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text 2016-06-11 23:20
Why do we feel the need to redeem Rumpelstiltskin?
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin - Liesl Shurtliff
Straw Into Gold - Gary D. Schmidt
A Curse Dark As Gold - Elizabeth C. Bunce
A Wild Swan: And Other Tales - Michael Cunningham
Rumpled - Lacey Louwagie

RumpOver the weekend, I finished reading Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff. It is a middle-grade retelling told from Rumpelstiltskin’s point of view, when he is just 12 years old. This book came out when I was working on later drafts of my own Rumpelstiltskin retelling, at a time when I was not allowing myself to read other retellings of the tale. Now that Rumpled has been out of my hands and out in the world for a couple years, I’m catching up on my Rumpelstiltskin retellings, as it has been one of my favorite fairy tales since my older sister first told it to me using Fischer Price Little People when I was four years old.


In the retellings that I have been reading, I’ve been noticing a common thread: Rumpelstiltskin, the creepy and evil little man whose plans to whisk away the queen’s baby are thwarted in the original, is painted in a sympathetic light. (Minor spoilers for a handful of Rumpelstiltskin retellings ahead.)


In Straw Into Gold by Gary Schmidt, in the little we see of Rumpelstiltskin, he is a kind father. In Rump, he is an adolescent boy who has bit off more than he can chew with a burgeoning magical gift he is just beginning to understand. In “Little Man” by Michael Cunningham, which is found in the collection A Wild Swan and Other Tales, he is a lonely magic maker who thinks a child might give his life meaning. And in A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce, his reasons for wanting a child are sympathetic even thought it is the only Rumpelstiltskin retelling I have read where he remains decidedly the villain.


Rump, “Little Man,” and my own retelling all tell the story from Rumpelstiltskin’s point of view, which is probably the most obvious vehicle for his redemption — after all, Crazy Ex Girlfriend aside, few of us think of ourselves as the villain of our own stories.


Still, we don’t see a plethora of retellings that redeem the Evil Stepmother from Cinderella, or the Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood. Although examples of both of these are certainly available, they don’t dominate the collective re-imagining of these key stories. So what is it about Rumpelstiltskin that makes us so badly want to redeem him?


RumpColorEmilyletterss AlternativeOne of the aspects of the original tale that so intrigues me is its moral ambiguity. In many fairy tales, the roles of hero and villain are clear cut, as is the moral we are meant to take from them. Not so in Rumpelstiltskin. Although often regarded as the villain (it is evil to take someone else’s baby, after all), all Rumpelstiltskin wants is for the terms of the agreement he made with the miller’s daughter to be honored. Are we supposed to see the miller’s daughter as the hero of the story because she tries to get out of a bargain she made, for which the other party’s half has already been fulfilled? What kind of a woman promises away her firstborn child to begin with? Then again, what kind of man would demand such a thing? After all, the miller’s daughter is faced with the threat of death, and it is under this duress that Rumpelstiltskin makes his abhorrent demand.


[My husband’s take on the original tale is that it’s about the ways all the men in the story exploit a vulnerable woman — first her father by making a false claim about her that opens her to the possibility of execution; then Rumpelstiltskin for making an unreasonable trade when she is not in a position to say no; and then the King who marries her only because he wants access to the gold he thinks she can produce. But that may be an analysis for another time.]


But then, despite Rumpelstiltskin’s demand, he still provides the queen with an escape clause: if she can guess his name within three days, she may keep the child. Is it pride that drives him to make this new bargain, or is it compassion for the queen’s plight? The original tale is silent all around on the matter of motives.


That is what makes this particular tale so rich for reimagining. And I think the bevy of stories that seek to redeem Rumpelstiltskin in some way are an attempt to inject some semblance of morality back into the tale. Not only that, but our sensibilities regarding those who are “ugly” or “disabled” have changed quite a bit since the Grimm brothers set down their original tales in 1812-1815. When I was writing my retelling, I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was so easy to cast Rumpelstiltskin as the villain because he was ugly, and the miller’s daughter as the hero because she was beautiful. One of the themes that I ended up playing with was the way that we assign morality and other character traits based on appearance. It is easier and more convenient to make the ugly character the evil one and the beautiful one the good, even though, in this story, they both try to cheat each other.


