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Annotations for Rumpelstiltskin


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The annotations for the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale are below. Sources have been cited in parenthetical references, but I have not linked them directly to their full citations which appear on the Rumpelstiltskin Bibliography page. I have provided links back to the Annotated Rumpelstiltskin to facilitate referencing between the notes and the tale.

I have included the Grimms' notes to the tale as translated by Margaret Hunt followed by SurLaLune's textual annotations.

The Grimms' Notes For the Tale

From four stories collected in Hesse, which agree with, and in some particulars, complete each other. In one of them, however, the conclusion varies in that the Queen does not send out any emissaries to enquire about strange names; but on the third day the King loses himself when he is out hunting, and accidentally listens to what the mannikin is saying, and hears what he calls himself. A fifth story begins in the following manner: a bundle of flax was given to a little girl to spin into yarn, but what she span was always golden thread, and not flaxen yarn. On this she became very sad and seated herself on the roof, and span and span, but still never any thing but gold. Then a little man came walking by, who said, "I will help thee out of thy difficulty; a young prince shall pass by, and shall take thee away with him, and marry thee, but thou must promise me thy first child." Afterwards the Queen's maid goes out and sees the little man riding round the fire on a ladle, and hears his name. When Rumpelstilzchen sees that his secret is discovered, he flies out of the window on the ladle. Besides this, a sixth variant from Hesse may be named, in which nothing is said about spinning. A woman is walking past a garden wherein beautiful cherries are hanging; longs for some of them, and climbs in and eat some; but a black man comes out of the earth, and for this theft she is forced to promise him her child. When it is born, he forces his way through all the guards who have been set by her husband, and will only consent to leave the woman the child, if she can get to know his name. Then the husband follows him and sees him clamber into a cave, which is hung on all sides with ladles, and hears him call himself Flederflitz. See the Little Staff in Carol. Stahl's Stories, p. 85. In Müllenhoff, No 8, the mannikirk is called Rümpentrumper. In Kletke's Märchensaal, No. 3, he is Hopfenhütel. In Zingerle, No. 36, and Kugerl, p. 278, Purzinigele. In Pröhle's Kindermärchen No. 23, and in Bechstein's Märchen für die Jugend, No. 20, he is Hipche, Hipche. Compare Colshorn, p. 83. In Swedish see Cavallius, p. 210. Fischart can rove the age of this story, for in Gargantua (chap. 25), where a list of games is to be found (under No. 363), there is a game called" Rumpelestilt, or the Poppart." Now people also say "Rumpenstinzchen." Gnomes bear names which are not in use among men, so the mannikin believed himself quite safe when he imposed the condition that his name should he discovered. A being of the same kind (Müllenhoff's Sagen, pp. 306 and 578) is called Knirrsicker and Hans Donnerstag, and betrays himself in the same way. A similar story to ours is interwoven with D'Aulnoy's White Cat, No. 19. The French Ricdin-ricdon in the Dark Tower, by Mlle. l'Héritier from which is printed a Danish rendering, en smuk Historie om Rosanie . . . tjent ved Fandens Hielp for Spindepige. Nyerop, Morskabsläsning, p. 173, also belongs to this group.

Millers and miller's daughters appear in numbers of German stories; this we are speaking of reminds us strangely of the Northern Fenia and Menia, who could grind whatsoever was wanted, and who were ordered by King Frode to grind peace and gold. The spinning gold may also refer to the difficult and painful work of preparing gold-wire which is left to poor girls. Thus in the ancient Danish song, Kämpe Viser, p. 165, verse 24:

"Nu er min Sorg saa mangefold [1],
Som Jongfruer de spinde Guld."

Compare Wolfdietrich, Str. 89, and Iwein, 6186-6198.

The task of guessing a name occurs also in a Danish saga. (Thiele, 1. 45) where a certain man, in return for services performed, has to give his heart and his eyes to a trold if he cannot get to know his name. He listens however to the trold's wife when she is comforting her child, and saying, "To-morrow thy father will come," and at the same time says his name. Besides this there is the saga of Turandot, in The Thousand and one days. Calaf has guessed all her riddles, but will renounce his rights, if she can guess his name. One of her maids goes cunningly to him and tells him of Turandot's horrible inhumanity, who is going to have him murdered because she cannot guess his riddle. Then he imprudently cries, "Oh, unhappy son of Timurtas, oh Calaf worthy of pity!" Thus Turandot learns his name. A Swedish popular Story of St. Olaf turns upon discovering the name of a spirit in this way. See Gräter's Iduna, 3. 60, 61. The incident of demanding the child enters into a great number of myths.

