A Fix-it Fairy Tale: more kindness, more consent and more inclusivity for ‘Rumplestiltskin’.
Spinning straw into gold and making dangerous trades is all well and good, but the rest of the Grimms’ Rumplestiltskin could really do with some fixing.
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[Gentle theme music]
Laura: Hi, you can call me Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. This is Patchwork Fairy Tales and you found one of my fix-it fairy tales: more kindness, more consent and more inclusivity. If you want to read as well as listen, check out the AO3 link in the description. Today we’re fixing Rumpelstiltskin.
The Daughter of the Boasting Miller
In a grand kingdom there once stood a beautiful old mill, with the miller’s house beside it. In that house lived not only the Miller, but also his beloved daughter. Now to say the Miller loved no one in this world as well as he loved his daughter might not be quite true, because he also loved his partner an inexpressible amount, but it was certainly true that there was no else the Miller was so fond of boasting of. As far as this fond father was concerned there was not a thing that his darling daughter could not do and no charm she did not possess. Now it was true that she was an uncommonly clever, kind and charming girl, but such boasts as this father made no child could ever live up to.
Whenever they heard him go on like this, his partner always shook their head and warned him: “You musn’t talk like that, or our girl will grow up either vain or thinking she falls short!”
“Fall short!” the Miller balked. “She could never fall short! No indeed,” he quipped. “I do declare she must be the tallest girl of her age in all the county!” And then he winked so rakishly at his partner that they gave up trying to scold him.
Luckily their daughter did not seem to learn either vanity or insecurity from her father’s wild declarations. She grew up into a fine young woman that was a great good to both her parents and a favourite with many of her acquaintances. Of course this only served to make the Miller prouder. He told everyone who would lend him an ear for even a moment how wonderful his daughter was.
Imagine his joy when one fine afternoon a group of hunters stopped at the mill to fetch themselves some water. They were all very fine gentlemen, but they were happy enough to humour the friendly Miller as he talked about his family.
“I assure you, gentlemen,” he boasted. “You have never met a woman such as my daughter. She is so kind, she could comfort rocks into softness.”
“Could she?” the hunters laughed. “And what else?”
“Oh my daughter,” the Miller gushed. “She is so clever, she could think thoughts inside out.”
“Indeed!” the hunters laughed. “But what else?”
“Well my darling girl,” the Miller declared. “She is so talented, she could spin straw into gold.”
“Now that is a skill worth possessing!” one of the men suddenly spoke up and with a frightening start the Miller saw that all the other hunters hastily drew aside for the man. Only now did the Miller see that it was not just any old gentleman leading this troupe, but the King himself.
Hastily the poor Miller drew back and made his apologies for wasting the King’s time, but the King did not hear him. He had not been paying the Miller’s boasting any mind at first, but there was nothing in this world the King loved as much as gold and so the last claim the Miller had made had certainly reached his royal ears. If such a thing was possible, he was determined to know more of it, so he ordered the Miller:
“I want to meet this extraordinary daughter of yours. Why don’t you bring her to the palace tomorrow morning and we shall see how talented she is.”
The poor father was horrified, but he did not dare to contradict the King. Shaking like a reed he bid the King and his company goodbye and sick to his stomach he went to find his partner and daughter to tell them what had happened.
His partner let out a wail of sorrow when they heard the King’s demand, because they knew nothing but ill of the man and they didn’t dare think what he might do to their daughter if she was not able to do what their husband had rashly claimed she could. Their daughter did not despair, however.
“I shall go to the palace tomorrow,” she said bravely. “And I will explain to the King that it was all a misunderstanding.”
When she arrived there the next morning, however, she was given no time to explain anything. The King did not even let her speak, but led her straight to a large chamber filled with nothing but straw. In the midst of it all was a little space for a stool, a spinning wheel and a stack of spindles.
“Here you are,” the King said. “Now set yourself to work! And if you have not spun this straw into gold tomorrow morning, like your father said you could, I shall have you put to death as the daughter of a liar.” With these words he left the poor girl alone in the room, locking the door behind him.
“Oh my poor parents,” the Miller’s daughter wept, sinking down onto the floor. “You were right.” Such cruelty she had not expected. Surely the King must know it was impossible to spin straw into gold? The whole day long she wracked her brain to try and find a way to save her life, but as sure as straw was straw she could not think of a single solution. Finally, when the sunset began to colour the little windows rosy, she began to cry again. In the morning the King would find nothing but straw and he would have her put to death. All she could hope for was that he would leave her poor parents unharmed in their grief.
