Rumpel-Stilts-kin by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm.

Illustration by Warwick Goble for 'Rumpelstiltskin' from The Fairy Book by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik (1913).

Rumpel-Stilts-kin, more commonly known as Rumplestiltskin, is a fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm first published in Children's and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen) in 1812 as Rumpelstilzchen. However, research by Sara Graça da Silva and Jamshid J. Tehrani would suggest the tale is far older than that, having roots as far back as 6,000 years ago. They write of Rumplestiltskin and Beauty and the Beast that they were -
"... first written down in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While some researchers claim that both storylines have antecedents in Greek and Roman mythology, our reconstructions suggest that they originated significantly earlier. Both tales can be securely traced back to the emergence of the major western Indo-European subfamilies as distinct lineages between 2500 and 6000 years ago, and may have even been present in the last common ancestor of Western Indo-European languages."
6,000 years ago was 4,000 B.C., about the end of the Neolithic Age and going into the Bronze Age, which coincidentally was when Bede calculated the beginning of the world in De temporum ratione (The Reckoning of Time). It is quite remarkable that these tales do seem to be almost as old as time.

'Round the fire an indescribably ridiculous
little man, hoping on one leg and singing'
by Arthur Rackham (1920)
The Brothers Grimm's story is very short and very familiar: a vain miller is so proud of his daughter he shows off about her and claims that she can spin straw into gold. An avaristic king hears of it and orders her before him. He then takes her into a chamber, gives her a spinning-wheel and straw, and says "All this must be spun into gold before tomorrow morning, as you value your life". He leaves her to her task, but she is soon joined by a goblin who asks her why she's crying. He agrees to help her in exchange for her necklace, and the next day, when the goblin has spun the straw into gold the king is pleased, but, being greedy, he orders her to spin yet more straw. The goblin returns and performs the task in exchange for her ring, and the king once more orders to her to spin even more straw. Now she has nothing more to give, so he makes her promise that when she is queen she will give him her first child. Thinking she will never be queen she consents, however the king, pleased with all his gold, marries her. At the birth of her first child the goblin duly appears and is not persuaded by her attempts to bargain with him. Instead he says, "I will give you three days' grace, and if during that time you tell me my name, you shall keep the child". She tries and tries to guess his name to no avail, but finally a messenger arrives and tells a story: of a "funny little man" who was dancing and singing,
"Merrily the feast I'll make,
To-day I'll brew, to-morrow bake;
Merrily I'll dance and sin,
For next day will a stranger bring:
Little does my lady dream
Rumpel-Stilts-kin is my name!"
Thus, the queen is able to tell the little goblin is name, and he is laughed out of the kingdom for his failure.

It's a great little story steeped in Medieval imagery: the spinning wheel like the wheel of fortune, the folk-devil, and a moral message of the dangers of being greedy, boastful, or making false-promises. Yet it has a happy ending, giving some comfort that the young woman who tried to survive being caught between vanity and avarice, does get her happily ever after.

For more information, there's a great article on Pook Press that I highly recommend!

And that was my 25th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde.

Illustration of Rumpelstiltskin by Kay Nielsen for
Hansel and Gretel and Other Stories by the Brothers Grimm (1925).


  1. One of my childhood favourites - I found the thwarting of the greedy Rumplestiltskin to be very satisfying.

    Great illustrations for this piece too.

    1. Yes, I found it rather satisfying! I like the illustrations, especially Rackham :)


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