1: "Now my sorrows are manifold,
For I'm a maiden who spins gold."

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884, 1892. 2 volumes.

SurLaLune's Annotations

1.  Miller:  A miller is "one who keeps or attends a flour mill or gristmill" (Webster's 1990). A miller, while not a peasant, would be part of the working class and not the nobility. He would have some property and a few comforts for himself and his family, depending on the success of his mill. He may also be a community leader due to his property ownership and thus have access to meeting the king.

A miller often symbolizes greed, habitual and uncreative thinking as well as logic as a feeble protection against passion (Olderr 1986).
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2. Beautiful daughter: Note that the daughter's beauty is not an issue in the story, but it is still mentioned. The daughter is not valued for her beauty, however, so it is not a critical part of the story.
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3.  King: The king is not present in all versions of the tale. Often the tale is about a young woman's parent trying to achieve a comfortable marriage, sometimes to a king and sometimes to a wealthy merchant, by falsely bragging about her skill at spinning.
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4.  To appear a person of some importance: The events of this story begin thanks to a father's false boasts and brags about his daughter. Many variants of the tale start with a parent's outrageous boast about a daughter's skills with spinning. Some scholars consider the tale's secondary moral to be a warning about false boasting. A few, such as Peter and Iona Opie consider the primary moral to be a warning against boasting (Opie 1974).
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5.  Who could spin straw into gold: Formerly scholars concentrated on the false boasting and "name of the helper" aspects of the tale. For example, the Aarne-Thompson classification focuses on the name of the helper theme of the story. However, scholars such as Ruth Bottigheimer and Jack Zipes have offered newer theories concerning the spinning aspects of the story. They compare the tale to the Grimms' The Three Spinners and consider the tale to be "an amalgamation of literary and oral tales that the Grimms carefully reworked to represent the dilemma of a young peasant woman who cannot spin to save herself" (Zipes 1994, 55).

In times past, women gained marriage offers and social standing through their domestic arts. Spinning was part of their domain and was later taken over by men and machinery. Bottigheimer contends that the tale was originally about a woman who was threatened because she could only spin gold, not the flax needed to clothe those who depended on her skills. She contends that Wilhelm Grimm changed the tale into one about boasting and greed instead of a young girl's ability to spin (Bottigheimer 1982, 149).

Maria Tatar finds irony in the tale: The daughter "works her way up the ladder of social success through her alleged accomplishments as a spinner, yet also manages to avoid sitting down at the spinning wheel" (Tatar 1987, 123). In an early French version of the tale, Ricdin-Ricdon, the daughter marries up by spinning beautifully and performing other domestic chores well.

Also consider the parallels between the spinner of flax and the spinner of tales, a storyteller. Storytellers spin stories with their words and imaginations. In times past, spinning and cloth production were places where storytelling took place and was in the domain of the women of the community.

In past centuries, alchemy, the predecessor of the science of chemistry, was focused on trying to transmute something common, such as straw, into something precious, such as gold.
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6.  A talent worth having: Usually the woman does not have the skills her parent boasts of. Sometimes she cannot spin flax and can only spin gold which is actually an undesirable trait in these versions of the story. In these versions gold is worthless in comparison to the ability to create much needed clothing. Othertimes she cannot spin the gold, only flax and the gold is preferred as by the king in this story. Othertimes she cannot or will not spin at all, being lazy and a burden to her family that just wants to be rid of her.
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7.  Straw: Straw is a thing without value (Olderr 1986). Straw is abundant and inexpensive. It is best used either as an ingredient in bricks for building or as fodder for animals. The king would not have much value for straw, but he would have plenty of it. He would be pleased with the prospect of turning something so abundant and worthless into a precious substance to refill his coffers.
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8.  Spinning-wheel: A spinning wheel is "a small domestic spinning machine with a single spindle that is driven by hand or foot" (WordNet).
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9.  Spindle: A spindle is "the long, round, slender rod or pin in spinning wheels by which the thread is twisted, and on which, when twisted, it is wound; also, the pin on which the bobbin is held in a spinning machine, or in the shuttle of a loom" (Websters 1990). Spindles are sometimes interpreted as phallic symbols, especially in fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty.
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10.  Spin all night till early dawn: Nighttime has long been associated with magical power and mystery. Magic is thought by some to have greater power under the cover of darkness.

