Guest Blog by Claire Noelle Thomas
This story began with a list of questions.
When I was young, I read a lot of fairy tales. They were dazzling, down-to-earth, beautiful, and sometimes frightening, but I loved them all.
In most of the stories, the characters’ motivations were clear, whether good or evil. There was no ambiguity about why the villains did awful things. The witch wanted to eat Hansel and Gretel. The evil stepmother envied Snow White’s beauty. The spurned fairy took her revenge on Sleeping Beauty’s parents.
Because of this clarity of intention and action, fairy tales always made sense to me on a fundamental level.
But not Rumpelstiltskin. For some reason, it left me feeling confused and dissatisfied. I couldn’t put my finger on why the story bothered me, so I began to avoid it.
As I got older, I stopped returning to fairy tales as frequently. Something of the magic of that world had been lost to me. The stories didn’t set fire to my imagination like they once did.
Then, a few years ago, I found my way back to fairy tales again. This time, I began to glimpse possibilities and gray areas, gaps that I’d never questioned before. All of a sudden, the stories came alive to me, their world richer and more vibrant than ever.
I rediscovered Rumpelstiltskin when the Grimms’ tale came up in a fairy tale class I was taking. It still left me feeling hollow and dissatisfied, but this time, instead of shying away from the story, I kept thinking about it. Eventually, I realized that one of the things that bothered me was the lack of clear motivation for the character of Rumpelstiltskin. He appears as a rescuer at first, but quickly becomes a villain. To me, he’s one of the most terrifying fairy tale characters, precisely because his actions are so illogical and inexplicable. Why does he torment the miller’s daughter when he has no connection to her? What’s in it for him?
At that point, something clicked for me, and I began to consider all the unanswered questions in this story. Who is Rumpelstiltskin, and what brings him to the castle in the middle of the night? What motivates him to ask the miller’s daughter for her first-born child? Why does he offer her a chance to guess his name when he could simply take the child? And why exhibit such indiscretion in singing his own name aloud? (One could say overconfidence, I suppose, but it’s not a very satisfying answer.) And, perhaps most baffling, why does he tear himself in half at the end of the story?
None of these questions had obvious answers, and to me, the story felt like it was more holes than plot. I started toying with the idea that maybe the version we know is only half the tale. What if Rumpelstiltskin actually had perfectly reasonable, even honorable intentions? What was his side of the story?
This idea sparked my imagination so much that I decided to try to “redeem” Rumpelstiltskin. Not an easy task when you’re dealing with an extortionist and would-be kidnapper!
But as soon as I started writing, everything seemed to fall into place. I glimpsed a pattern I hadn’t seen before, shadows of things already in the tale that just needed to be brought to the forefront. Suddenly, all the elements that had always bothered me about Rumpelstiltskin shifted and turned, revealing a much different face to a story I thought I knew.
Giving Rumpelstiltskin a voice and a conscience was painful and challenging. It took me to places within the story that I never noticed before, but it also allowed me to appreciate the original tale in a totally new way. Beneath the apparent cynicism and spitefulness, I found other emotions and motivations at work in these characters.
Rumpelstiltskin is a story about greed, yes. But it’s also about possibilities and new beginnings. And, at its heart, it is a celebration of the tenacity of life and hope, even in the harshest conditions.
World Weaver Press
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