Rumpelstiltskin: 10 important transformations of the characters

by Tolovaj

Rumpelstiltskin is a classic fairy tale by the Grimm brothers. All classic fairy tales are based on the transformation of one or more characters.

We will use Rumpelstiltskin by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm as a textbook example of a fairy tale. Before that, we should know what is the crucial element of a classic fairy tale - transformation. The main character (and often several other characters) in the story should change so much that his or her life at the end would never be the same as at the beginning.

We can also say that at least one of the characters should at least symbolically grow up, what is in fairy tales is mostly shown by getting a job, finding a spouse, or establishing his or her new home. Such transformation is a necessary although not a sufficient condition for a fairy tale.

This means we should be able to notice some kind of transformation in Rumpelstiltskin as well. Let me show you, not one, but ten such transformations!

1. Miller: from working class to nobility

The miller in the story is obviously fascinated with the king's visit. He knows that he would never be in the same class with the king but he still tries to find his way. By claiming that his daughter can spin straw into gold he triggers the king's greed and gives a chance to his daughter to become a part of a higher social class.

This way his grandchildren could acquire blue blood by birth and himself a close relative to nobility.

2. King: from poor nobility to rich nobility

While we are not informed about the financial status of the king, we can suspect he is in need of money. Who isn't? And why else he would spend time with a miller instead of partying in his castle? When a chance, even if it's a slight chance, shows, he wants to have gold. A lot of gold.

For this goal, he is willing to marry a miller's girl who is a total stranger to him and doesn't fit his class anyway. As we see soon enough, he keeps his word and marries her when she fulfills her task.

3. Miller's daughter: from girl to woman

At the beginning of the story, she is completely dependent on men. Her father uses her as a trading object, the king sees just a tool in her, and Rumpelstiltskin capitalizes on her situation.

At the end of the story of Rumpelstiltskin, her father is out of the picture, the king is her husband and partner, and Rumpelstiltskin is completely defeated. She is a grown-up woman. She symbolically conquered the world.

4. Straw: from worthless straw to precious gold

Straw is a fine example of something we can all find in abundance. It has no real value. But the story clearly shows that even the most ordinary, even worthless stuff can be transformed into something unique and valuable. For this, time, patience, and skill are used.

With all the suspense and twists in the story, many readers simply don't notice this probably the most valuable lesson in the story of Rumpelstiltskin.

5. Rumpelstiltskin: from helper to tempter

Rumpelstiltskin appears as a surprising helper. He is able to spin straw into gold and wants just something small in return. A ring will do. And a necklace is just right for the next night.

Well, both pieces of jewelry have strong symbolic meanings. Ring, among other things, is a symbol of power. The girl is willing to part with it without hesitation. Necklace symbolize status and faith. She trades it as well.

The last offer includes her firstborn. This actually sounds like a deal with the devil, right? Her dilemma is still very short-lived. To die in a few hours or give him a child. Yes, this can be understood literarily - give him his child. When a girl spends three nights with a man, she should count on the possibility of being pregnant.

6. Firstborn: from the means of survival to the meaning of life

The unborn baby is used as a bargaining chip even before he is even born. In those times (and in many parts of the world even today) the plans for babies were often made when their parents-to-be were still children themselves. When we are dealing with titles and wealth, heirs are the crucial part of the equation.

A firstborn was planned and programmed way before his birth and many families were virtually obsessed with firstborns. Especially, if they were males, as the bearers of the family names. Miller's daughter didn't think about all the consequences of her decision. She just tried to survive another dangerous night.

7. Miller's daughter: from worker to queen

The transformation of the miller's daughter is amazing. In fairy tales, we usually follow the climbing up the social ladder (think about Puss in Boots or Beauty and the Beast) but rarely spend time with the protagonists who achieve their goals (namely: to become a king or a queen). In this case, we are informed that being a queen is not necessarily an easy task.

But the miller's daughter functions very well in her new role. Before, she gave to Rumpelstiltskin everything he wanted but now she shows a lot of imagination and power at bargaining. Her success doesn't come easily but at least she earned three days of postponement.

And we already know from before how much can be done in just three days (or nights)!

