Okay, so first, the name. It isn’t like I had a lot of choice in the matter. Who does? Apparently it’s an old family name, not that I believe that, but there you go.
Then there’s this whole ladle-riding business. That happened exactly once, at an office party, and I didn’t know the punch was spiked. Oh, look, Rumpenschtumpen’s plastered. Here, give the little guy this ladle and tell him it’s a hobby-horse! It’ll be a scream! Yeah. I guess some people are easily amused.
Now, this girl who could spin straw into gold thread, or so I heard. What’s her name? Eh, doesn’t matter. All I know is that the spinning wheel used to belong to my grandmother, it’s a family heirloom. I ran into my friend Khlamushka and he told me there’s some miller who claimed his daughter was magical and could spin gold. I only ever heard of one other person who could do that and that was Gran-Gran so I went to check things out.
I have to tell you, that girl was miserable. Her father was a brute and if I’d been a few yards taller I’d given him a knuckle sandwich for the stories that girl told me. He’d locked her up in a hayloft with that wheel and had her spinning spools until her fingers bled. Then he’d wallop her for not making his dinner fast enough, and send her to bed with only an old crust to gnaw on. You know, the kind of thing you hear in fairy tales, only this guy was the real deal.
So I came up with this plan. I’d find some guy from out-of-town to come and pretend to be a prince and whisk her away and in exchange she’d give me Gran-Gran’s wheel. Sounds fair, right? She agrees and off I go. It didn’t take long to find some yokel who’d take a bath and wear come clean breeches for a few hours work and I promised him a sackful of ducats if he pulled it off.
The whole thing went down just like I planned. Our fake prince swoops in and hauls the girl away, the father thinks he’s going to become part of a royal family, the kids split up in the woods, and I get my wheel back.
Except that’s not what went down.
Turns out our prince was some kind of wannabe Romeo and the girl falls in love. They hightail it out-of-town with my Gran-Gran’s wheel, and once I heard that there wasn’t much I could do. I wrote the whole thing off as a loss.
About a year later I’ve got the local constable at my door calling me some kind of a deadbeat dad. The way I pieced it together, this girl – the miller’s girl, the one I saved – she got herself with child and Prince Romeo freaked out and skedaddled. To save face she claimed I was the father and the constable tracked me down. Only she didn’t say Rumpleschtumpen knocked me up, no, what she said was You know, that little guy who used to ride around on a ladle?
There’s just no way I’m ever going to live that down, am I?
But suddenly I get an idea. I tell the constable that he’s got the wrong guy, and if in fact the girl he’s talking about is the miller’s daughter, then she stole something from me when she left town and I’d like to collect it. By this point I could tell the constable regretted getting involved, but I was fairly sure I could get my Gran-Gran’s spinning wheel back and teach this girl a lesson about respecting her elders in the process.
Now the version of this story that you might have heard is that I went to lay claim to the child, was defeated by the girl’s trickery, and sent packing on my ladle. That’s because in the end all she had was her story to cling to and she spent the rest of her life trying to sell it to the tabloids. Here’s what really happened.
We’re there, the three of us – me, the girl, and the constable – and she points me out like it’s some police line up, screeching That’s the one! I smile, I only smile. Because I know in a minute this girl is going regret ever having crossed me. So I say I’d have thought you could at least remember the name of your child’s father. Boy, that stumped her. Then I rubbed it in a little. I tell you what. If you can remember my name within three tries I’ll take responsibility for that child of yours and we’ll call the whole thing settled.
Did she ever fume. Her face rippled like laundry in the breeze as she tried to conjure up some sort of name.
“It’s Hollingsworth,” she declared.
“No, not Hollingsworth. I don’t know why I said that.”
“That’s your first guess.”
” It’s something else, right there on the tip of my tongue. I remember we used to sing a song about you when we were young and played in the woods.”
“Yes, I remember. You children could be so cruel. Here, let me give you a hint. He dances like a little flame, Something-something is his name!”
“Such a preposterous name, child. That was your second guess. One last chance.”
“Oh, wait! I remember now. Wrinkledinkle. That’s it, Wrinkledinkle.”
Needless to say the constable was not amused by the girl’s false accusations and demanded the return of my Gran-Gran’s spinning wheel. The last she saw of me I was on the next horse-drawn cart out of town – a proper cart, mind, and not a ladle. She never did get my name right when those brothers came around and paid her a five-spot to tell her tale.
This is story number 252, “Rumpenstunzchen,” from The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Jack Zipes.
This is one of the original versions of a tale known in the United States as “Rumpelstiltskin.” Something I’ve never understood what the how and why of name-changing from other languages into English. The name Rumpelstilzchen means “little rattle stick” and the other variations of his name tend to reference the main character as noisy little talker. It would seem that a proper transformation of the name should be something like Chitterchatterbox and not a nonsensical approximation of the original name. But then even the Brothers Grimm seemed to come up with a variant on the original.
As for riding around on a cooking ladle, I’ve always found that to be a baffling bit of nonsense. I hope my explanation clears this matter up once and for all.
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