Rumpelstiltskin and the man behind the tale

Bachelor Thesis, 2014

24 Pages, Grade: 2



1. Introduction

2. Myths, Folktales and Fairy Tales

3. The Brothers Grimm

4. The Story about Rumpelstiltskin.
4.1. The Plot
4.2. Analyses
4.3. Is the story orally transmitted?
4.4. Is the story traditional in form?
4.5. Is the story variational?

5. Versions of Rumpelstiltskin in different countries

6. Folktale Interpretation of Rumpelstiltskin

7. Psychological aspects

8. Summary

9. List of references


The present bachelor thesis deals with the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin and its central question - Who is the man behind the tale? Based on a description of the characteristics of myths, folktales and fairy tales the various versions of Rumpelstiltskin in different countries are discussed and compared. Furthermore the psychological aspects of Rumpelstiltskin are analyzed in detail.

1. Introduction

The present bachelor thesis deals with the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin and the man behind the tale which is also known as ATU 500 The name of the helper. Based on the topics of the seminar The Folktale: Comparative Studies the first chapter of this thesis addresses myths, folktales and fairy tales. Subsequently a biography of the Brothers Grimm is presented. The following chapters focus on the plot and the various analyses of the fairy tale. The subsequent chapter describes the different versions of the fairy tale in different countries. A comprehensive folktale interpretation illustrates the background of the characters and the key aspects of the fairy tale. Finally this thesis provides a summary of the psychological insights of the story.

ATU 500 The name of the helper, Rumpelstiltskin

Today I'll bake; tomorrow I'll brew. Then I'll fetch the queen's new child. It is good that no one knows Rumpelstiltskin is my name.” [12]

2. Myths, Folktales and Fairy Tales

A fairy tale or wonder tale is a kind of folktale or fable. These stories tell of witches and queens, giants and elves, princes, dragons, talking animals, ogres, princesses and sometimes even of fairies. Marvellous and magical things happen to characters in fairy tales - a boy may become a bird, a princess may sleep for a hundred years or a seal may become a girl. Objects can be enchanted, too - mirrors talk, pumpkins become carriages or a lamp may be the home of a genie. The oldest fairy tales were told and retold for generations before they were written down. Fairy tales exist from almost any culture.

Andrew L. Giarelli mentioned “Folklore is often mis-defined as lies and myth is often mis-defined as mistaken belief - That’s just folklore, someone will say, or condemn a mistaken belief as a myth”. [1] But folklore is even more. Freud considered myth, folktales and fairy tales as a part of the folk psychological education. He thought that fairy tales are remains of wish fantasies of all nations and it is the connection between dreams and popular narrative material. Dreams and fairy tales are mainly connected by the material and the motive. The favourite fairy tales provide insights into repressed wishes of childhood. [2]

The power of fairy tales is humongous. Fairy tales help children to become steady adults. They even have the ability to catch up failed development. [3] Children learn from fairy tales about the good and evil, the right and wrong. Even for adults fairy tales can be good advisors. They tell of the laws of life and contain pieces of wisdom which answer our vital issues.

3. The Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, were German academics, lexicographers and authors. They collected and published folklore. The Brothers Grimm are storytellers of well-known folk tales such as Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin and Snow White. Their first collection of folk tales - Children and Household Tales - was published in 1812. Other folk tales are Old German Forest, Poor Heinrich by Harmann von der Aue, Lays from the Elder Edda, German Legends and Irish fairy tales. [4]

4. The Story about Rumpelstiltskin

4.1. The Plot

Rumpelstiltskin is a story about a poor miller, a beautiful girl, a king and a little man called Rumpelstiltskin. At the beginning of the story the girl’s father promises to the king, his daughter can turn straw into gold. The king keeps her locked in a room and forces her to turn the whole straw into gold. The girl is very desperated because she cannot fulfil the king’s wish. At this time a little man appears and helps her by turning the straw into gold. But the king wants even more. Therefore the little man helps the girl three times. The last time the girl must promise him her fist child but she could keep it if she knows his name within three days. Three days later and with the help of the king she knows the little man’s name. Rumpelstiltskin is very angry and flees. [5]

4.2. Analyses

In 1811 Wilhelm Grimm recorded the essential version of the fairy tale Dortchen Wild. Together with other oral traditional fairy tales this cluster of stories became the basis for the publication of the Grimm brothers’ collection Children’s and Household Tales in 1812. Most of the well-known characteristics of the fairy tale Rumpelstilzchen were published in the first edition of this collection.

The folktale Rumpelstiltskin is also called ATU 500 The name of the helper. This tale is a kind of a devils tale. The deal in Rumpelstiltskin is that the girl can keep her child if she knows the little man’s name within three days. Otherwise the little man will get her child. Rumpelstiltskin’s last words – “Some demon has told you that!” - illustrates this. ATU 500 means that the story is an ordinary folktale in the subcategory tales of magic. Tales of magic means that the story contains a lot of magic like spinning straw into gold.

The tale refers to legends about dwarves and giants. Psychologically Rumpelstiltskin is a narrative of sexual anxiety in which female must learn to overcome the fear of the phallus in the form of the little man. [6]

Harry Rand1 denotes six characteristics:

i. a male “bidden by”. He is the only helpful male in the story
ii. short, but not a troll or a dwarf
iii. does “vital work” and fulfil tasks magically
iv. but he can not have a child
v. nobody knows his name, instead of the little girl
vi. when he hears it from the girl he shouts, “The devil told you!” and vanishes.

