Merry Wanderer of the Night  + [guest]

Guest Post with Danya — Why Rumpelstiltskin Freaks Me Out

I am so excited to have Danya from A Tapestry of Words back for another Fairy Tale Fortnight Guest Post! Danya is awesome — definitely a blogger I enjoy and she always has such awesome post ideas. Last year she talked about Japanese Fairy Tales and this year, she contributed two guest posts! The first is already up on Misty's blog — All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Fairy Tales. Read it. And now, she's going to tell us "Why Rumpelstiltskin Freaks Me Out".

Fairy tales can be very creepy, and to my mind one of the creepiest of the bunch is Rumpelstiltskin. It's not as dark and gritty as some of the other original Grimm's fairy tales, but there's a more subtle kind of unease it creates in a young listener. At least, it did for me when I was a kid. Why? Well, here, let's consider what happens...

A miller's daughter is sent off to the king of the land because her father is poor and needs money. You'd think he would try surviving with his own skills, but no, he thinks that claiming his daughter can spin straw into gold is a way smarter strategy.

The king is more than happy to take this miracle-working hay-into-riches girl off the peasant's hands, and into a locked chamber in his palace filled with... you guessed it. Straw. He tells her that she must spin the straw into gold every night for 3 nights, or else. (Some versions say execution, some say dungeon. Bad things are threatened, in any case.) Just the sort of stay in a palace every girl always dreams about, right?

Only, the father kind of conveniently forgot one important fact: his daughter can't actually do this spinning-straw-into-gold thing he boasted about. But, like a true fairy tale heroine, she takes her best stab at it. She spins and spins and spins that straw until her fingers bleed with the effort.

The result? It's still straw. Surprise!

Of course, just when she is at her wit's end, she is paid a call by a most unexpected visitor: a creepy little gnome of a dude. I'd wonder, personally, how he got INTO this locked chamber of hers, but she doesn't think to question that. No, she is overwrought over the failure of this whole straw-into-gold enterprise.

And he, clever fellow that he is, offers his help. Because spinning straw into gold is — most conveniently — his specialty!

The girl, exhausted, is overwhelmed with relief at the appearance of this saviour, and offers her necklace in exchange for his spinning services. Note that she doesn't even bother asking his NAME before agreeing to this bargain. Clearly her dad never had the "Stranger Danger" talk with her.

When the king opens the door the next morning, there are piles of gold everywhere, but no strange little man (he leaves as easily as he entered. No walls can contain him!). Well, the king is very pleased, of course, and because he is as greedy as every other fairy tale king, he puts her in a larger room and brings her a whole lot more straw to spin.

The girl realizes she's once again in a pickle, but who happens to turn up in the nick of time? That sneaky stalker of hers. This time she offers him her ring if he spins the straw into gold. So the next morning, the room is overflowing with gold, the king is ecstatic, and we are left wondering when this girl is ever going to learn that the king will always want more gold.

Well, same thing happens again: bigger room, more straw, girl in tears, convenient appearance of the odd little man whose name the girl still doesn't know. This time, though, the girl realizes she doesn't have any more jewelry to hand over. (... how did she not see this coming??) Anyway, what does he want? A tiara to match the necklace and ring, perhaps?

No, nothing as extravagant as that. He just wants a little something like HER FIRST-BORN CHILD. (What does he want this child for? He doesn't tell her. Actually, we never find out, but I think we can assume he has nefarious purposes in mind.)

As far as I can figure, her reasoning is this: "If I don't get this straw spun into gold, I will end up starving to death in the dungeon or being hanged, and then I definitely won't have any chance of a child, first-born or otherwise." Or it might just have been, "Babies? Yeah, right. I'm not even married! So not happening!" In any case, she agrees to his terms.

Naturally, this is just the kind of deliciously twisted bargain that this weird guy likes best, so he springs into action. He spins all night, the palace is swimming in gold come morning, and best of all: the girl gets to marry the king!

(Break for confused questions of: but wait! Isn't this the king that has imprisoned her for the past 3 days and demanded that she spin for him OR ELSE? What is she doing marrying him? And why is her father allowing it? Questions not answered. Sorry, folks.)

All seems set for a happily ever after — that is, for the king, anyway — but it is not to be. (At least, not yet.) Because soon after their marriage, she has a baby. And guess who comes calling...

Yes! The creepy little stalker dude that the girl was seriously hoping she was rid of forever!

He demands that he collect on her IOU. She's all, "What? No! Not my baby! The child whose father I fear love so much! I have so much jewelry now. Here, take a necklace. Take two necklaces!"

But the disturbing man we have come to know and loathe so much doesn't want jewelry. (You'd think this would have been obvious. The guy can spin straw into gold, for crying out loud. He can probably spin sheep's wool into emeralds.) He just wants her to uphold her side of that bargain.

To which the girl repeats, "Um, no! No way! I want my kid, actually. Changed my mind. Ask for something else, please!"

To which the creeper goes, "I have an idea! Let's make this even more interesting," and invokes the fairytale Time Limit tenet. As in, "You have 3 days to guess my name, because I'm a sick little man with a disturbed imagination and I like playing guessing games with your future. Or I take your kid."

At which point the most ludicrous name-guessing-game in the history of name-guessing-games commences.

Her: *guessing the most boring names ever, despite the fact that this is obviously NOT a normal man*

"John?"

"No."

"Carl?"

"No."

"Matt?"

"No."

*branching out* "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt?"

"Nope!"

This goes on for a long time as it becomes more and more apparent that either the girl really sucks at guessing or the dude has the weirdest name ever.

A couple of days pass without success and the girl becomes desperate. Her time is running out! My, doesn't it feel just like it did when she was trapped in the palace trying to spin straw into gold.

So, she decides that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and she sends a spy after her stalker pal. Considering how much sneaking he's been doing, I can't really blame her. The spy follows him into the woods, and what does he catch him doing?

If you guessed roasting something on an open spit or slitting throats, you'd be wrong.

No, the bizarre man is dancing happily around a campfire, singing, "My name is Rumpelstiltskin and she'll never guess it," or words to that effect.

Which is when the reader finds out that the dumbest fairytale villain ever is named Rumpelstiltskin.

I think we all know how this ends: she "guesses" the name Rumpelstiltskin, he is very disappointed to relinquish his designs on her first-born child (seriously, WHAT did he want it for?), and the girl and the king live 'happily ever after.' There are various endings for Rumpelstiltskin's fate, from the mundane (him fleeing, never to return) to the violent (he rips himself in two).

And you're wondering what I found disturbing about this fairytale?

It involves a man who repeatedly breaks-and-enters without getting charged and desperately wants someone else's child, a girl who has virtually no street smarts and wouldn't last a minute in our world without being taken advantage of, a father who doesn't have a speck of family feeling, and a king whose greed is only exceeded by his desire to treat women as property.

There are no heroes in this story, and quite frankly, there isn't even a proper villain.

What's wrong with Rumpelstiltskin, you ask? Tell me: what's RIGHT with it?

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