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Questioning Rumpelstiltskin's Motives

kawaiidaigakusei at 12:00AM, Sept. 10, 2018

As children, we are more open and willing to believe the things that are presented to us as facts. We don't even question the validity of some statements, just take them as truths because that is the way it is.

One example of this was when I was sitting in a library during a reading of the Brothers Grimm story, Rumpelstiltskin. This is the story of a young woman who is forced to produce a room full of gold or else the King will have her head.

I am not going to say the whole story was believable (it is not) spinning straw into gold and having a small man visit a locked up dungeon is all part of a fairy tale.

The oddest part of the story (to me) was when the little unnamed man tells the fair maiden that he will spin the straw into gold as a trade off for her first child. When I heard that line as an adult, I looked up and said, “Wait, what? Why?” The librarian reading the book looked at me in agreement. It makes little sense why a little imp would want to take care of a human baby. I mean, there's the crying, the constant need for attention, having to be fed throughout the day, and changing diapers.

Later that day, I looked up “Why would Rumpelstiltskin want a baby?” on the Internet and was met with: He wanted to take something that was most precious to the girl; He was hungry; He might have wanted to raise the baby. It came down to this idea that the story was told as a warning for mothers not to leave their babies alone because they might be stolen or replaced with a changeling.

Fairy tales are rather quirky.

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ozoneocean at 3:29AM, Sept. 22, 2018

You guys need to read more fairytails. Fairies wanting someone's first born baby (usually a son) is super common! The explanation was that they want children to raise AS fairies. Fairies don't have little ones of their own very often, so need human babies instead. The human baby will become a fairy. The fear of losing kids to other people to be raised by them has always been around- because people did that.

PaulEberhardt at 11:08AM, Sept. 12, 2018

@mks_monsters: True, there are no right or wrong interpretations as such, and if everybody can recognise something in a story that appeals to them personally, that's a sure sign that it's one of the very best. May I add that this is the case with most fairy tales, even if they look so simple on the surface, and that's why they're unsurpassed in many ways. Still, that's the very thing about them that makes at least me curious enough to try and get a glimpse of how this most delicious food for thought may have been cooked up - and if it's only because that way you get to know even more ancient tales that are just awesome by themselves (as all of the old fairy tales are, really!).

irrevenant at 8:21PM, Sept. 11, 2018

I actually think it makes Runpelstiltskin scarier that we have no idea what he intended to do with the baby. Each reader is able to imagine a wide array of possibilities for themselves, some of which are truly horrific.

mks_monsters at 9:21AM, Sept. 11, 2018

I get what people are saying in the comments. However, just because the author originally intended the story to tell one message doesn't mean you can't interpret another especially if it's valuable. In the case of Rumpelstiltskin, I can list a whole lot of things. - Don't pay prices that are too high. - Don't tell lies just to get what you want. - Don't make deals without discussing all the terms and conditions first. - If someone's help comes at a price, then they're not really out to help you. - Beware of people who take advantage of you while you're vulnerable.

usedbooks at 4:13AM, Sept. 11, 2018

The original Snow White was actually less disgusting than Disney's version. Disney has a guy kissing a dead body because it's beautiful. In the original, he was taking the pretty corpse home as a souvenir and a bump on the road dislodged the apple from her throat and brought her back to life. Either way, apparently keeping corpses in glass coffins to stare at (in a time before embalming) was a perfectly sane thing to do.

usedbooks at 4:08AM, Sept. 11, 2018

Not really. The curse was broken by a dude fondling a coma victim. So, not exactly a great moral lesson. XD I believe the lesson was actually about being a good host. The witch cursed the kingdom because she didn't get an invitation to a party.

kawaiidaigakusei at 9:43PM, Sept. 10, 2018

Sounds like the original Sleeping Beauty taught girls the reason consent is so important.

usedbooks at 8:19PM, Sept. 10, 2018

The original Sleeping Beauty had even deeper non-consent issues. A prince did visit her in her coma, but she didn't wake until some time later -- from labor pains.