She wept so bitterly that she did not even hear the topmost little window swing open. So engrossed in her sorrow was she, that it gave her a terrible fright when she suddenly heard a voice say:
“Good evening, young human, why do you sob so?”
Before her stood a quaint little hobgoblin of a man, dressed all in blue and green. She had never seen such a creature before in her life, but she did her best to address him politely all the same.
“Good evening to you, even if it is not for me,” she said. “The King has ordered me to spin all this straw into gold by next morning or he will have me killed and I do not know how to do it.”
“Oh if that is all!” the hobgoblin cried. “I can spin this straw for you!”
“You can?” the Miller’s daughter gaped.
“Sure I can,” the little man nodded. “But what shall you give me in return?”
“Oh,” the young woman stammered. “I would not know what to pay for such a feat.”
“Anything precious will do,” the hobgoblin replied. “But I will tell you what, if you can guess my name, I shall spin it all for free. You shall have three guesses. It is a very beautiful name you know.”
Of course the girl had no idea what kind of name a hobgoblin might be proud of, but she did her best. “Is it…Caspar? Melchior? Or Balthazar?”
“No, no, and no!” the hobgoblin laughed. “So what precious thing will you pay me with?”
“I could give you my necklace?” the girl offered. It had been a gift from her father on her sixteenth birthday.
“Very good,” he nodded. He took the necklace, jumped up on the stool at the spinning wheel and set the wheel flying.
Whirr, whirr, whirr, it went and the Miller’s daughter felt like she had barely blinked her eyes or the first bobbin had been spun full of gold. The hobgoblin quickly set up another and once again the spinning wheel whirr, whirr, whirred until it was full of gold. On and on he went, all night long, until all the straw was spun and every last bobbin was full of gold.
“Oh thank you, little man, thank you,” the young woman sobbed, but the hobgoblin merely grinned and jumped right back out of the little window through which he had come.
The Miller’s daughter was all relief. Soon the sun would rise and the King would see he had gotten what he had asked for. Surely then he would let her go home to her parents.
But alas, when the King found the girl sitting beside the heap of spun gold, he was absolutely not disposed to let her go. His astonishment soon made way for even more greed and he immediately ordered that a second room be filled with straw, even larger than the first. Once again the poor girl was locked inside with a spinning wheel and the King warned her to spin every last bit of straw into gold before the next morning, if she valued her life.
Now the young woman cried even more bitterly than before. That such horrid greed and cruelty should be united in one person. For a moment the girl did think that she might go to the window and try to call out to the hobgoblin for help. But what good would it do her? Who was to say if the King would ever let her go?
This thought made her very sober and very quiet. So this time around when one of the little windows opened and the hobgoblin came in, she did hear him.
“Good evening, young human,” he greeted her. “Why are you so silent?”
“Good evening to you if it is not for me,” the girl sighed. “I am silent because the King has ordered me to spin another load of straw into gold by sunrise, or he will have me killed.”
“Well!” the hobgoblin said. “That surely is a lot of straw. It is more than I can spin in a single night. I shall have to fetch my sister.”
Before the miller’s daughter’s could reply he had already climbed back out of the window and barely a moment later he had returned with beside him a second hobgoblin just like himself. She was dressed all in red and yellow and she bowed to Miller’s daughter in greeting.
“My brother tells me you need to spin straw into gold and a lot of straw it is too! But I will tell you what, if you can guess my name, we shall spin it all for free. You shall have three guesses. It is a very extraordinary name you know.”
The young woman’s heart was still heavy with hopelessness, but she did not want to die on the morrow, so she guessed: “Is it…Rosebud? Calico? Or Thistledown?”
“No, no, and no!” the hobgoblins laughed. “So what precious thing will you pay us with?”
“I could give you my ring?” the girl offered. It had been a gift from her parent on her eighteenth birthday.
“Very good,” the hobgoblin nodded. She took the ring, jumped up on the stool at the spinning wheel beside her brother and the two of them made it spin so fast that at daybreak, all the straw had been spun to glistening gold.
There the footsteps of the King already sounded in the hallway and the two little hobgoblins hastily leaped out of the window, leaving the grave young woman behind.
