Earlier I mentioned that I thought poor Rumpelstiltskin got a raw deal, but of course there are other ways to look at the story. Change perspective and the rather dim-witted, gullible and mendacious maiden becomes a clever and enterprising young woman who must use subterfuge and beguilement to protect herself from the machinations of greedy and lascivious men.
What was the Miller’s motive in making such an extravagant claim in the King’s hearing? In the pre-industrial age millers were incredibly important entrepreneurs. Grain was of no use to anyone until it had been ground into flour. Local agricultural communities depended on their mills to provide the means to sell a cash crop. The millers not only ground the grain they helped the farmers sell it. They were canny sophisticated men, well versed in local politics and unlikely to blab recklessly in the presence of their betters. So why did the Miller make this boast. Did he want to get rid of his daughter? If so why? Was she already pregnant? Could the baby have been his?
On the other hand, maybe his daughter was already pregnant with Rumplestiltskin’s child. The story says nothing of his age or looks, just that he was short. Perhaps the maiden devised this plan to buy time, find a husband and get rid of a fascinating but creepy suitor.
The story seems to hinge on the value of the newborn child. Maybe it’s a story about how crazy the longing for a child can make a person and what lengths someone will go to in order to fulfill that longing.
The more I studied this story, the sadder everyone seemed. The king and the maiden in my collage are both unhappy looking. Rumple is merely manic. The message this story carries may be simply what it seems – riches cannot buy happiness.
I gave this story a green background because the forest plays such a large part – at least in my imagination. The woods are Rumplestiltskin’s stomping grounds. His magic seems to derive from his relationship to the woodlands. It is the one place he feels safe enough to utter his true name.
Names are very important in magic. They hold a person’s personal power. If the true name of an enemy can be discovered, then he can be forced to do your bidding. If the true name of a plant or mineral is known than you can use and manipulate it for your own ends. Remember, in the Genesis creation story Adam was granted the right to name each animal and thus define it. In other words, he was given dominion over the animals.
The sunlit grain fields, the clearing in which the mill stands and the walled extravagance of the castle all speak of land that has been tamed. The forest is a wild place and maybe Rumpelstiltskin wants only to protect the legacy of wildness for his child, or by extension, all children. The story may well be a protest against the groundswell of technology presaged by the invention of watermill and spinning wheel.
Different meaning, different issues, different interpretations make these tales timeless. We see once again that the personal is political and vice-versa. Every time we revisit the tales, the wheel spins again and straw is spun into gold.