Tales by the Fireplace: Rumpelstiltskin (Germany)


Once upon a time there stood a wealthy kingdom far to the East. In this kingdom, wheat grew in abundance and kept every citizen incredibly wealthy. The harvests were so rich that all the land had far more wheat than they could eat which meant that they were able to sell it in the market to merchants from neighbouring kingdoms. Indeed, some of this kingdom’s citizens were so wealthy that their riches far surpassed that of the king himself. Over the years, the king had watched his people grow richer and richer while his own wealth did not. Because of this, the king grew jealous and greedy. Day after day, he looked at all the straw that was brought in from the fields, and the colour reminded him very much of gold. So, the king began to think of ways to turn the straw into gold, and this thought consumed him. One day, he decided to buy all the straw that he could get a hold of, and stored it in three large rooms in his palace. He employed renowned alchemists from his own kingdom and beyond to come up with a formula to turn the straw into gold but nobody was ever to accomplish this. The king’s obsession became fairly well known throughout the kingdom and one day, a miller, who had a very beautiful daughter, thought he could take advantage of this. Like most fathers, he thought his daughter was the most beautiful young woman in the land, and he wanted nothing more than that she should marry the king, and become queen. So he gathered up his courage, and took himself to the palace, and asked for an audience with the king. The miller then told the king about his daughter, claiming that she could spin straw into gold. The king was intrigued. “Well, my good man”, he said to the miller. “If your daughter can indeed do this, then I should be very happy to make her my queen. We will put her to the test. Bring her back to the palace tonight.” Immediately, the king had a spinning wheel brought into the first room where he stored the straw. When the miller’s daughter arrived later that day, the king took her into the room, and showed her the wheel and the straw. “I want all this straw spun into gold”, the king told her. “I will come back early tomorrow morning, and if it is not done, I will just have to put you to death.” “So don’t delay, and get started!” With this, he left the room, and locked the door behind him. Of course, the poor girl was not at all versed in the science of alchemy and had not the slightest idea how to turn straw into gold. In fact, the poor girl was not even very good at using a spinning wheel. All alone in this dark room, she lamented her fate. The more she thought about the impossible task ahead, the more the tears rolled down her rosy cheeks. Then, suddenly, the door opened, and a curious looking man appeared. He was small, with a face that was aged and wrinkled. His arms were long and thin, and his legs were short and stumpy. “My dear girl”, he said, “why are you crying and weeping like this? What can the matter be? A pretty girl like you shouldn’t be so sad!” Too troubled to question how the man got inside the room, the girl explained to him what she had been asked to do. “All this straw has to be spun into gold!”, she cried, “I can’t even use a spinning wheel!” And if I don’t do this, the king will have me put to death tomorrow!” The funny little man’s eyes lit up. “Is that all?” he shouted. “What will you give me, if I do the job for you?” She paused for a moment and looked down at her beautiful necklace. “You can have my necklace!” she said. “Well then, it is settled”, said the stranger. With not a moment lost, he took the necklace, put it in his pocket, set himself at the wheel, and started spinning. By the time the girl had stopped crying, he had spun the first bobbin, and to her amazement, it did indeed look like pure gold! Humming to himself, as he went along, the little man kept at his task without a pause or a break and before long, all the straw in the room had been spun, and there on the table lay some twenty bobbins of pure gold thread. The miller’s daughter was speechless. As the first ray of sunshine came through the window, the king opened the door, and to his astonishment, he saw the gold sitting in place of the straw. “So it’s true!”, he said, “you really can spin straw into gold!” He then called one of his servant maids, and told her to feed his guest, and then let her sleep. “Well then…we shall carry on tonight!, he said, beaming. The sight of this gold had only increased the king’s greed and his mouth watered at the prospect of turning the rest of his straw store into gold as well. So that evening, after a long rest, the king took the girl into the second room filled with straw. This room was even bigger than the first one, and the girl’s heart sank. “Well, get to work!” the king commanded. “I expect all this straw to be spun into gold by the time I come back tomorrow morning. Otherwise, I will certainly have you put to death!” He left the room, and locked it behind him, leaving the poor girl to contemplate her fate. She looked at all the straw in front of her, and the mere sight of it brought her tears out again. But, lo and behold! What have we here? None other than the same little man as before standing before the girl just as the first rolls of tears escaped her pretty eyes. “Hello, my dear, I see you may need a little more help,” he said. Sobbing, the girl explained to him what was expected of her this time. “Oh, I can certainly help you!” said the dwarf. “But what will you pay me? You can’t get something for nothing, you know” The girl looked down at the golden ring on her finger that had a pretty green stone It was a ring which her mother had given her on her deathbed “All I’ve got is this ring”, she said. “Ah, well, that will do nicely!”, said the dwarf and at that, he took the ring off her finger, put it in his pocket it, and once again sat himself down at the spinning wheel. As the wheel spun, and the straw changed to gold, the young woman’s heart began to flutter. “Could it really be that I am saved once again?” The pile of gold grew and the night flashed by faster than any shooting star in the diamond sky. When he had finished, the little man took a bow before the girl, and then disappeared as fast he had had come. As soon as the first light of dawn had reached the room, the king appeared once again. He looked at the heaps of gold that the girl had produced and felt very pleased with her progress Once again, he ordered his maid to look after the miller’s daughter so that she would be well rested before resuming her task on the third and final room that was filled with straw. Now that the king had witnessed just how skilful the miller’s daughter really was he feared that she would one day do the same work for another man in the kingdom. In that moment, he decided that he would marry her so that no other could take advantage of her unique talent. But there was