8. Rumpelstiltskin: from creditor to challenger

Rumpelstiltskin comes as a businessman. He is willing to do the job in exchange for a certain fee. He gets a ring and a necklace and is totally entitled to the queen's firstborn. So why should he yield to the queen's wishes?

We can explain his decision at least with two theories:

a) He is so immature he prefers to play even with the possibility of losing, not properly appreciating his prize.
b) He enjoys his additional time with the queen. After all, he had already spent three fun nights with her. Why not three more?

9. Queen: from protector to detective

The young queen proves very resourceful. She must guess Rumpelstiltskin's name and she uses all her powers and connections to collect the names from her surroundings. She invests all her time and energy in the project. As we know, she is successful in the end and she also finds some time to play with Rumpelstiltskin a bit, which just proves the theory they were not just business partners during those three notorious nights.

In the end, she clearly shows him that she outgrew him. She really is the queen.

10. Rumpelstiltskin: from indisputable favorite to total failure

The little ugly man presents himself as a compassionate helper at first and transforms into a hard player but in the end, proves to be just a gambler who prefers the instant thrill of guessing to the lasting satisfaction of raising a child. He is a sore loser. By bragging about his success too early he loses his most precious possession - the firstborn.

Such irresponsible behavior should be strictly punished and the Grimm brothers were very keen on harsh punishment. In some versions, he tears himself in two parts and in some, he breaks into the earth.

All used images are in Public Domain:

Updated: 12/25/2023, Tolovaj
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Tolovaj on 12/29/2023

Yes, DerdriuMarriner, growing up is an essential part of classic fairy tales. There are mainy two goals for a grown-up - to marry and establish a new family or to earn some important life-changing amount of money. In the later case this money can be used for the main character or for his family (think about Hansel and Gretel or The Wishing Table).

I am not familiar with details of Grimm's drafts of Rumpelstiltskin. I beleive they coined their version from various different resources and compiled the story as we know it after several rewritings.

Jo_Murphy on 12/29/2023

I am glad. It seems there are still a few of us here.

Tolovaj on 12/29/2023

Yes, Jo_Murphy, it's a new article.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/28/2023

The summary statement attributes our acquaintance with Rumpelstiltskin to the Grimm Brothers' assiduous fairy-tale collecting.

English Wikipedia and English Wiktionary commence the name with Johann Fischart (1546/1547?-1590/1591?) considering in his Geschichtklitterung (Distortion of history) the children's game Rumpele stilt oder der Poppart (little rattle-stilt [structure-supporting pole/post) or the goblin).

English Wikipedia defers to Ricdin-Ricdon as "an earlier literary variant" by Mme L'Héritier (Nov. 12, 1664-Feb. 24, 1734).

Is it known from when and from where the Grimm Brothers collected the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale?

DerdriuMarriner on 12/28/2023

The second paragraph to your introduction directs us to the fairy-tale truth that "We can also say that at least one of the characters should at least symbolically grow up, what is in fairy tales is mostly shown by getting a job, finding a spouse, or establishing his or her new home. Such transformation is a necessary although not a sufficient condition for a fairy tale."

Rose Red and Snow White both grow up, correct?

Otherwise, my ever-increasing -- thanks to your wizzlies ;-D -- fairy-tale knowledge inspires thinking about family and friends of the hero/heroine.

Is it typical that, apart Rose Red and Snow White, one person -- such as Hop o' my thumb -- gets to enable and enrich family (and perhaps friends?) by growing up?

Jo_Murphy on 12/28/2023

This is an interesting article, thank you. Can I ask, did you just publish it? I am having trouble knowing who is still writing here. My friend publishes fairy tales.

Tolovaj on 12/27/2023

All three options are legitimate, although we obviously prefer happy endings. But, for instance, at classic fairy tales, we often focus only on the happy end for one character, forgetting about punishment or even death of his nemesis.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/27/2023

The first paragraph to your introduction approaches fairy tales as articulating transformation. It approaches that transformation as something that attends both the "main character (and often several other characters)."

Can that transformation always make it so that the afore-mentioned life and lives "at the end would never be the same as at the beginning" in only posiitive, part positive part negative or some negative ways?

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