When the King saw the room full of gold, he was almost beside himself with excitement. But of course he was still not satisfied. Once one had found that straw could be made into gold, one could not ever have enough, he thought. Still, he had heard the whispers at the court and he knew that he could not hold such an extraordinary young woman prisoner like this for long. So this time when the King locked the Miller’s daughter in a truly enormous room filled with straw, he said to her:
“If you manage to spin all this to gold before sunrise tomorrow, you shall have a reward fitting to your talents. You shall be my bride and become the Queen.”
Because, he thought to himself, a more useful wife he would never find in all four corners of the world.
When she was left alone the Miller’s daughter wailed her misery into her apron. To marry the King was a punishment barely better than death. But at least she could still be there to comfort her poor parents and perhaps, in time, the King would grow bored of her and let her go.
So the Miller’s daughter waited for sundown and then went to stand at one of the little windows, calling out softly:
“Kind little hobgoblins! Please help me once more!
This time there is thrice as much straw as before!”
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the first hobgoblin and his sister came jumping in through the window. They looked around them at the mountains of straw and said: “This is more straw than the two of us can spin in a single night! We shall have to fetch our brother.”
And off they went again, coming back with a third little hobgoblin just like themselves. This hobgoblin was dressed all in purple and pink and he said cheerfully to the Miller’s daughter:
“Well, young human, you know the deal. If you can guess my name, we shall spin all this straw for free. You shall have three guesses. It is a very dignified name you know.”
This time the young woman really was quite desperate to guess it right, because she did not have anything precious left to trade with the hobgoblins. She thought of all the most beautiful, extraordinary and dignified names she had ever heard.
“Is it Rajesh? Or Abena? Or Tivadar?”
“No, no, and no!” the hobgoblins laughed. “So what precious thing will you pay us with?”
“I don’t know, dear hobgoblins,” the young woman said miserably. “I have no precious thing left to give to you.”
“Well, well,” the first hobgoblin shook his head.
“We cannot spin for nothing,” his sister said.
“No that won’t do at all,” his brother agreed.
“Oh please,” the poor girl begged. “Is there not something else I can repay you with?”
“Sure enough, sure enough,” the hobgoblins nodded. “Promise to give us the first living thing you will gain after we do you this service.”
This was a very scary promise to make and one that foretold a lot of grief. But, the miller’s daughter thought, she could always ask for a pet bird or a little dog as soon as she was given her freedom. Becoming the King’s bride should give her at least that privilege. So at last she nodded her head and said: “It is a trade, I give you my word.”
“A trade is a trade!” the hobgoblins chimed and all three of them hopped onto the stool at the spinning wheel and sent the wheel whirring so fast that the Miller’s daughter grew dizzy just looking at it.
The more gold she saw, the dizzier she got, and she felt sick to her stomach too. Because while this gold would save her life, she would be forced to spend it with the King. By the time the hobgoblins were done with their spinning the young woman was quite miserable, but she thanked them very warmly all the same.
“It was no trouble,” they told her cheerfully. “But mind we have yet to get our payment!” And with that they all leaped out of the little window, one after the other, and disappeared into the morning twilight.
Now there was nothing left to do for the Miller’s daughter but to wait for the King. When he arrived, his eyes gleamed with greed at the sight of all that gold. “Quite the dowry,” he laughed gleefully and to the silent young woman he said: “You have done everything I asked, we shall be married on the morrow!”
The Miller’s daughter nodded sorrowfully and allowed herself to be led away by the royal ladies in waiting. She was so miserable she did not think to ask for a single thing as she was bathed and dressed and brushed, save for a mumbling plea that someone would let her parents know she was alright.
“But of course, your highness,” the ladies promised kindly. “Your parents will be brought to the palace at once.” Because not one of these women would wish themselves in the unhappy bride’s shoes and they were all eager to bring her whatever comfort they could possibly provide.
How glad the Miller and his partner were, when they heard their daughter was safe and sound. But imagine their horror when they were told that they must come to the palace, not to fetch their daughter home, but to attend her wedding with the King. Such grief and guilt the parents had never felt before.
Dressed up in their very best clothes, it looked like they were about to attend a funeral. And when they first laid eyes on their daughter again the following day, standing beside the King as his bride, they were inconsolable.
The bride’s father sorrowed so that his curly hair drooped down until it hung slack and the bride’s parent wept so that their brown eyes were cried pale. Their darling girl looked just as miserable, dressed up in her royal silks, and of all those attending the royal wedding the King was the only one with a smile on his face.
