Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review: The Rumpelstiltskin Problem

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

Have you ever read the story Rumpelstiltskin and decided that it just didn’t make sense? When you think about it, there’s so many things that are just not rational. For example, why would a father claim his daughter could spin straw into gold. I mean, of all the things to spin, why straw? And why would a funny little man agree to spin a room full of gold in exchange for a tiny gold ring? Didn’t he have enough gold as it is? And what would he want with the Queen’s first born child?

This book attempts to answer this and many more questions by providing six different versions of what Rumpelstiltskin might have been. While staying true to the original, the author changes just one or two different elements of the story to see how it could affect the outcome. For example, what if Rumpelstiltskin was a woman? Or what if the miller’s daughter was really a fanatic trying her hardest to press a kind king into marriage? And what if the miller’s daughter fell in love with Rumpelstiltskin, who was really a generous and handsome elf?

While all of the stories are great, I think my favorite was “The Domovoi.” In this version, set in Russia, Rumpelstiltskin is a domovoi; a small, teddy-bear-like, magical creature responsible for keeping the people in the house it inhabits happy and safe. Rumpelstiltskin is the domovoi that lives in the king’s palace, so naturally he finds out when the miller’s daughter has been locked up with the order to spin straw into gold. I just love the writing here, and this is a prime example. Just remember that as a domovoi, it is Rumpelstiltskin’s responsibility to make sure everyone in the palace is happy and safe:

“ ‘The king wants me to spin this straw into gold,’ the girl said, gesturing to that whole big roomful of straw. She was crying so hard she began to hiccup.

‘Ooooh,’ Rumpelstiltskin said, impressed. ‘Such a clever pretty lady to know how to spin straw into gold.’ It had taken Rumpelstiltskin a good fifty years to learn how to spin straw into gold.

The girl stamped her foot, coming close to stamping on Rumpelstiltskin. ‘But I don’t know how to do it,’ she told him. ‘That’s the whole point. And the king is going to burn me at the stake in the morning.’

That didn’t sound happy or safe.”

I absolutely love retold fairy tales, and this one didn’t disappoint me at all. I loved the fun and often humorous writing style, and it takes a fair amount of talent to come up with six different versions of the same story. If you’re looking a fun and quick read, a collection of short stories, or just a book about one of your favorite fairytales, this is sure to please.

Shady Glade Rating: 9/10


caribookscoops said...

Those are the same questions I have had with this story. I look forward to checking this book out.

Em said...

This sounds really interesting. Especially since we had two Rumpelstiltskin retellings on the cybils list.