kawaiidaigakusei at 7:52PM, Sept. 10, 2018

Snow White has some issues- it teaches young girls that if they wait long enough and never leave home, a man is going to come for them to marry. Cinderella is good because she had a strong work ethic and eventually, her hardwork was rewarded.

meemjar at 3:31PM, Sept. 10, 2018

Fairy tales always have a kernel of truth or morality to them. Little Red riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel were simply stories about not talking to strangers. The Three little Pigs was the story of being diligent in preparing your shelter for bad times. The Wolf represented bad times and the first two little pigs weren't diligent in building their livelihoods to brace for bad times but the third pig did. Snow White and Cinderella were stories of how jealousy and cruelty will come back to haunt you while kindness will be rewarded. So I always thought the story of Rumplestilskin and a similar story called 'Tom Tit Tot' were stories about solving your own problems before making deals with others.

kawaiidaigakusei at 11:44AM, Sept. 10, 2018

By the way, all the comments here are incredibly bright and intelligent!! I am thoroughly entertained by the insights you all have contributed to fairy tales. It makes this day a very enjoyable one! :)

kawaiidaigakusei at 11:39AM, Sept. 10, 2018

@usedbooks Haha!! I took a class that covered ballads from the Appalachian region and how it connected to Irish ballads such as the Unquiet Grave. Beautiful sound, but oh so sad. The other stories covered were that of brer rabbit and brer fox.

PaulEberhardt at 11:12AM, Sept. 10, 2018

This links to really ancient tales from medieval and probably even pre-Christian times, where it has always been a basic attribute of dwarves, wights, hobgoblins, albs, Heinzelmännchen and whatnot (all these are basically just different names for the same creature, thanks to oral tradition) that they have a very low self-esteem, and that they're deeply ashamed if a human sees them in their ugliness. Also, they are often rather spiteful and they always overreact.

PaulEberhardt at 11:11AM, Sept. 10, 2018

There's a lot of interpretations to that tale, even very complex psychological ones, but to me Rumpelstiltkin has always been a tale of people trying to compensate for something they don't like about themselves, and how such attempts inevitably backfire. You see, the young girl's father, a miller, tries to compensate for his own low standing in society (miller's weren't rich, and didn't always have the best reputation) by getting the king to marry his daughter (the miller's, not the king's), even if it means having to cheat by telling a tall tale. Rumpelstiltkin sees his chance by helping in this ruse - it gives him power over someone, and that helps him compensate his own pettiness - which is why the girl can spell his doom by finding out his silly name (No one here in Germany knows any more what it means, but basically everyone is agreed that it's meant to be a silly name), that so reminds him of his lowliness.

PaulEberhardt at 10:44AM, Sept. 10, 2018

Fairy tales often (not always, but often) served as a kind of code to talk about adult themes, back when families used to live in single room houses and you always had children around. For instance, The Star Money (I hope that's what it's called in English) is often interpreted as an allegory on how to be a good Christian (giving even your last clothes to those in need), but there is also a lesser-known reasoning that it's in fact about prostitution - one version goes "she lifted her skirt and money fell in from the sky". Whether this is what the tale really meant or not, alluding to that tale would allow the grown-ups to spread gossip about, say, their neighbour's daughter secretly offering, erm, "special services" to travellers while at the same time keeping the ugly truth from their own kids. I don't know about Rumpelstiltkin right now, but in German people use the name of Rumpelstiltkin as a pejorative for hectic guys who tend to throw tantrums for all kinds of ludicrous reasons.

bravo1102 at 8:42AM, Sept. 10, 2018

Then there's also making the beliefs and world of the girl and troll come to life so the audience understands their world and frame of reference. I've seen creators pull it off and others "modernize" the story and ot loses the whole point of the telling. Not everything is Shakespeare and universal enough to bear all kinds of interpretations.

