Literature: Rumpelstiltskin

Rumpelstiltskin (Rumpelstilzchen) is a German fairy tale collected by The Brothers Grimm, although the story exists in other countries under different names. (Many variants listed here.)

The story begins when a miller boasts to the king of his daughter's (exaggerated) domestic skills; in an effort to appear important, the miller tells him that she can even spin straw into gold. The king takes a bit more interest than intended, and the daughter soon finds herself in a room full of straw with nothing but a spinning wheel and a death threat from the king, to make good on her father's empty boast.

The task is impossible; she despairs; and a little man suddenly appears and offers to spin the straw to gold for her, in exchange for her necklace. The next night, under the same conditions, he again appears and does the work in exchange for her ring. The third night, the king tells her he will marry her if she completes the work, but she has nothing left to give the little man. At his suggestion, she promises him her first-born child, and he does the work on spec, as it were.

She and the king get married and have a child, and sure enough, the little man shows up and tries to take it away. However, seeing her grief, he relents and gives her a loophole: If she can guess his name in the next three days, she can keep the child.

So, for the next couple of days, the young queen lists every name she can think of, and sends out messengers to collect new ones, but the little man always denies that any of them is his name. By the third day, things are looking grim, until her messenger tells her that he overheard a little man singing a peculiar song:
"Tomorrow I brew, today I bake,
And then the child away I'll take;
For little deems my royal dame
That Rumpelstiltskin is my name!"
And so, at the last minute, the queen guesses the man is called Rumpelstiltskin, and he is so enraged that he stamps his foot right into the floor, and tears himself in two.

Rumpelstiltskin's reaction to his name varies depending on the version of the story; in the tale the Grimms first collected, he flew out of the window on a spoon. In the Grimms' early editions, he simply left in a huff. Later, they gave him the interesting but anatomically improbable death above (complete with illustration!). In yet another version, his stomp creates a hole in the floor through which he falls to Hell. (See Deal with the Devil below.)

Compare to The Three Aunts.

A common joke in parodies is to have the story told through the eyes of a Private Detective who is hired by the Queen to investigate the name question.

Rumpelstiltskin contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Body Horror: In one version, Rumplestiltskin stamps one leg into the floor to his hip, then grabs his other leg and tears himself in two.
  • Bowdlerize: The ending is often changed in child friendly adaptations. In the original tale he gets his foot stuck in the ground, then rips himself in two while trying to pull himself out. Modern adaptations have him simply run away in anger. Another adaptation has him actually have a change of heart seeing how happy the princess is that she can keep her child. Then the princess tells him he's allowed to come and visit herself and the child whenever he wants in the palace.
  • Deal with the Devil: It is implied that Rumpelstiltskin is, if not actually demonic, at least fey and up to no good.
    • In one British version of the tale, Duffy and the Devil, he is the devil. His name is given as "Tillytop", he laughs in Duffy's face when she guesses "Lucifer" and comments that Beelzebub is a distant cousin.
  • Decomposite Character: When the story is usually told to children, the miller's daughter might marry the greedy king's (presumably nicer) son instead of the king himself; ABC's Once Upon a Time even uses this for their retelling. Ironically, this is also the case with variants of The Three Aunts.
    • In one adaptation, it's the king's wife, the queen, who threatens to have the miller's daughter executed and the one insisted she try to spin told three times.
  • Depraved Dwarf: Rumpelstiltskin
  • Dub Name Change: Rumpelstiltskin's name is changed in many languages. However, interestingly enough, his original German name is kept in the English translations, despite being quite difficult to spell and pronounce.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Good thing that Rumpelstiltskin just happened to be singing about what his name was when the messenger overheard him.
  • The Fair Folk: The title character.
  • I Know Your True Name: Once his name is revealed, Rumpelstiltskin is no longer a threat.
  • Impossible Task
  • Karma Houdini: The miller is never punished for his stupid boast.
    • Nor is the king, who's a greedy, cruel, and petty tyrant.
      • Subverted in one adaptation when all the gold in the castle turns back to straw. A humbling moment for the king. Now if only we can get an adaptation where the jackass miller gets tarred and feathered or dragged off by a horse.....
  • Karmic Death: Rumpelstiltskin's rage brings about his own death.
  • Leonine Contract
  • Mysterious Protector: A sinister variant.
  • Spoiler Title: The audience already knows what Rumpelstiltskin's name is before the character is even introduced in the story.
  • Rule of Three: Rumpelstiltskin helps the girl three times; she has three nights to guess his name.
    • In some versions, she can guess three names per day, too.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": It's an extremely difficult name to spell.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Spinning is a proper domestic task for a young woman.