin that also in one night if she valued her life.
The girl knew not how to help herself, and was crying, when the door opened again, and the little man appeared, and said, “What will you give me if I spin that straw into gold for you?”
This is where I lose a bit of sympathy for the miller’s daughter. As the Brothers Grimm have elucidated for us, Rumpelstiltskin was a fairly small man. Maybe I’ve watched too many action movies, but at this stage in the story, the miller’s daughter should have been standing by the door, the needle from the spinning machine in her hand, waiting for that odd man to come back in. She could have taken him. As soon as that door opened, she should have pounced and run through the door. And yet.
“The ring on my finger,” answered the girl.
The little man took the ring, again began to turn the wheel, and by morning had spun all the straw into glittering gold.
The king rejoiced beyond measure at the sight, but still he had not gold enough, and he had the miller’s daughter taken into a still larger room full of straw, and said, “You must spin this, too, in the course of this night, but if you succeed, you shall be my wife.”
Even if she be a miller’s daughter, thought he, I could not find a richer wife in the whole world.
This is a good plan, king. The girl that you threatened with death not once, not twice, but three times — yeah, put a ring on her finger. That’s a normal thing to do with your prisoners.
When the girl was alone the manikin came again for the third time, and said, “What will you give me if I spin the straw for you this time also?”
“I have nothing left that I could give,” answered the girl.
“Then promise me, if you should become queen, to give me your first child.”
Who knows whether that will ever happen, thought the miller’s daughter, and, not knowing how else to help herself in this strait, she promised the manikin what he wanted, and for that he once more spun the straw into gold.
Things just escalated pretty quickly here. A necklace, a ring, your first-born child. No big.
And when the king came in the morning, and found all as he had wished, he took her in marriage, and the pretty miller’s daughter became a queen.
A year after, she brought a beautiful child into the world, and she never gave a thought to the manikin.
She also didn’t run away from the greedy king that threatened to kill her repeatedly, but instead stuck around and had his kid. Which was promised to a creepy man with a penchant for small children. Solid plan, lady.
But suddenly he came into her room, and said, “Now give me what you promised.”
The queen was horror-struck, and offered the manikin all the riches of the kingdom if he would leave her the child. But the manikin said, “No, something alive is dearer to me than all the treasures in the world.”
Then the queen began to lament and cry, so that the manikin pitied her.
He may eat babies, but he’s not a monster. He’s capable of pity, you know.
“I will give you three days, time,” said he, “if by that time you find out my name, then shall you keep your child.”
So the queen thought the whole night of all the names that she had ever heard, and she sent a messenger over the country to inquire, far and wide, for any other names that there might be. When the manikin came the next day, she began with Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar, and said all the names she knew, one after another, but to every one the little man said, “That is not my name.”
And the daft king never even wondered why his wife was sending his messengers off around the country to ask about baby names.
On the second day she had inquiries made in the neighborhood as to the names of the people there, and she repeated to the manikin the most uncommon and curious. Perhaps your name is Shortribs, or Sheepshanks, or Laceleg, but he always answered, “That is not my name.”
On the third day the messenger came back again, and said, “I have not been able to find a single new name, but as I came to a high mountain at the end of the forest, where the fox and the hare bid each other good night, there I saw a little house, and before the house a fire was burning, and round about the fire quite a ridiculous little man was jumping, he hopped upon one leg, and shouted –
‘To-day I bake, to-morrow brew,
the next I’ll have the young queen’s child.
Ha, glad am I that no one knew
that Rumpelstiltskin I am styled.'”
He got that close, only to shoot himself in the foot. Now, Rumpelstiltskin might have been a bit evil and definitely weird, but so far, he was the smartest guy in the story. This plot just doesn’t hold up.
You may imagine how glad the queen was when she heard the name. And when soon afterwards the little man came in, and asked, “Now, mistress queen, what is my name?”
At first she said, “Is your name Conrad?”
“Is your name Harry?”
“Perhaps your name is Rumpelstiltskin?”
Yes, goad the evil little man, that’s a good idea, queen.
“The devil has told you that! The devil has told you that,” cried the little man, and in his anger he plunged his right foot so deep into the earth that his whole leg went in, and then in rage he pulled at his left leg so hard with both hands that he tore himself in two.
Well. There you have it.
What a stupid story.
Anyone want to buy me a zero G flight? I promise to never get this worked up over a fairy tale again if you do.