As we share different variants of Cinderella, Rapunzel, The Three Little Pigs, it is interesting to note that there are also quite a few versions of the fairy story Rumpelstiltskin.
The Girl who Spun Gold is a West Indian variant of the little-man tale originally known as “Mr. Titman” meaning “little man” from a collection by Pamela Colman Smith published in 1899. Another perfect book to add to our Fractured Fairy Tale theme this July and August.
Meet the Beautiful Quashiba. I am glad that in this version, there is a clear name given to the queen, providing her with a character that other variants did not seem to have. Similar to other versions, Quashiba is described to be very beautiful. Unlike the Grimm’s version though, it was her mother (not the father) who sold her out to the great Big King with the fib that she can spin a whole field of finest gold thread from her spinning wheel.
Surprisingly, the marriage also came before the actual test of transforming plain thread to gold. In fact, Quashiba was given one whole year before she was tasked to prove her worth to the King who noted:
“You can have everything,” spreading his arms wide. “You can have fine robes, gowns, and friends to call upon you. but after the year ends and one day more, you will start spinning golden thread. You hear me? You must start weaving me three whole rooms of golden things.”
There is also no first-born child to be given to Lit’Mahn in exchange for his help. According to the little man:
“You have three nights to try, and three chances each night. And if you can’t guess my name by the final night and the lat chance, then I will make you tiny, just like me. I will carry you off to live in my shade.”
And so it was not little children that motivated Lit’Mahn’s help but the beauty of Quashiba herself. While the narrative remains essentially the same, teachers and parents would have a fun time discerning with their students/children where the divergences lie. The fact that the fairy tale is narrated in a simple colloquial style adds an authenticity to its being a West Indian variant with the speech pattern rendering it perfect for a read-aloud in class.
Lit’Mahn and the Big King. The Author Note found at the end of the book describes the ‘little man’ in this fashion:
In England, the little man’s name, Tom Tit Tot, is the title of one story, and in another story, “Duffy and the Devil,” he is the Devil and has no other name. in Germany, the little man’s name is also the title of the best-known little-man story ever, ‘Rumpelstiltskin.’
I also enjoyed how the “Big King” was “punished” by the Queen Quashiba in the end. While she did submit to the avaricious King’s demands, she refused to speak to him for three long years. It appears that silent treatment is effective since they still lived happily ever after in the end.
Golden Paintings. I believe that one of the things that enriched this book even more is the beautiful paintings created by Leo and Diane Dillon. The artists described their process in this fashion:
“Knowing the difficulty of painting with metallic paint as well as the difficulty of reproducing gold, we still chose to sue it, for the story itself revolved around the concept of gold. The art was done with acrylic paint on acetate, over-painted with gold paint. The gold borders were created using gold leaf.”
Now I see what attracted me to this picture book in the first place. The Dillons have also won four Boston Globe-Horn Book awards, three New York Times Best Illustrated awards and in 1997 were inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame (source here).
Virginia Hamilton was considered one of the highly esteemed writers in
children’s literature and young adult fiction. She has received three Newbery Honor awards and has been the recipient of multiple recognition including the international Hans Christian Andersen Medal, the National book Award, the Coretta Scott King award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Regina Medal, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, among others (source is the jacketflap of the book). What is even more amazing is that she has also received three honorary doctorates – truly an accomplished and gifted writer. She passed away in 2002. To know more about her life’s work, click here to be taken to her official website.
The Girl who Spun Gold by Virginia Hamilton and Illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon. The Blue Sky Press, an Imprint of Scholastic, Inc., New York, 2000. Book borrowed from the Community Library.