Night represents the unconscious, the feminine principle, death, evil, germination, potentiality, darkness, the subconscious, the womb, and the precursor of creation (Olderr 1986).
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11.  Gold:  Gold, as always, is a precious metal and was reserved for the wealthy in past centuries. Gold has often been used for money and jewelry, to represent wealth and power.

Gold represents virtue, intelligence, superiority, heaven, worldly wealth, idolatry, revealed truth, marriage, and fruitfulness (Olderr 1986).
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12.  You shall die: The king threatens death to insure obedience. He has nothing to lose as king. If the gold is spun, he gains the riches. If the gold isn't spun, he gets to punish the liar for making a fool of him. The daughter, while not initiating the lie, is complicitious in it.
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13.  A tiny little man: Rumpelstiltskin's size poses many questions unanswered by the text. Is he a dwarf? Most scholars do not think so, but some do. He may also be a demon, an elf or simply a small statured man. Jane Yolen proposes another interesting theory about the tale's meaning and Rumpelstiltskin's origin:

"So I looked more carefully at the little man, Rumplestiltskin, himself. He has an unpronounceable name, lives apart from the kingdom, changes money, and is thought to want the child for some unspeakable blood rites. Thwack! The holy salmon of inspiration hit me in the face. Of course. Rumplestiltskin is a medieval German story. This is an anti-Semitic tale. Little man, odd name, lives far away from the halls of power, is a moneychanger, and the old blood-rites canard" (Yolen 2000, 288).
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14.  What will you give me if I spin it for you?: Magical helpers rarely help the protagonists in fairy tales without a good reason or bargain. In fairy tales, either the main character is virtuous and thus earns help or she must make a bargain, usually one she would not make except in desperate circumstances. In some earlier versions of the tale, the little man freely helps the maid with no bargain required.
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15.  The manikin: A manikin is a "person who is very small but who is not otherwise deformed or abnormal" (WordNet).
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16.  My necklace: The young woman does not have many things to offer. Her first offering is the least important of her possessions that has any value.

A necklace represents order from chaos, fertility, light, and protection (Olderr 1986).
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17.  Three: The number and/or pattern of three often appears in fairy tales to provide rhythm and suspense. The manikin assists the daughter three times over three nights and then later gives her three days to discover his name. The pattern adds drama and suspense while making the story easy to remember and follow. The third event often signals a change and/or ending for the listener/reader.

The reasons and theories behind three's popularity are numerous and diverse. The number has been considered powerful across history in different cultures and religions, but not all of them. Christians have the Trinity, the Chinese have the Great Triad (man, heaven, earth), and the Buddhists have the Triple Jewel (Buddha, Dharma, Sanga). The Greeks had the Three Fates. Pythagoras considered three to be the perfect number because it represented everything: the beginning, middle, and end. Some cultures have different powerful numbers, often favoring seven, four and twelve.
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18.  Bobbin: A bobbin is "a spool or reel of various material and construction, with a head at one or both ends, and sometimes with a hole bored through its length by which it may be placed on a spindle or pivot. It is used to hold yarn or thread, as in spinning or warping machines, looms, sewing machines, etc." (Webster's 1990).
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19.  Lusted more than ever after the precious metal: The Grimms emphasized the King's money lust in their version of the tale. The emphasis makes the story far from romantic. The daughter marries the man who has threatened her with death and wants her only for her ability to increase his riches. One also wonders how the queen will survive if her husband ever demands more spun gold. Their relationship is based upon deception and greed.
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20.  The ring from my finger: The young woman's offering is the last of her valuable possessions. It is a more symbolic piece of jewelry than a necklace. Rings are used to plight troths and represent formal unions, especially marriages.

