Friday, March 9, 2012


If you are reading this blog for the first time, you should be aware that I am in the process of drawing big ideas, also known as literary themes, from fairy tales that are in disfavor right now. According to an online article online article from The Telegraph, February 12, 2012 ( howaboutthat/9078489/Fairytales-too-scary-for-modern-children-say-parents.html), many parents omit fairy tales, especially those gathered and told by the brothers Grimm from the German oral tradition. In fact, parents participated in a survey and created a top ten of tales that are either too frightening or politically incorrect. In two earlier posts, I discussed story ten, “Queen Bee,” and nine, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Story eight, the topic for today’s post, is Grimms’ “Rumplestiltskin.” If you wish to read their version, you can find it at grimm055.html.

I must confess that this tale is alarming. I remember taking my young daughter to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs performed on ice for the Ice Capades. As the intermission ended and the lights dimmed, an announcer revealed that the dwarfs would be collecting small children and giving them rides in their minecarts. Far below our seats in the upper regions of a huge arena, dwarfs skated to the boxed seats just beyond the rink’s enclosure. They lifted children over the low wall and placed them in the cart, then gave them a treat, skating round once before returning them safely to their parents.

My daughter watched, horrified. She began telling me, at first softly, but soon in tones loud, bordering on a wail, that she did not wish to go with the dwarfs. I told her that they would not come for her, that even if they did, I would not let her go, but nothing I said comforted her. She had decided that the whole affair was one long ruse to kidnap children, and we finally had to escape the arena before the second act was underway. I remember her fear as she clung to me, looking back to be sure that no dwarfs or carts pursued us, and I imagine that Rumplestiltskin's tale would have terrified her then.

But let me tell the tale so you can decide:

            Once upon a time, a father boasts to a greedy king that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king requires that the girl prove her skill on penalty of death if she fails. Locked inside a room in the castle with only straw and a spinning wheel, she fears for her life and cries. Soon, a little man comes to her rescue. He barters with her, trading his ability to spin straw into gold for her necklace, and thus he saves her life.
            The king’s greed grows when he sees the gold, confines the girl to a larger room with more straw, and tells her to spin through the night or lose her life. Again the little man comes to her aid and trades her ring for his labor.
            On the third night, the girl now in a largest room of the three, with even more straw to spin, has nothing left with which to barter so the little man proposes that he save her life if she will give him her first born once she marries the king and conceives. The girl, having no knowledge of her future, agrees in order to save her life.
            The king chooses her for his wife, reasoning, we are told, that a girl of lowly birth is acceptable if she can create wealth. In a year, the girl, now queen, bears a child, and the little man comes to collect. Again, the girl wails until the little man gives her another three-day test: if she can guess his true name, he will relent and she can keep her child.
            The queen uses all her resources to gather as many names as possible. Each day she lists names, and the little man tells her that she is wrong. But on the eve of the final day, another man reports that he overheard a little man in his cabin speak his own name after revealing that he would soon claim the queen’s infant. With this information, the queen saves her child and herself, but the little man named Rumplestiltskin, like Roger Chillingworth so many years later, in a fit of temper, destroys himself.

The lessons of this tale are many. They include

·      Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive (Sir Walter Scott). The father’s deception puts his daughter in jeopardy. The daughter’s deception endangers her happiness.
·      The love of gold is the cause of much evil. The king’s lust for gold leads him to abuse his power. He threatens to kill the girl if she fails to produce gold.
·      Be careful what you agree to for the finest of fine print may cause you great sorrow. The daughter agrees to sacrifice her first-born child and then regrets her contract.
·      Good fortune sometimes rescues us from our own traps. The daughter learns, quite by accident, what Rumplestiltskin’s name is.
·      Our own desires, especially if they cause harm to others, deliver even greater harm to ourselves. Rumplestiltskin believes he has made a fair trade and boasts about it, but if he takes the child, the queen will mourn forever. When Rumplestiltskin’s designs upon the child fail, he cannot tolerate loss.

Still, as a story for small children, I warn that small children may feel fear if they hear this story before that can judge its themes. Like my own daughter who had never imagined that children might be plucked from their seats at a performance and taken off by costumed performers, children hearing this tale may grow suspicious about parents. After all, the queen’s father is the one who hands her over to a greedy king.

I suggest using this tale much later--as an exercise in writing literary themes.

Reading Challenge:

Read a different analysis of Rumplestiltskin and enjoy the literary analysis offered at “World Rise: Stories are Beautiful.” (

Writing Analysis:

Write Rumplestiltskin’s story. Where did he come from? What does he look like? What motivates him to help the girl and raise a child?

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): Born and Borne

Women bear children, and they may bear water from the well to the home.

But children are born, and water is borne.

Born, without an “e,” means to begin life outside the womb.

Borne, with an “e,” means carry something on one’s shoulders, in one’s hand, on one’s back. A woman has borne a fetus for 39 weeks until it’s born.