mks_monsters at 8:07AM, Sept. 10, 2018

The way I interpreted the story was that the girl was originally very selfish and would have given anything to have a better life even marry the king who was essentially just marrying her for her "ability", but then grew to appreciate what was important after having her baby hence coming clean and wanting to call of the deal. Another interpretation was that maybe Rumpelstiltskin was lonely or not really an imp at all, but some kind saintly being in disguise. Like I said, the girl was originally selfish and the king was no better so maybe asking her to give up her child was a test. That or maybe he wanted kids so selfishly, was willing to trick a girl into giving him hers. Having kids may not be for everyone, but some people would do anything to have even one. I understand and respect the original fears and such behind stories, but there's also a way to retell these old tales in ways that would make sense now.

usedbooks at 6:45AM, Sept. 10, 2018

I had a mythology class. Loved it. Not to much in history courses, but you can get a lot of history while studying literature and religion/myths. You kinda HAVE to to understand context. We had a bunch of Shelly Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre on disc (pre-vhs/beta things we watched) too. Oh, and the musical Into the Woods is an interesting take on Fairy Tales. It uses a lot of elements that modern tellings leave out. (My only gripe is that they missed one big opportunity for the overall theme. My sister's gripe was about all the many characters who died. That's fairy tales for ya. The prince duet alone makes it a winning movie, imo.)

bravo1102 at 6:27AM, Sept. 10, 2018

I took similar classes as well as Medieval studies classes, magic and witchcraft and read Campbell and Frazer. A lot of these tales become understandable in pre-modern context. And its amazing how many have precursors in Greco-roman mythology. Shelly Duvall's old Faerie Tale theater was great for seeing variant feelings.

usedbooks at 6:11AM, Sept. 10, 2018

@Bravo: True. We may not be able to envision a world with actual wolves wandering around with children in houses without latchable doors. Or the ever-real threat of actual starvation.

usedbooks at 6:09AM, Sept. 10, 2018

The original Cinderella had less tangible magic to it. Apparently a tree full of birds was possessed by her dead mother and the birds kept gifting her things. (The story also included chopping toes off and eyes getting pecked out.) The little mermaid fails her quest (an attempt to EARN A SOUL, because mermaids are soulless) but gets to wander around as a ghost instead of becoming sea foam... I took a course on fairy tales and fantasy. Great dark class. But still a lot more uplifting than the other one I took (Appalachian Fiction and Poetry).

bravo1102 at 6:05AM, Sept. 10, 2018

What doesn't make sense in our time and frame of reference was perfectly reasonable to someone in the 13th-15th century.

usedbooks at 6:04AM, Sept. 10, 2018

Motives are weird. Fairytales borrow themes from each other (same for religions/mythologies) and sometimes the tellers recall the origins and sometimes not. By retelling them, we are keeping alive fears and traditions from millennia ago. It's an interesting study. Modern motives and human nature can be just as nonsensical. As modern people, we understand the motives of the Queen from Snow White as "jealously." Which is completely illogical but timeless. A more realistic motive may have had more to do with keeping her crown, but that doesn't contain the same lesson.

bravo1102 at 6:00AM, Sept. 10, 2018

There is a version of the story where she does lose the baby. There's a version of Hansel and Gretel where they are baked and eaten. Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood jumping out of the wolf's belly after the huntsman killed it? They died. Don't go in the forest. Don't play with wolves. Don't make deals with faerie or any other unknown con-man. Then cleaned up by romantic types because they lived in a safer world.

bravo1102 at 5:51AM, Sept. 10, 2018

It really comes down to the figure of the troll/dwarf/elf wanting the child and the whole fear of changelings (a pre medical explanation of the change of behavior at the onset of autism?) and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Germanic lore borrowed the image of infant killing/stealing faerie that has been traced to Rome and even to ancient Babylon. Or so goes the stuff from the people who spend long hours studying folk tales the modern study of which started with Grimm.

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