A ring represents continuity, wholeness, marriage, a contract, the female genitals, power, bond, fertility, female love, justice, legitimacy, mourning, and eternity (Olderr 1986).
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21.  You shall become my wife: This is not a romantic fairy tale in which a love match marriage takes place. The king appears interested in the daughter for his wife only for monetary reasons. First, he will be able to keep her supposed skills for his own monetary gain. Second, he can keep her from providing the same skills to a possible rival.
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22.  I've nothing more to give: The young woman doesn't have any more material, or physical, possesions to give the manikin in exchange for his services. Now comes the test of what she is willing to give up to save her life.
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23.  Give me your first child: Giving up a first child in a bargain is not uncommon in fairy tales. Besides Rumpelstiltskin, the most famous story with similar conditions is Rapunzel. Even Beauty and the Beast includes the motif of a child given up by a parent. Rumpelstiltskin is one of the few tales in which the bargain will be broken and the birth parent will be able to keep the child.
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24.  She saw no other way out of it: The young woman may be condemned for her agreement by some readers, but she is doing the best she can to survive. At this time she can't imagine bearing a child because she has no great hope of surviving the situtation she is currently in. She makes the deal in order to save her life. Perhaps she would not have made the deal if she were pregnant or already had a child. Right now, she has nothing but the idea of a child to protect which is not a strong motivation to avoid the bargain when her life is at stake.

Critic Steven Jones considers the daughter to be a typical persecuted heroine in fairy tale style. First she finds herself in danger thanks to her father's boasting. Then she marries the king after trial and tribulation along with the promise to give up her firstborn. Finally she fights to save her child by accomplishing the seemingly impossible task of naming her former helper (Jones 1993, 18).
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25.  Promised the manikin what he demanded: The young maid seals the bargain with a promise. Promises, while important today, were more powerful in the past when honor was a great motivator. Also, before the time of literacy among the masses and written contracts, verbal promises were given greater weight. A promise was a contract and actionable by law if broken. Folklore emphasizes the importance of a promise by meting punishment upon those who do not keep their promises. The queen is honor bound to keep this promise.
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26.  Became a queen: The young woman marries the king and becomes queen. Her ability to spin gold becomes more important than a noble birth.
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27.  A beautiful son: A first born son would be the crown prince. Giving up the crown prince to the manikin would not be just a personal tragedy for the Queen, but a possible disaster for her kingdom which relies on progeny to avoid strife in the royal lineage.
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28.  Offered the little man all the riches in her kingdom: Here lies some of the greatest irony of the story. The queen now has many treasures to offer in payment for the services she received. However, nothing is now good enough except for her child. The manikin has always asked for her most precious possessions, previously even when those possessions were of small wordly value and now her child which is priceless.
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29.  No, a living creature is dearer to me than all the treasures in the world: His refusal of this offer shows how Rumpelstiltskin prefers a person for his prize than riches. It also implies that his intention was to win the baby from the beginning of his participation in the story. He was happy to accept the maid's necklace and ring before, but he took those so he could reduce her to agreeing to the horrible arrangement they made previously.
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30.  Little man was sorry for her: Here is one of the few actions which might engender sympathy for Rumpelstiltskin. In some modern interpretations of the tale, the Rumpelstiltskin character is in love with the daughter/queen. Sometimes he is even the child's father. In Donna Jo Napoli's Spinners, the little man is the queen's father and the baby's grandfather.

Spinners by Donna Jo Napoli

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31. I'll give you three days to guess my name, and if you find it out in that time you may keep your child: In Joseph Jacobs' notes to Tom Tit Tot, a tale similar to Rumpelstiltskin, he writes: one "sees in the class of name-guessing stories, a 'survival' of the superstition that to know a man's name gives you power over him, for which reason savages object to tell their names (Jacobs 1890).

The name is the key to power (Olderr 1986). When someone knows your name, they have power over you. When Rumpelstiltskin challenges the Queen to guess his name, he is challenging her to gain power over him. If she has power over him, he cannot take her child away from her.

Hornyansky believes that Rumpelstiltskin is a devil character and thus unsympathetic despite the abuse he receives. "There are only two beings in the universe who have secret names, unknown to all but the adept: one of them is God, whose holy Name must not be spoken; the other, over whom mortal man may gain power by pronouncing his mysterious proper name, is the devil" (Hornyansky 1965, 130).

