Traditional Thursdays: Rumpelstiltskin

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Dictionary.com defines tradition as the handing down of something from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth. Rumpelstiltskin, a story first printed in Germany in the 15th century, is a tale well known by people of all ages across the globe.

The most well known version of Rumpelstiltskin was printed by the Grimm brothers in 1812. In this version, the princess only marries the king as an alternative to death, knowingly promises the hobgoblin her firstborn child and tries to go back on the bargain, and sends her servant to spy on the hobgoblin to learn his name. I personally had never planned on sharing this tale with my students or children for these reasons- specifically, I would not want to support the themes that women have no choice in marriage, that you do not have to uphold unpleasant bargains, and that you can have someone else do your challenging work.

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However, my opinion of the story changed upon reading Martin Powell’s edition of Rumpelstiltskin. In this version, the princess marries the king because he loves her, never knowingly promises away her firstborn child, and uses her cunning to deduce the hobgoblin’s location so that she can discover his name. Furthermore, the overall message is that there are consequences for tricking people and only doing kind things for unreasonably steep prices.

An additional reason I appreciated this book as a fantastic take on a traditional story is that it addresses the fact that, besides Powell’s modifications to the story, there are still questionable actions taken by the main characters. Namely, the princess gets away with lying and the king lies to and manipulates the princess in the name of love. The end of the book includes discussion questions that prompt students to question these facts and discriminate between strong and weak themes. The book was written for middle elementary school children, who are just starting to question these ideas for themselves (i.e., discriminating between right and wrong), so it provides a wonderful basis for discussion.

Beyond content, the main reason we selected this book for our blog post was its captivating illustrations and format. This adaptation of Rumpelstiltskin is in a graphic novel format, which works to engage readers at an active level in a centuries-old story. Illustrator Erik Valdez Y Alanis utilizes high levels of value and richly contrasting colors to heighten the magical quality of the story. Brilliant shades of gold contrast strongly with the bland yellow hay, which draws readers’ attention to the impressiveness of the feat of weaving straw into gold. Alanis additionally uses color to symbolically enhance the story; at the beginning of the story, the princess is murky green like the hobgoblin, which emphasizes the fact that the two are working together to be deceptive. In the second half of the story, the princess is a brilliant shade of red, which both emphasizes her newfound fiery nature and passion for her daughter and heightens the contrast between her and Rumpelstiltskin.

Overall, we found this adaptation of a traditional story to be an engaging and exciting read as well as a great basis for discussion. Definitely recommended!

Happy reading!

Jamie and Lexi

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