Jack Zipes mentions “The miller’s daughter is totally at the mercy of men. Her whole life is surrounded by men. Her father the boaster, a king the oppressor, Rumpelstiltskin the blackmailer and a messenger the saviour”. The only capable thing she can do is giving birth to a baby. Even spinning is not taken seriously. She is only respected if she can spin straw into gold. This is not a valid test of a young woman within an initiation process determined by other spinners because the Grimms did not really grasp the value of spinning for women. A good woman was someone who knew her place and the Grimms tale concerns a woman who is put in her place and given her place by men. It is a tale of domestication in which the art of spinning flax into yarn becomes irrelevant. [7]

4.3. Is the story orally transmitted?

The author of the story is not known but the Grimms mentioned in their notes that the story is from Hesse2. The Grimms collected orally told tales as stated in their notes and correspondences. Wilhelm Grimm changed the stories to suit the reader’s tastes in later editions. For this reason it is possible that Rumpelstiltskin had been modified. Fact is that there are various versions of the fairy tale.

4.4. Is the story traditional in form?

Millers and miller’s daughter appear in various German stories but this story refers to the Northern Fenia and Menia 3. In this edition two giants could grind whatever they wanted. For this reason King Frode ordered to grind peace and gold. The spinning gold may also refer to the difficult and painful work of preparing gold-wire which is left to poor girls. A Danish song illustrates this:

Nu er min Sorg saa mangefold,

Som Jongfruer de spinde Guld.“ [8]

„Now my sorrows are manifold,

I’m a maiden who spins gold.”

In a Danish tale the task of guessing a name also appears. A certain man has to give his heart and his eyes to a troll if he cannot get to know his name. He discovered the troll’s wife when she is comforting her child and saying “Tomorrow thy father will come”. [9] At the same time she says his name. There is also a tale of Turandot in Thousand and one days4. The main character Calaf has guessed all Turandot’s riddles but will renounce his rights if she can guess his name. One of her maids goes to him and tells him of Turandot’s inhumanity who is going to have him murdered because she cannot guess his riddle. Then he cries “Oh unhappy son of Timurtas, oh Calaf worthy of pity!” [10]

There are other editions of the fairy tales like Rümpentrumper in Müllenhoff5 . In Kletke’s Märchensaal6 the little man is called Hopfenhütel and in Zinglere7 he is called Purzinigele. In Pröhle’s Kindermärchen8 and in Bechstein’s Märchen für die Jugend 9 the name of the little man is Hipche Hipche. Fischart could testify the age of this story because Gargantua 10 contains a list of games. One of these games is called Rumpelestilt, or the Poppart. In Müllenhoff’s Sagen11 a being of the same kind is called Knirrsicker and Hans Donnerstag. [11]

4.5. Is the story variational?

There are six versions of the fairy tale. Four versions agree with each other but in one of them the ending changes. One version tells of a little girl who should spin yarn but she only spun gold. Another version doesn’t mention the spinning.

4.6. Is the story anonymous?

The teller isn’t identified. Therefore the author is anonymous. The Grimms however found the tale. The tale moved from oral tradition to print form and finally to movies.

5. Versions of Rumpelstiltskin in different countries

Rumpelstiltskin is similar to the fairy tale Cinderella. There are different versions of the folk tale. The Brothers Grimm had six different ones which differ in detail. Initially the tale was called Rumpelstünzchen, later Rumpelstiltskin. In the first version the little man was angry at the end, in the second version he flew away on a wooden spoon and in the third version he tore himself in two parts. This version was published in the second printing of the Grimms' collection (1819). Rumpelstiltskin is also known by his saying: "Today I'll bake; tomorrow I'll brew. Then I'll fetch the queen's new child. It is good that no one knows Rumpelstiltskin is my name.” [12]

In 1705 a French version was released. There the goblin was called Ricdin-Ricdon. The tale was written by Marie-Jeanne L'Héritier de Villandon. In this story the goblin indeed says his name but by magic the princess forgets it again. In this version the saying of the little man is „Wenn dem Mädchen hübsch und fein, das nur Kinderspiele kennt, würde noch im Kopfe sein, dass Ricdin-Ricdon der Name mein, fiel sie nicht in meine Händ. So hol ich sie morgen. Nein, niemand meinen Namen kennt”. (If the girl pretty and fine, who only knows children games, would still be in the head, that Ricdin-Ricdon is my name, if she doesn’t get in my hand. So I get her tomorrow. No, no one knows my name.) [13]


1 Harry Rand is an author who offers a contemporary twist on Freudian interpretations.

2 Hesse is a town in Germany.

3 Northern Fenia and Menia is a myth. Fenia and Menia are two girls from an old Norse poem.

4 Turandot in Thousand and one days is a collection of West and South Asian stories and folk tales compiled in Arabic during the last Islamic Golden Age.

5 A collection of tales written by the Brothers Grimm

6 A collection of tales

7 see 5 and 6

8 see 5 and 6

9 see 5 and 6

10 Is written in the 16th century by Francois Rabelais.

11 see 5 and 6

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Rumpelstiltskin and the man behind the tale
University of Vienna
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BA Elisabeth Grasi (Author), 2014, Rumpelstiltskin and the man behind the tale, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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