Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zelinsky

rumpelstiltskin_zelinskyThis version of Rumpelstiltskin is my favorite. I remember it being featured on Reading Rainbow back in the day and the copy I borrowed from the library had the coveted silver “Caldecott Honor Book” sticker on the cover.

It’s set in the late medieval period and I love how Rumpel is illustrated, from his strange pointy hat, to his aquiline nose and bone-thin arms and legs. He’s a small man, who is made smaller by the way his tunic swallows him whole. He smiles devilishly.

One thing that I’ve never liked about this story is that due to her father’s bold (and false) claims, that the miller’s daughter will die if she cannot do what her father says. If there were any fairness in the world, shouldn’t it be her father who is to perish?

This is one interesting differential between Rumpelstiltskin and Beauty and the Beast.

There is some lovely, almost Madonna-like detail of the miller’s daughter, as a queen, holding her firstborn son. The shapely brows and startled eyes frame her face as looks in fear and realization that Rumpel has come to claim his prize.

In another Biblical reference, the first names she guesses are the ones traditionally believed to be the names of the Three Wise Men.

Rumpel is a type of devil, and his magical powers are expanded from spinning straw into gold, to being able to ride a wooden spoon around like a witch does a broom. We see a small door at the base of a tree with hinges and two rings — perhaps this is were Rumpel lives? The great cauldron is smoking, lit by a blazing fire, but we don’t know what his meal shall be.

The miller’s daughter has made a devil’s bargain, but if she fails, what will the child’s fate be? One interpretation could be that Rumpel will have the child for dinner.

In the story world, Rumpel cries out at his name being discovered, “The Devil told you that!” Indeed, as it came from Rumpel’s own lips, perhaps the devil did tell her his name. I wonder if he’ll ever learn the truth…


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