He was right content with himself and was already busily counting in his head how much gold his new wife would be able to spin for him every day. There would be no monarch richer than him in the whole wide world and he would make sure that everyone knew it. When he spoke his vows they were all empty words laced with hidden greed and the Miller’s daughter did her best not to hear them. She had decided that to have any sort of happiness, she had best grown deaf to her new husband’s cruelty.
As soon as the King and the unhappy young woman were declared husband and wife, however, there came a sound from outside the door that was so loud even unwilling ears were bound to hear it. The door to throne room burst open and in stormed three little creatures, laughing and yelling all the way.
They ran straight at the King and Queen and before the shocked eyes of the court the first seized the King by his head, the second by his left and the third by his right foot. Like this they lifted him off the floor and carried him screaming out of the room.
But just before they carried him off, the Miller’s daughter could just make out their gleeful voices, chanting laughingly at her:
“Nine guesses you had, milady sweet,
For with one right choice you’d have all of us beat!
Now this greedy groom is ours we declare,
For Rumplestiltskin is the name we share!”
With that they disappeared through the door and immediately from sight, leaving only silence, and not a trace of the King behind. No one was more surprised and alarmed by this than the miller’s daughter, but she was also so incredibly relieved that she laughed and cried with the same breath. A happier trade had never been made.
The courtiers meanwhile, who had felt very sorry for the young bride only a moment before, were now growing a little afraid. They whispered furiously amongst themselves, because it seemed like this young woman was not only able to spin straw into gold, she was also capable of summoning terrible little creatures to carry people off! And not just any old people, kings even! People with such talents one did not meet every day.
“Well I heard,” one of the courtiers muttered, “that her kindness can soften the hardest stone.”
“Oh yes,” agreed another. “And I heard that her cleverness can think entire thoughts inside out.”
Clearly, they were all forced to conclude, they were dealing with a very powerful sorceress. And, so they all agreed, if one did have a sorceress at the court it was better to treat her right.
“Long live the Queen!” one of the Lady’s cheered and everyone readily followed: “Long live the Queen!”
After all, she had just married the King and what with him disappearing, the country was in need of a monarch. To be in need of a monarch and then pass over a King’s newlywed sorceress wife was surely a preposterous thing to do, so all the courtiers agreed that they had better crown her Queen as soon as possible.
And so it was that the boasting Miller’s daughter became Queen and the sole ruler of the country. Everyone was very glad to be rid of the greedy King and all the people agreed that the best thing he ever did for his country, was choose the Miller’s daughter to be Queen. Because although she never spun gold anymore, she was the kindest, most sensible Queen anybody had ever encountered.
The young Queen worked very hard to be good for the country and as that was more than her predecessors had ever done, she did a marvellous job at it. She never saw the little hobgoblins again, but she thought about them very often with cautious gratitude. Their spun gold had left the royal treasury so well stocked that she could afford to cure every ill in her kingdom that money could cure and in doing good and living well she became a very happy woman.
Her parents were even happier, because they had seen their daughter spared from a terrible fate and elevated to a great one. They decided not to leave their mill, after all it was barely a day’s ride away from the palace, and they were fond of their home. So they lived very comfortable there, very amused that whenever their daughter came round for tea it now had to be called a royal visit.
Of course the miller and his partner visited the palace as well. At times the Queen’s parent went on their own, to tell their daughter how this year’s grain was coming in and to assure her that her father had by now been thoroughly frightened out of his wild boasting.
But wouldn’t you know, he never even had to boast anymore! After all, he was now the father of a most beloved and respected queen. Wherever he went people came to tell him how very kind and clever and talented his daughter was, much to the Miller’s joy and agreement. So all the Miller had to do was nod very sagely and say:
“I would never boast of my own child, but if everyone says it, then it must be true.”
Laura: And with that last word, stitching up the very last sentence, this story has its proper end.
I hope you enjoyed my take on this fairy tale! If you know any other fairy tales that could do with some fixing, please let me know! You can follow this podcast on podcatchers like Spotify, iTunes, or Stitcher, but for an mp3 download, transcripts, themed tags and summaries, you can check out patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com, where you can also contact me and find out about my other projects. Like my book Coffee and Faerie Cakes and my webcomic The Fisherman’s Favour. You can also find me on Tumblr and AO3, where I am laurasimonsdaughter, and support me on Kofi, where I am Laura Simons.
There’s another tale to tell some other day, but until then…
Remember that a trade’s a trade, guard your name, and be safe~
Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.