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Rumplestiltskin (Fairy Tale Exegesis)

Maybe it was a stupid idea, but this started out as a way to introduce children to the idea of exegesis, that stories can (and should) be interpreted, not just blindly accepted. Then it turned into a story about kids, and how there are many things kids don't understand. It worked for one particular church, but I'm not sure I'll ever use it again.

One day, a father was putting his son to bed.

"Dad," said the son, "tell me a story."

"All right," said the father, "I'll tell you a story about the way the world really is."


There was once upon a time a poor miller who had a very smart and intelligent daughter. The miller was a rather silly man, so he liked to tell everyone he met how smart his daughter was. Now it happened one day that the miller had an audience with the King, and he began to brag about his daughter in order to impress the King. He said that his daughter could spin hay into gold.

"Now that's a talent worth having," said the King to the miller. "If your daughter is as clever as you say, bring her to my palace tomorrow, and I'll put her to the test."

The miller brought his daughter to the king. The king led her into a room full of hay, gave her a spinning wheel and spindle, and said, "Now set to work, and spin all night till early dawn, and if by that time you haven't spun the hay into gold you shall die."

Then he closed the door behind him and left her alone inside.

The poor miller's daughter sat down and didn't know what to do. She knew she couldn't spin hay into gold, and she knew that she would die in the morning. It was really her father's fault, of course. The silly man expected things of her that were impossible. But being a kind and intelligent girl she didn't waste time blaming him, and instead tried to think of a way out of her predicament.

She thought and thought, but couldn't think a way out, and at last she began to cry thinking she was sure to be put to death in the morning. Suddenly a door she hadn't noticed before flew open, and a tiny little man, no taller than her waist, stepped into the room.

"Good evening," he said, "and why are you crying so hard?"

"Oh!" answered the girl, "I have to spin all this hay into gold, and haven't a notion how it's done. And if I don't do it, I shall surely be put to death in the morning."

"That's easy enough," said the tiny little man. "I will spin all this hay into gold. What will you give me if I spin it for you?"

"My necklace," said the girl, since she had nothing else of the least value.

The little man took the necklace, sat himself down at the spinning wheel, and whir, whir, whir, the wheel went round three times and the bobbin was full of spun gold. Then he put on another, and whir, whir, whir, the wheel went round three times, and the bobbin was full of gold. So it went till morning, and when all the hay was spun away, and all the bobbins were full of gold, the tiny little man slipped back out through the door and disappeared.

As soon as the sun rose, the King came. When he saw the gold he was astonished and delighted, but his heart only lusted more than ever for more and more gold. He had the girl put into another room full of hay, much bigger than the first, and bade her, if she valued her life, spin it all into gold before the following morning.

The girl didn't know what to do, and began to cry; and the tiny little man appeared again, saying, "What will you give me if I spin all the hay into gold for you?" "The ring from my finger," she replied. The tiny little man took the ring, and whir, whir, whir, all was the same as the previous night, he sat at the spinning wheel until all the hay was spun into gold.

The next morning the King was pleased beyond measure at the sight of all the gold, but his greed for gold was still not satisfied. He told her she would be put in yet another room, this time with still more gold, and it must be spun into gold before morning. However, this time, he at least had the decency to offer her something for her trouble, for, greedy though he was, his conscience began to prick at him. Hetold her that if she succeeded, he wouldn't ask for any more gold, and in return she could marry his son, the Prince; though of course, if she failed, she would lose her life.

Again she was shut into a room full of hay. For a time, she thought about what it might be like to marry a King's son. She had heard that the Prince was actually a rather nice young man, not at all like his greedy father. She would rather be able to choose her own husband, but on the other hand, as a miller's daughter, there were times when she had not had enough to eat. In those days, few people could afford to marry for love. But at last she stopped dreaming about marrying anyone at all. She wouldn't be able to spin the hay into gold, and she would be put to death in the morning. She began to cry.

Suddenly the same tiny little man appeared, and it all happened as before. Except this time she had nothing left to give him when he asked, so he told her she must give him her first-born child. She promised him she would. What else could she do, except lose her life?

In the morning the King returned, and all the hay was spun into gold. The King kept his promise, and the miller's daughter was married to the King's son. The King's son, as it happened, was quite nice, and they got along very well together. She rather liked being a Princess, and she very much liked the fact that she was sure to have three meals a day. At last she and her new husband had a baby together.

One day as she and her husband were watching their baby sleep, in came the tiny little man, and reminded her of her promise. But both she and the King's son cried so bitterly at the thought of losing their beautiful baby daughter, the little man took pity on them and said, "I'll give you three days to guess my name, and if you find it out, you may keep the child."

So she and the King's son thought and thought and thought, and when the little man returned at the end of three days, they had a long list of names, but none of them was his right name. At last, the little man began jumping up and down with excitement in the most comical way, and she burst out laughing, for suddenly she knew what his name was. She said, "You look just like a little Rumplestiltskin," and as soon as she had said it, he ran away in a fright, and was never seen again.

When the old King died, the King's son became King, and the miller's daughter became Queen. They ruled with justice and wisdom for many years, and when they in turn grew old and died, their daughter became Queen after them, and she too was renowned for her wisdom and justice.


"That's the end of the story," said the father, looking down at his son. His son's eyes were closed, and the father thought maybe his son was already asleep.

"Dad, what's that story about?" said the son, his eyes suddenly opening.

"Well, I don't know for sure," said the father. "But you know, what happened to the miller's daughter reminds me of what it's like to be a kid. People ask you to do things that seem to be absolutely impossible, just like it's impossible to turn hay into gold. And you have to do them, even though you really don't know how to even start. What do you think about the story?"

The son closed his eyes, and whispered, "Maybe you're right. When I was a little kid, sometimes I didn't know the right words for things, and that was a problem! But now I'm more like the miller's daughter. Once she guessed Rumplestiltskin's real name, he wasn't a problem any more." And with that, he really did fall asleep.