In his early years of fairy tale analysis, Jack Zipes wrote that the tale "demonstrated how we must seek the power to name the forces acting upon us if we want to be free and autonomous" (Zipes 1979, 177).
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32.  A messenger to scour the land: In the early versions of the tale collected by the Grimms, the queen sends a faithful female companion or servant to seek the name. By 1857, they had changed the servant to a male one. In a few versions, the king happens to mention the name to the queen after meeting the man beyond the castle.
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33.  Kasper, Melchior, Belshazzar: The queen offers obscure names, ones that are present in the Bible, but are not well-known.

Melchior appears in the New Testament as "one of the three sages from the east who came bearing gifts for the infant Jesus; usually represented as a king of Nubia" (WordNet).

Belshazzar appears in the Old Testament as a "Babylonian general and son of Nebuchadnezzar II; according to the Old Testament he was warned of his doom by divine handwriting on the wall that was interpreted by Daniel (6th century BC)" (WordNet).
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34. Sheepshanks Cruickshanks, Spindleshanks?: These names are even more nonsensical than the ones provided the day before, primarily used for their rhyming qualities.

A shank is "the part of the human leg between the knee and the ankle" (WordNet).

A sheepshank is "a knot for shortening a line" (WordNet).

A spindleshanks is "a thin person with long thin legs" (WordNet). The name is ironical since it definitely does not describe Rumpelstiltskin's short stature.
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35.  To-morrow I brew, to-day I bake,/ And then the child away I'll take;/ For little deems my royal dame/ That Rumpelstiltskin is my name!: This rhyme fuels many speculations about the little man, but no sure answers. Does he want the child for a meal, such as the witch in Hansel and Gretel? Or does he want a child of his own, like the witch in Rapunzel? Is he baking and brewing in preparation for a celebratory meal with or of the queen's child? Either way, we know he is thrilled at the prospect of gaining the child and does not anticipate the queen learning his name.
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36.  Is your name Conrad?: Note that the Queen, now sure of her victory, plays with the tiny man by guessing common names instead of the unusual ones she tried the previous two days. Critics often consider the queen's actions to be reprehensible. Critic Roger Sale, for example, condemns the queen for her cruelty to the only character who has shown her any sympathy and offered her any assistance (Sale 1978). In my view, this is the first time she has the upper hand in any situation and she is savoring it. She has been a victim of the three men in the story, her father, her king/husband, and her helper. Finally she has triumphed and gained some control, the control she needs to protect her child.
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37.  Rumpelstiltskin: While most scholars believe that Rumpelstiltskin is simply a nonsense name, others have proposed explanations for the name's meaning and/or origins. I have included some of the theories here.

One theory concerning Rumpelstiltskin's name comes from Edmund Bergler. He thinks that "stilzchen" is derived from a diminutive version of the German word for stilts. "Thus man is again defined as one who puts on airs, elevates and elongates himself artificially...and is there to be ridiculed and regarded with contempt" (Begler 1961, 66).

Another theory comes from Lutz Rohrich. One "associates the name 'Rumpelstiltzchen' first of all with the notion of a Rumpelgeist, a poltergeist, a goblin, that is, of a dwarf-like creature. Yet wherever a Martin Luther or Johannes Fischart speak of a 'Rumpelgeist' they always already mean the devil" (McGlathery 1991, 185).

Some analysts consider Rumpelstiltskin to be a synonym for a phallus.
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38. Some demon has told you that!: If Rumpelstiltskin is himself a devil, he speaks the truth: a demon did reveal his name.
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39.  In his rage drove his right foot so far into the ground that it sank in up to his waist: Bettelheim proposes that Rumpelstiltskin's rage is the true source of his destruction, not the queen's power over him (Bettelheim 1975). However, Bettelheim did not consider the Grimms' changes to the tale. See the next note for more information on the Grimms' changes to the tale's ending.
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40.  Tore himself in two: The Grimms changed the ending of the story from the oral tale they originally collected. In the oral version, the manikin flies out a window riding a cooking ladle. The little man's rage was perhaps added and accentuated to make him less sympathetic and more demonic in appearance.
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