I think Vivian Vande Velde and I have similar feelings about fairy tales–wonderful stories, except for all those parts that don’t make sense. She explores all those weird bits of “Rumpelstiltskin” in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, and to very funny effect.
This book excellently shows the versatility of fairy tales. This is a book of six short stories, all retellings of “Rumpelstiltskin,” and all very different. Sometimes Rumpelstiltskin is well-meaning–sometimes the villian–once even a woman. We meet a host of different miller’s daughters, clever and stupid and greedy. Some kings are nice and some are cruel. Some stories have magic, some don’t. But all the stories follow the basic premise of “Rumpelstiltskin,” and all are funny.
I think my favorite part of the book is actually the introduction, when Velde discusses the inspiration behind the book–and analyzes all those parts of “Rumpelstiltskin” that don’t really add up. Why does the miller tell the king his daughter can spin straw into gold when she can’t? Why does Rumpelstiltskin want a baby? Why does the miller’s daughter want to marry the king, after he kept threatening to cut her head off? Why did Rumpelstiltskin agree to the name-guessing contest when, according to their original agreement, he’s already won, and has nothing more to gain?
I love fairy tales. But they often don’t make sense, and I enjoyed Vivian Vande Velde’s discussion, and then retelling, of one I haven’t thought as much about.
I do believe that classic fairy tales, especially the best known ones, must have something in them that makes us keep telling them. Some core truth, or spark of an idea that appeals. What do you think it is for “Rumpelstiltskin”? In a way it’s a “deal with the devil” story, so perhaps it’s that story of being pushed to desperation, making a questionable deal, and then the forces of good still triumphing in the end. Well, assuming you consider the miller’s daughter and the king to be on the good side.
And that depends how you interpret the story–or which of Vivian Vande Velde’s retellings you’re reading.
Author’s Site: http://www.vivianvandevelde.com/