Our culture is still influenced far too strongly by appearance; the connection between beauty and goodness is very much alive and well. But now there are many voices that are questioning the validity of that connection, cultural critiques that add a counterpoint to the onslaught of images that still tell us that to be lovely is to be good.


Rumpelstiltskin is but one vehicle for challenging this unhealthy assumption, and it is being put to uses today that the Grimms probably never imagined for it centuries ago. It may be coming to mean something different, but it nevertheless remains relevant and alive. And that may be the best “happily ever afters” any tale can hope for.


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review 2014-03-20 00:00
A Curse Dark As Gold
A Curse Dark As Gold - Elizabeth C. Bunce This started very slow, but once I got through the beginning I was sucked into the mystery pretty quickly. I loved this take on the Rumplestiltskin tale. Very well done.
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review 2014-01-24 02:20
Heroine obsessed with wool
A Curse Dark As Gold - Elizabeth C. Bunce

 Charlotte Miller has always scoffed at talk of a curse on her family's woolen mill, which holds her beloved small town together. But after her father's death, the bad luck piles up: departing workers, impossible debts, an overbearing uncle.


Then a stranger named Jack Spinner offers a tempting proposition: He can turn straw into gold thread, for the small price of her mother's ring. As Charlotte is drawn deeper into her bargains with Spinner-and a romance with the local banker-she must unravel the truth of the curse on the mill and save the community she's always called home.


I just simply cant finish this at the moment.So far its plodded along trying to build up a backstory and the worldbuilding.Wich is very bland. As are the characters.

 Also....I swear I was ready to slam this into the wall if it made any more mention of sheep/wool/spinning etc

I am sure since its supposed to be a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin there will be magic eventually but all there is so far is mention of some kind of vague curse between the characters talking about wool.


I dont really like that the heroine is so obsessed about wool.


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review 2014-01-18 22:40
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce
A Curse Dark As Gold - Elizabeth C. Bunce

When Charlotte Miller's father dies, it's up to her to take over the Mill business. Stirwaters has always been run by a Miller and with no brother to take over, Charlotte is the only one who can run the business.


But besides Stirwaters, Charlotte's father also left debt behind she didn't know about. And now, she doesn't know how she will pay them.


That is, until she meets Jack Spinner. With his help, it seems that any problem Charlotte has will go away. And the payments he asks for aren't so bad, until he wants the one thing Charlotte cannot possibly give to him.


Somehow Charlotte must find a way to stop him.


This is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin tale. There are similarities with the original tale, but the author did a good job of adding some similarities and adding her own original ideas to the story.


Charlotte seems to be young. I don't remember if her age ever mentioned, but somehow, I feel she can't be more than 17. However, she is very independent and determined to run the family business. She may not always make the right choices, but she does what she thinks is best. She cares for the business and those who work there.


Charlotte is very stubborn though and while trying to unravel the mystery of Stirwaters, she tends to keep what she finds out to herself, not even telling the man she loves what she knows. And that's because she doesn't want him to get hurt. She didn't believe in the curse of the Mill at first, but after some happenings, she isn't so sure anymore and so, she wants to protect him and others she loves.


I like Charlotte though. She's a strong character. I also like her sister, Randell and the workers at the Mill.


The story itself was good and interesting. There was some mystery and suspense. I quite liked the book and thought it was a good retelling.

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text 2013-11-17 23:10
A Golden Listening Experience
A Curse Dark As Gold - Audio Library Edition - Elizabeth C. Bunce

A Curse Dark as Gold takes its inspiration from the Rumpelstilskin Grimm fairy tale, though you would be excused for not realising the basis in this lushly re-imagined tale. Charlotte’s father has just died, and she and her sister Rosie have inherited the cursed Stirwaters wool mill. As the debts mount and strange accidents keep occurring, can Charlotte unravel the mystery of the Stirwaters curse in time to save her own family?


I haven’t listened to an audiobook since Adorkable (Sarra Manning) earlier this year. I just couldn’t. Adorkable was so brilliant that I needed something equally as brilliant to get me listening again. Oh, I tried! I really did! But the narrators of the books I borrowed were either annoyingly American or monotonous. No one had the delivery I needed, or were reading books of such high quality I demand.

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