Since I’m presenting on Fairy tales again, I thought I would take the time to look at some more fairy tales during April, and given the April Fool’s holiday, I thought I might focus on mischief and trickster figures in fairy tales, so we start with Rumpelstiltskin.
Rumpelstiltskin suffers from hubris, gloating well ahead of his victory, demonstrating the trickster’s true weakness. This obvious flaw turns the tale into a cautionary one about the dangers of pride and excessive wealth. Since the trickster has limitless wealth with his ability to spin straw into gold, he pursues more and more exotic treasures purely out of greed and pride.
Rumpelstiltskin is actually a helpful figure in this, teaching the value of things, specifically children. While in her predicament, the girl is content to give up a future child, but when confronted with the reality, she realizes that the child has far greater value than anything else. Rumpelstiltskin’s convenient gloating allows her a chance to realize the value and get the better of the trickster. However, a being of such power and skill is not likely to be so careless as to be singing his own name. The entire episode is a sham just to teach her to value her child above the material gain.
Names Have Power
This story clearly indicates that names are important and powerful. To keep a name secret is to be in control of that power, whereas to know someone’s name is to have power over him. The queen even draws out the encounter by giving other names at first, reveling in her the power her knowledge gives over Rumpelstiltskin. The inference is that knowing someone’s name is the same as owning a piece of that person, and controlling him.
Three is an important number in this story as the trickster comes three times, and the queen uses three guesses as to his name. The significance is likely a reference to the Trinity as Rumpelstiltskin’s last lines about the devil make this clearly a fairy tale in a Christian framework as opposed to pagan.
Rumpelstiltskin is clearly not an angel or a demon, but instead some kind of magical being (some kind of faeriekin, most likely). However, this is clearly a Christian story by how it refers to the devil at the end of the story. Furthermore, Rumpelstiltskin, though a Trickster, is not allied with the devil, as he clearly views the devil as something negative for foiling his own plans regarding the first-born. This makes Medieval Christianity a far more open and inclusive framework than previously thought, allowing for all manner of creatures not clearly identified by traditional scripture.