Comment permalink

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem

Vivian Vande Velde gives a nonsensical story several backbones.

Have you ever been miffed by the Rumpelstiltskin tale? Sure, it’s a fairy tale—but why would a weird little man who makes gold want a baby (surely he could buy one with all of the gold he spins)? And why would an idiot miller claim his daughter could spin straw into gold in the first place—and to a king, no less? Vivian Vande Velde, one of my new favorite authors, pointed out these fallacies and more in her short but fun book The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, then gave the story several new updates that better explain what happened.

Although it wasn’t very long ago when I considered myself a “purist” who couldn’t stand the idea of, say, The Wizard of Oz being “updated” or changed, I now realize not only that everything we create is pretty much an updated version of something else—I also love twists on traditional fairy tales and classic stories! There’s also the fact that most of the “originals” we hold dear are not even originals, but either glorified Disney animated Hallmark cards dummied down for kids or even simply retellings passed down over generations, continually changing. We may never know the “originals” at all.

With all of this in mind, I have to encourage you to check out Vande Velde’s collection here. You’ll find a monstrous Rumpelstiltskin as well as a couple of very kind ones. He will be various creatures or none, and the miller’s daughter will either be kind, cunning, or downright daft. So will the miller himself. One story doesn’t even have him in it, but a story about him concocted in order to free the miller’s daughter instead. The element of humor is present in most of the tales, but there’s also a little bit of love, a little bit of horror and a whole lot of magic.

Having run across other versions of this tale in anthologies edited by Terri Winding and Ellen Datlow (which is where I ran across Vivian Vande Velde for the first time, actually!), I know that there is a wealth of other versions of stories like these out there—Vande Velde’s own collections included—that will delight readers if they can keep their minds open, too. Children and teens, particularly those who are familiar with the story, will really love this book—but so will adults who can’t get enough of fairy tales (like yours truly).