It's been a while, hasn't it? Something about the summer just pulled me away from the Grimm and into the poetry. But with the chill in the fall air and the change of light it felt like time to reenter the forests.
I almost wanted to ignore this chestnut altogether. The story has been told and retold and, really, it isn't that good in my opinion. But I remembered once in a drawing class we were asked to copy an illustration that was shown upside down, then turn the finished drawing right-side up when we were done. The exercise was meant to highlight just how much the brain "dictates" the way a thing is viewed and how you can train your eye to actually "see" the familiar in a new way.
No, I didn't read the book upside down, I just reversed the gender of all the players as I read. Very interesting.
The story starts with a father who likes to get attention. To gain the king's favor he boldly announces that he has a daughter who can spin straw into gold. Flip that and you have a mother who likes attention and makes a claim to the queen that she has a son who... well, he wouldn't be spinning, now, would he? So let's say she has a son crush coal into diamonds with his bare hands because he's so strong.
Well, gold/diamonds pleases the king/queen so much that s/he demands the child be locked into a tower with all the supplies they need. By morning they are to perform the miracles of their parental bragging or else they will be killed. Why the parents aren't held accountable is beyond me, but that's life in the Grimmoire.
Realizing the hopelessness of their situation the children weep, until a funny little creature appears and asks them why they weep. Once explained the sprite asks what they will trade if he can perform their tasks. Each is wearing a necklace (probably a memento of their long-dead father/mother) and gladly makes the trade. The next morning the royal personages are happy to see the task completed. So happy, in fact, that they lock the children into a larger room with more supplies in which to feed the royal greed.
Another night of weeping, another visit by the sprite, another trade for a piece of jewelry, this time a ring. The task completed, the king/queen are still unsatisfied and demand a third go-round. Now the children have nothing with which to barter, so the sprite asks for their firstborn child in payment.
They balk. First, there's nothing to suggest they'll ever have children; second they couldn't possibly trade away their own children. Ah, so at the very least they don't think they are anything like the parent that dumped them as part of a brag. There's also a telling line, when they plead against giving up an as-yet-born child where the sprite says "...something living is more precious to me that all the treasures of the world." Huh. Imagine that. Someone in the Grimmoire thinks children are precious.
But the little sprite hints that once they have completed the task for the third time they will become members of the royal family themselves...
Which brings us to another interesting point. Royalty in the Grimmoire tend to be male -- princes and kings -- who also tend to marry for love-at-first-sight or money, unless tricked into marrying a witch. The unattached queen doesn't exist. But what an interesting idea, to have an unattached queen who could take her love of money and combine it with a strapping young man who can press gems for her whenever she so desired! In both cases, once married they would be expected to birth/sire children and their magic powers would render them weak and the whole marriage becomes a doomed farce, but that's not what this story is about.
So a child is born and along comes the sprite to demand their payment. Naturally the new parents resist and finally a deal is struck: if you can guess my name within three days, says the sprite, you may keep your child. The new queen/king rack their brains and try to guess names but in the end it is one of their messengers who reports back about a little sprite dancing with glee around a fire that s/he's about to acquire the newborn and spouts off their name in their little dance-rhyme.
And their name is... poltergeist. Okay, so Rumplestilskin translates into "little rattle post" which is a name for a ghost that goes around rattling things. He is called a dwarf in the story but occupants of the Grimmoire would have understood it's name to mean a type of a rattling host. Which would explain, just a little, why it treasured life so much because a ghost ain't got none. The naming aspect is interesting because it indicates a power in the ability to banish. Generally this sort of thing only comes into play with God (big G) and various demonic personages. So with all this info why do we always get a cute little garden gnome in the illustrations?
The third day arrives and after toying with the poltergeist the child bride/groom finally says their name at which Rumplestilskin tears him/herself in half and disappears.
Closer reading of the meaning within the stories can be examined at SurLaLune which backs up the scholarly aspects of specifics, like the gift of a ring having more significance than a necklace because it indicates a proposal of marriage. That sort of thing. In the notes -- also noted in the Wikipedia entry -- originally Rumpelstiltskin doesn't tear himself in two, he rides off on a soup ladle. Why the Grimm Brothers felt the need to kill off the evil at the end of the story isn't clear; speculation was that they had to show how evil and unsympathetic he truly was.
Moral of the story? Well, it's about bragging and boasting, isn't it? About the evil perpetrated by the parents, yes? Forget the royal greed, it's self-preservation, right? Do what you must to stay alive and beat the devil, that's all by-the-way. Children? Throwaways. Only a poltergeist thinks they're precious. I'm sure Rumpelstiltskin was the first to utter the phrase "No child left behind." (What is it about being left behind anyway?)
Indeed, the Grimmoire teaches us many things.