As we near the end of our Fractured Fairy Tale theme, it gives me great pleasure to share this Caldecott-Honor and ALA Notable Book retold and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky: Rumpelstiltskin originally from the Brothers Grimm. There are no twists to the narrative, no other view points presented – the text was faithful to the original version – the only difference lies in the vivid Renaissance-like illustrations that can be found in its glossy pages – giving a fresh voice and a new feel/look to a well-loved tale.
Authenticity in the Retelling. The Author’s Note at the end of the story discussed the origins of a story originally named by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm as “Rumpenstunzchen.” Zelinsky shared the original text as such:
In this story a young girl, given flax to spin into linen, is distressed to find that only gold thread comes out of her spinning wheel. A little man appears and offers to help her by causing a prince to carry her off and marry her. The little man’s price, however, is her firstborn child. The princess can keep her child only if she guesses the little man’s name. She sends a maidservant into the woods, and the servant sees him riding around his fire on a cooking spoon, chanting his name, Rumpenstunzchen. He returns once to let the princess guess his name and when she does, he flies out the window on his spoon.
As the years pass, there were some variations to the original text as it was published and republished (similar to how oral storytelling also changes with each retelling). Zelinsky also noted that the second 1819 edition is the one closest to what is now the familiar form of Rumpelstiltskin as we know it: (1) miller’s daughter must spin straw into gold; (2) Rumpelstiltskin gives the Queen three tries to guess his name and (3) when the Queen says his name, he stamps one foot deep into the ground, grabs the other foot and essentially tears himself in half.
Awe-inspiring Illustrations by Paul Zelinsky. What I find amazing in this picture book is the smooth retelling of Zelinsky and his awe-inspiring artwork as could be seen in the book photos I have taken below:
Three Horrid men in the Poor Miller’s Daughter’s Life. I know that the title says “Rumpelstilstkin” which should already inform the reader that the miller’s daughter just happens to be in the narrative. She doesn’t even seem to have a name: her entire identity subsumed under the three horrid men in her life. I am familiar with the story, I know the characters intimately, the build-up, the plot. Yet for some reason, I find myself getting impatient with the miller’s daughter – and how she passively puts up with all these reprehensible characters. First, her father compromises her by bragging to the king that she can spin straw into gold (which is an outright lie), then Second we encounter this heartless King who asked her to keep on doing it again and again and yet a third time because he simply could not get enough – and yes he had the audacity to actually say:
“Tonight you must spin this straw too,” ordered the king. “And if you succeed, you shall become my wife.”
Wow. I can not believe such condescension. Talk about a marriage proposal. Then we see the third horrid man: Rumpelstiltskin himself who initially appeared helpful – of course that is after he got the miller’s daughter’s necklace and her ring – and when he could not get anymore of this poor woman’s valuables, he gave the ultimate demand: the would-be-Queen’s Firstborn Child. And she says yes to all these.
One could argue of course that she hardly has any choice in the matter seeing that she (and her father) would face the gallows otherwise. Yet, this is a picture book that can also be discussed among university students to discuss socialization, gender roles, sex-role expectations and such.
Teacher Resources and Links. I am pretty fortunate to have found quite a number of helpful resources for this book. There is a very thorough and extensive downloadable Lesson Plan prepared by Whitley Starnes from Manchester which includes descriptive writing activities and worksheets to boot. There is also a detailed lesson plan prepared by Deborah Hallen which you can check out here. I also found this amazing Fairy Tale project created by Ms Jacoby which looks at the various elements of a fairy tale present in Zelinsky’s Rumpelstilstkin.
Paul O. Zelinsky grew up in Wilmette, Illinois, the son of a mathematics professor father and a medical illustrator mother. He drew compulsively from an early age, but did not know until college that this would be his career. As a Sophomore in Yale College he enrolled in a course on the history and practice of the picture book, co-taught by an English professor and Maurice Sendak. This experience inspired Paul to point himself in the direction of children’s books. His first book appeared in 1978, since which time he has become recognized as one of the most inventive and critically successful artists in the field.
He now lives with his wife in Brooklyn, New York. They have two grown daughters.
Among many other awards and prizes, he received the 1998 Caldecott Medal for his illustrated retelling of Rapunzel, as well as Caldecott Honors for three of his books: Hansel and Gretel (1985), Rumpelstiltskin(1987), and Swamp Angel (1995)
Rumpelstiltskin. Retold and Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. Puffin Books, New York USA., 1996. First published by Dutton Children’s Books, a Division of Penguin Books USA, 1986. Book borrowed from the NIE Library.