Sunday, August 12, 2012
Thoughts on Rumpelstiltskin
It was Marilyn Singer's poem in Mirror, Mirror (if you missed the hype the first time around...yes it's for young children but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT. Clever and thought-provoking reversible poetry on fairy tale themes. I think I cry a little each time I read the Beauty and the Beast one...) that first made me realize that, though the whole happy ending is brought about by the Queen's naming of Rumpelstiltskin, she herself is never named. It seems sad to me that this character is lost in anonymity, yet if she gains power over Rumpelstiltskin after learning his name, maybe she somehow retains a certain amount of power over us, for none of us can ever name her (more thoughts on the power of a name in this fairy tale here).
Though Rumpelstiltskin is supposedly the villain, he is actually the least evil of the male characters. In the words of Roger Sale, "It is not the miller who boastingly vaunts his daughter into peril, or the avaricious, cruel king who marries her, but the little man who helps her and wants only a child for himself who is singled out for punishment."
The reason is never given for Rumpelstiltskin's desire for a child-although desiring children is a very prominent theme in fairy tales, although ususally it's women wanting children, and usually their own (with the exeption of the witch in Rapunzel, also a figure who is more sympathetic in some variants.) But even in the Grimms' version, Rumpelstiltskin "feels sorry for" the Queen, and instead of demanding the child which was really his, according to the promise the Queen herself made (although the conditions under which the promise were made were not exactly fair...), he creates a loophole: allowing her the ability to guess his name over three days.
Surlalune page, the last episode, in which Rumpelstilskin tears himself in two and is swallowed into the ground and therefore seems more evil and ridiculous, was actually an addition by the Grimms-originally the little man flew out of the window on a cooking ladle.
So this man, who has at times been called a demon or dwarf, is never defined as anything other than being a little man. But where do his magical powers come from? Why does he ask for the heroine's most prized posessions initially when he clearly has the ability to make valuable things for himself (he initally takes a necklace and a ring, only asking for the child when the woman has nothing left to give)? Why does he want the child? Why does he pity the Queen at all? It is this abundance of unanswered questions that make the tale so fascinating and so open to various explorations and interpretations.