one more room to spin before he would commit to this. It was that evening when the king took her into the third and final room. This room was as large as the other two combined, and the sight of it filled the girl with dread. “I want you to spin all this straw into gold before the break of dawn”, the king told her. “but, rest assured young one, if you can accomplish this, then I will make you my bride!” As soon as the king had left her alone in the room, and locked the door, she began to cry, as she had done every night in the palace. And as soon as the first tear drop rolled down her cheek, the little man appeared again, as though by magic! “Look at this straw!” the girl cried. “The king wants all this spun into gold by morning!” And she burst into another tearful bout of crying ”Oh, I can do this for you, all right”, the dwarf said, “but what will you give me this time? You have no necklace, no ring.” “Alas, I have nothing left to give you”, the poor girl said. The dwarf smiled, slyly. “So the king has promised to marry you, has he not?” “Well, if he does, and you have your first child, you will give that to me!” The girl’s tears stopped and she thought about this for a moment She did not much like the idea of giving away her first child but then again, that might never happen. After all, who really knows what the future holds? But she was sure of one thing if all of this straw in this enormous room were not spun into gold, then she would certainly die! “Very well” she said to the dwarf. “If I become Queen, you will have my first born!” At this, the dwarf took his place behind the spinning wheel, and began his work. It seemed to the girl that the more straw there was to be spun, the quicker the dwarf’s arms and legs moved and before long, all the straw had been spun, and there on the table was more gold than she had ever imagined before. At that, he bid her farewell and disappeared again into the night. The king then entered the room, and was overcome with joy at the sight of his newfound wealth. Now he was by far the richest man in the kingdom, and he was going to marry the woman who could turn straw into gold. A few days later, a big wedding was held, attended by all the citizens in the kingdom and for a while the young woman lived a happy life with her king. She had forgotten all about the dwarf and the promise she had made and after a year or so, the Queen gave birth to a beautiful little daughter. But a few days after the birth, as she was resting with her baby there suddenly appeared in her bedroom a very familiar face. “I’ve come to collect that what you’ve promised me!”, he said, menacingly. The Queen was horrified and her tone became desperate. “I cannot give you my child!”, she cried! “Take anything you want, I will give you all the riches I have, but leave me my baby!” But the little man was adamant. “I can get everything I desire”, he said, “but a baby is more important to me than all the riches in all the world.” However much the queen tried to reason with him, he would not change his mind. “I will give you three days”, he said at length. “Then I will come back, and you have to give me your daughter” “unless”, he paused, “you can discover my name.” “If you can tell me my name when I come back, I will allow you to keep your daughter.” The Queen had no choice but to agree to this. No sooner had her little debt collector left, that she called together all the clerks in the castle and had them make up lists of names, all the names in the kingdom and all the names in foreign lands. The next morning, the dwarf returned, and asked: “Well, do you know my name, my Queen?” The Queen started reading from her list, “Alexander, Antoine, Arthur, Sebastian, Pericles, Melchior…” and on and on she read, for several hours, but the dwarf just stood there, smiling and shaking his head, muttering “No, no, no that’s not my name, no, that’s not my name. No, that’s not my name!” After a while, he decided to leave, and the Queen sent out messengers all over the kingdom to find more names unusual ones, forgotten ones and forbidden ones. And the next day the dwarf returned. “Well, do you know my name, my Queen?” So the queen started on the list of unusual names that had been collected “Whistleblower, elephant tooth, whalebone, dumpling…” and on and on and on she went. But the dwarf just stood there, smiling and shaking his head, muttering “No, that’s not my name! No, no, no, no, my Queen, that’s not my name.” Now the queen grew weary and increasingly desperate. All night, she tossed and she turned, fearful that she would soon be parted with her only daughter. But then, on the morning of the third day, one of the clerks she had sent out came back to the palace, and rushed into her room. ”My Queen!”, he began “After you had sent me on my mission, I had failed to find any names that I had not heard of before” but as I was wandering around the countryside “I stumbled upon a little glade, at the foot of a hill, near where the forest begins” “There, sheltered by some trees, I found a curious little house, with a fire burning outside of it” “…and around the fire, there was this funny, odd looking little man, dancing on his short legs, and singing a little song which he kept repeating, over and over again.” Listening to this story unfold, the Queen urged the clerk to continue. “Your Majesty, this is what he was singing”, the clerk went on Merrily the feast I’ll make,
Today I’ll brew, tomorrow I’ll bake; Merrily I’ll dance and sing,
For next day will a stranger bring. Little does my lady dream
Rumpelstiltskin is my name!” As soon as the clerk had finished this song, the Queen jumped for joy! She could not recall the last time her heart felt so happy and indeed, she was still smiling when the dwarf turned up for the third and final time. He made a little bow, and asked: “Well, my Queen, Do you know my name?” The Queen looked at him with a very serious expression “Is your name, Roustabout?” she asked. The little dwarf shook his head, “No, no, no, that’s not my name.” So the Queen said: “Your name then, is it perhaps, Romulus?” With a twinkle in his eye, the little man shook his head, “No, that’s not my name.” So the Queen paused and then said “Can your name Rumpelstiltskin?”, she said slyly. …then, there was silence. The dwarf lost all colour from his face and almost fell over where he stood. This was impossible! “What witch told you this??”, he shrieked, “I’ll kill her! I’ll kill her!” His face turned beetroot red and he started stamping his feet on the floor cursing the queen, the king, the straw and spinning wheels in the land Then he stormed out of the room in rage. The Queen cradled her baby daughter in her arms, and gently kissed her. Now, it is not known whether or not they lived happily ever after but one thing is certain The Queen and her king were never again visited by the little man for as long as they lived.

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