There was once a kingdom far to the east where all the citizens were very wealthy. The whole land was covered in fields of wheat, which grew abundantly and apparently effortlessly. The harvests were so rich that everybody had far more wheat than they could eat, which meant that they were able to sell it in the market to merchants from neighbouring kingdoms. This way, some of this kingdom’s citizens were just as wealthy as the king.
Which did not please the king very much. Of course he was happy that his citizens never lacked any material things, and that their bellies were always full, because that way they never questioned his authority. But he was jealous and greedy. He had been looking at the straw, as it was brought from the fields, and the colour of the straw reminded him very much of the colour of gold. So he began to think of ways to turn the straw into gold, and this became an obsession. He bought all the straw that he could get hold of, and stored it in three large rooms in his palace. He employed alchemists from his own kingdom and beyond to come up with a formula to turn the straw into gold, but nobody was ever to accomplish this.
The king’s obsession was fairly well known throughout his kingdom, and one day a miller, who had a very beautiful daughter, thought he could take advantage of this. Like most fathers, he thought his daughter was the most beautiful young girl in the land, and he wanted nothing more than that she should marry the king, and become queen. One day, he gathered up his courage, and took himself to the king’s palace, and asked for an audience. He told the king about his daughter, claiming that she could spin straw into gold. The king was intrigued, “Well, my good man, he said to the miller, if your daughter can indeed do this, then I should be very happy to make her my queen. We will put her to the test. Bring her back to the palace tonight.”
Immediately, the king had a spinning wheel installed in the first room where he stored the straw. When the miller’s daughter arrived later that day, the king took her into the room, and showed her the wheel and the straw. “I want all this straw spun into gold, the king told her. I will come back early tomorrow morning, and if it is not done, I will have you put to death. So don’t delay, and get started!” With this, he left the room, and locked the door behind him.
But of course the poor girl had no idea how to turn straw into gold, she was not even very good at using a spinning wheel. She started to cry, and the more she thought about the impossible task she had been given, the more she cried. Then, suddenly, the door opened, and a curious looking little man appeared. His head was far too big for his body, and his arms were long and thin, whereas his legs were short and stumpy! “my dear girl, he said, why are you crying and weeping like this? What can the matter be? A pretty girl like you should not be so sad!” The poor girl explained to him what she had been asked to do. “all this straw had to be spun into gold, she cried, I don’t have a clue how to go about that, I can’t even use a spinning wheel. But if I don’t do this job, the king will have me put to death tomorrow!” The funny little man’s eyes lighted up. “Is that all!” he shouted. “What will you give me, if I do the job for you?” The girl was wearing beautiful necklace, with a silver medallion. “You can have my necklace!” she said. “Excellent, said the little man. He took the necklace, put it in his pocket, and set himself at the wheel, and started spinning. By the time the girl had stopped crying, he had spun the first bobbin, and it did indeed look like pure gold. Humming to himself, as he went along, the little dwarf kept at his task without a pause or a break, and before long, all the straw in the room had been spun, and there on the table lay some twenty bobbins of pure gold thread.
At the first ray of the sun came through the window, so the king opened the door, and he was very pleased when he saw the gold sitting there. “You’re a good girl, he said, you really can spin straw into gold!” He called one of his servant maids, and told her to feed his guest, and then let her sleep. “We’ll carry on tonight, he said, beaming. The sight of this gold had only increased the king’s greed, and his mouth watered at the prospect of turning the rest of his straw store into gold as well.
So that evening, after a long rest, the king took the girl into the second room filled with straw. This room was even bigger than the first one, and the girl’s heart sank. “get to work!” the king commanded her. “I expect all this straw to be spun into gold by the time I come back tomorrow morning, otherwise I will certainly have you put to death!” He left the room, and locked it behind him, leaving the poor girl to contemplate her fate. She looked at all the straw in fro of her, and the mere sight of it brought her tears out again. But lo and behold, at the first tear to come out of her pretty eye, there was the little dwarf again. “Hello, my dear, I see you may need a little more help,” he said. The girl, sobbing explained to him what was expected of her. “I can do it, said the dwarf. But what will you pay me this time?” The girl had a gold ring on her finger, with a pretty green stone, which her mother had given her on her deathbed. “All I’ve got is this ring”, she said. “That will do”, said the dwarf, and he took the ring off her finger, pocketed it and sat himself down again at the spinning wheel. The wheel went whhirr whhirr whhirr, and the dwarf hummed, rhhhumm, rhhhumm rhhhummm, the bobbins went whizzz whizz whizz and clickacklicka click as the landed on the table, and the night went faster than any shooting star in the sky. When he had finished, the dwarf courtsied before the girl, then disappeared as fast he had had come.
The king was very happy with the progress, and again ordered his servant maid to look after the girl, so that she would be well rested before resuming her task on the third and last room full of straw. He had reasoned that he should marry this girl, her skill was rather unique, and he would not want her to do the same work for any other man in his kingdom. So it was that evening, when the king took her into that third room. This room was as large as the other two combined, and the sight of it filled the girl with dread. “I want you to spin all this straw into gold before the break of dawn, the king told her, but if you can accomplish this, then you will be my bride!”
As soon as the king had left her alone in the room, and locked the door, she began to cry again. And as soon as the first tear drop rolled down her cheek, the little dwarf appeared again, as if by magic.
