Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Research into variations of a certain form of fairytale led me to The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated by Jack Zipes, and now I'm all caught up in discovering stories I've never read before and rediscovering childhood favorites. (Note: Those familiar with the grotesqueness of original fairytales will know why I wasn't introduced to many of these as a child... and the Grimms' versions are still considered "sanitized.") In my mind, as in fairytales, one thing leads to another, and I started to think of interpretations of various stories...

So, today, "Rumpelstiltskin" (sometimes Rumpelstiltskin):

Vivian Vande Velde's The Rumpelstiltskin Problem will always be a favorite of mine. In her introduction, Velde complains that Rumpelstiltskin is the most convoluted and illogical of the popular fairytales (i.e. Where does a poor miller's daughter get a ring and gold necklace? And why would you want them if you could spin straw into gold? And doesn't the king sound like a horrible sort of husband?). Each of Velde's six tales reinterprets "Rumpelstiltskin" in a different and delightful way, while filling in some of its plot holes.

In the realm of picture books, it seems like there's Paul O. Zelinsky's Rumpelstiltskin... and then somewhere at the bottom of the ladder there's every other version. Zelinsky's illustrations are rich and glowing, and I love his Renaissance details (i.e. "the strange little man" has a gold piece attached to his hat brim as a sign of his trade). I didn't think another illustrator could hold a candle to this version...

...until I saw The Girl Who Spun Straw into Gold written by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. The story is based on a West Indian version of "Rumpelstiltskin." The Dillons' illustrations are lavish: gold-leaf, scrumptious clothing, and architecture that is almost a character itself. I particularly love the changes in the illustrations as Quashiba moves from being afraid of to being ticked off at her greedy husband.

There are several story-cousins to Rumpelstiltskin. One of the funniest in my Brothers Grimm collection is "The Three Spinners," in which three strange-looking women help a lazy maiden complete an impossible spinning task and get her out of ever having to spin again. More recently, the January 1994 (vol. 12, no. 5) issue of Cricket published "The Old Woman and the Imp" written by Sophie Masson, illustrated by George Riemann, in which the "imp" (obviously, though unnamed, Rumpelstiltskin) matches wits with an old spinner who is just as sneaky as he is.

Because you've all been so good: The Fractured Fairy Tales version by A.J. Jacobs and an odd little poem.

(Book cover images from Vivian Vande Velde, Amazon.co.uk, and Children's Books for Parents.)

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