“look at all this straw, the girl cried, The king wants all this spun into gold by morning!” And she burst into another tearful bout of crying. !”I can do it for you, all right, the dwarf said, but what will you give me this time?” “alas, I have nothing left to give you”, the poor girl said. The dwarf smiled, slyly. “So the king has promised to marry you, has he not? Well, if he does, and you have your first child, you will give that to me!” The girl thought about this for a moment. She did not much like the idea of giving away her first child, but then again, that might never happen. Who knows what the future holds. She did know that all this straw in this enormous room had to be spun, or she would certainly die. “Very well, she said to the dwarf, if I become Queen, you will have my first born!” At this, the dwarf took his place behind the spinning wheel, started feeding in the straw, and with a whhirr whhirr whhirr the wheel spun faster and faster, and with a rhhhumm, rhhhumm rhhhummm the dwarf hummed in a low tone, and with a clickacklicka click the bobbins landed on the table, until they overflowed, so much straw was there in this room. But it seemed to the girl that the more straw there was to be spun, the quicker the dwarf’s arms and legs moved, and before long all the straw had been spun, and there on the table was a hoard of gold as nobody had ever imagined.
The dwarf made his goodbye, and disappeared again. The girl sat down on the floor and contemplated her fate. Then the king entered the room, and was overjoyed. Now he was by far the richest man in his kingdom, and he was going to marry the woman who could turn straw into gold!
There was a big wedding, attended by all the citizens in the kingdom, and for a while the girl lived a happy life. She had forgotten all about the dwarf and the promise she had made, and after a year or so, the Queen gave birth to a beautiful little daughter. A few days after the birth, as she was resting with her baby daughter, suddenly, there appeared in her bedroom the little dwarf. “I have come to collect that what you promised me, he said, menacingly. The Queen was desperate. “I cannot give you my child, she cried! Take anything you want, I will give you all the riches I have, but leave me my baby!”
The dwarf was adamant. “I can get everything I desire, he said, but I can’t take a baby. To have a small human is more important to me than all the gold in the whole world.” However much the queen tried to reason with him, he would not change his mind. “I will give you three days, he said at length. Then I will come back, and you have to give me your daughter, unless you can discover my name. If you can tell me my name when I come back, you will be able to keep our daughter.”
The queen had no choice but to agree to this. She called together all the clerks in the castle and had them make up lists of names, all the names in the kingdom and all the names in foreign lands. The next morning, the dwarf returned, and asked: “do you know my name, my queen?” The queen started reading from her list, “Alexander, Antoine, Balthasar, Sebastian, Pericles, Melchior, Gerard……………..”. On and on she read, for several hours, but the dwarf just stood there, smiling and shaking his head, muttering, “No, that’s not my name, no, that’s not my name, no, that’s not my name…………” The queen sent out messengers all over the kingdom to find more names, unusual ones, forgotten ones, forbidden ones.
The next day the dwarf returned. “Do you know my name, my queen?” So the queen started on the list of unusual names that had been collected, “Whistleblower, gobsmacker, elephant tooth, whalebone, dumpling, bedwetter, creepcrawly………………..and on and on and on. But the dwarf just stood there, smiling and shaking his head, muttering, “No, that’s not my name, no, that’s not my name, no, that’s not my name, no no no…………”.
Now the queen was very desperate and she could not sleep all night. But then, on the morning of the third day, one of the clerks she had sent out came back to the palace, and rushed into her room. ”My queen, he began, I have not found any names we have not heard before, but as I was wandering around the countryside I came upon a little glade, at the foot of a hill, near where the forest begins, and where one only finds animals and the odd stray traveller like myself. There, sheltered by some trees, I found a curious little house, with a fire burning outside it, and around the fire was this funny, odd looking little man, dancing on his short legs, and singing a little song which he kept repeating, over and over again.” As you can imagine, the queen was getting a little impatient, and she urged the clerk to come to the point. “This is what he was singing, the clerk went on,
“Today I cook and bake and I potter,
tomorrow I will have the queen’s daughter,
because nobody knows this thing,
that my name id Rumpelstiltskin!”
The queen jumped for joy when she heard this, and she was still smiling when the dwarf turned up for the third time. He made a little bow, and asked: “Do you know my name, my queen?” The queen looked at him with a very serious expression: “Is your name, Roustabout?” she asked.
The little dwarf shook his head, “No, that’ not my name.” So the queen said: “Your name then , is it perhaps, Romulus?”
The little dwarf shook his head, “No, that’ not my name.” So the queen said: “your name, then, is it perhaps, Rumpelstiltskin?” The dwarf almost fell over where he stood. This was impossible! “What witch told you this, he shrieked, I shall kill her! I shall kill her!” He started stamping his feet on the floor, and he stamped so vigorously that he broke the floorboards, and half his leg disappeared underneath. He got stuck so badly he could not pull it out again, he pulled and he pulled, so hard, that the rest of his body flew over, leaving half his leg stuck in the floorboard. His face turned beetroot red, and cursing the queen, the king, all the straw in the land, spinning wheels and wheel barrows, and all the witches in the whole world, he hopped away on his one leg. The queen held her baby daughter in her arms, and kissed her. We don’t know whether they lived happily ever after, but they never had another visit from the odd little dwarf.
The Brothers Grimm, retold by Frans Timmermans