Author: Schmiesing, Ann
Date published: July 1, 2011
Given three days to guess the name of the diminutive figure who spun straw into gold for her and now claims her child, the miller's daughter in the Grimms' "Rumpelstilzchen" - or, as known in English, "Rumpelstiltskin" - first guesses that his name is Kasper, Melchior, or Balzer, German variants of the names traditionally given to the Magi who came bearing gifts to the Christ child. On the second day, her guessing begins with Rippenbiest, Hammelswade, and Schnürbein, names whose connotations of disease and deformity are explored in this essay. Whereas the first trio of names suggests the daughter's psychological desire to recast the magical dwarf as a biblical gift-bearing Magus, the second trio suggests a fear that he is an agent of disease who will deform or kill her child. This essay analyzes the addition of these names to the second edition (1819) of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen (KHM) in the context of Wilhelm Grimm's editing of this edition. As is shown in this essay, the maternal concerns revealed by both sets of incorrect guesses do not merely illustrate Wilhelm Grimm's altering of the queen's role to fit nineteenth-century bourgeois conceptions of women as nurturing mothers; in addition to this, they shed significant light on the value placed on life in the tale, as well as on the often overlooked theme of disability and disease in the KHM.1 These aspects are related in this essay to Wilhelm Grimm's own precarious health, as well as to his later loss of his firstborn son.
It is perhaps because none of the queen's six guesses proves correct that critics have tended to ignore them in their analyses of the Grimms' "Rumpelstiltskin." Similarly, secondary literature on variants such as "Tom Tit Tot" has typically mentioned only that the female protagonist first attempts unsuccessfully to guess the name of her tormentor, without paying attention to the incorrect guesses themselves.2 This is in part because of the tendency to focus on "Rumpelstiltskin" and related tales as Name of the Helper tales in the AarneThompson classification (AT 500) - a tendency that has led to a pronounced emphasis on Rumpelstiltskin's actual name and role rather than on the daughter's perception of his role. In revisiting names in "Rumpelstiltskin," my interest lies not so much in the name of the helper (that is, with the fact that the miller's daughter, now queen, must guess Rumpelstiltskin's actual name) as in the naming of the helper and the psychological insights that the queen's incorrect guesses yield. These incorrect guesses are met with the refrain "So heiß ich nicht" (That is not my name; KHM 7th ed., 1: 287). 3 Though the refrain tells principally what Rumpelstiltskin is not, the guesses themselves shed light on what the queen is, at least as the Grimms see her and circumscribe her role: a mother whose hopes and fears are meant to underscore her love for her child.
As Jack Zipes has pointed out, "Rumpelstiltskin" is disturbing "not because we never really know the identity of the tiny mysterious creature who spins so miraculously, even when he is named by the queen, the former miller's daughter. It is disturbing because the focus of folklorists, psychoanalysts, and literary critics has centered on Rumpelstiltskin's name and his role in the tale despite the fact that the name is meaningless" (Fairy Tale as Myth 49). The fact that the name of the queen's helper and tormentor is also the name of the tale has perhaps exacerbated this problem; one wonders if the focus of existing secondary literature would be different if the tale were titled "Die Müllerstochter" (the miller's daughter), for example, instead of "Rumpelstilzchen." In any case, Zipes shows how the Grimms altered "Rumpenstünzchen," the early version of "Rumpelstiltskin" found in the Ölenberg manuscript from 1810, "in a manner that undermines the value of spinning and the autonomy of the spinner" (57). In "Rumpenstünzchen" the daughter despairs that her flax does not become linen yarn as she spins, but is instead transformed against her will into gold yarn. This suggests the high value given in preindustrial times to a woman's ability to spin flax into yarn, since this ability is prized more highly in "Rumpenstünzchen" than gold itself. With regard to the reversal of this prioritization in "Rumpelstiltskin" as it appears in the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmärchen, Zipes concludes that here the miller's daughter is at the mercy of men, in part because her spinning of linen yarn is no longer valued:
In fact, her whole life is framed by men: her father, the boaster, a king the oppressor, Rumpelstiltskin the blackmailer, and a messenger the savior. The only thing she appears capable of doing is giving birth to a baby. Even spinning is not taken seriously, for it is esteemed only if she can spin straw into gold. This is not a valid test of a young woman within an initiation process determined by other spinners because the Grimms did not really grasp the value of spinning for women. For the Grimms, the good woman was the woman who knew her place, and the tale concerns a woman who is put in her place and given her place by men. It is a tale of domestication in which the art of spinning flax into yarn becomes irrelevant. (58)
As Ruth B. Bottigheimer observes, the later versions of "Rumpelstiltskin" also "clearly indicate Wilhelm Grimm's tendency to isolate the female protagonist within the plot." Whereas a faithful maidservant accompanies the heroine in the 1810 version, by 1812 the queen "suffers alone, companionless, and learns the dwarf's name only fortuitously through her husband" (108).
It is certainly true that the Grimms show little understanding of the value of spinning in their versions of "Rumpelstiltskin," and it is not surprising that the alterations they made to the tale reinforce patriarchal norms. In keeping with prevailing eighteenth- and nineteenth-century constructions of women, the miller's daughter is, as queen, a maternal figure wholly divorced from the commercial or civil sphere. Portrayed as daughter, wife, and mother, she is neither spinner nor spinster. Whereas her ability to give birth is central to her identity as constructed by the Grimms, the men in the tale are not life-giving but actually threaten life by commodifying it - but for this they receive no punishment. When read from the perspective of the miller's daughter, the tale actually places a far higher value on life itself than on either gold or spinning. Spinning is worth less than gold in the tale, but to the miller's daughter, life is the most precious commodity of all.
In effect, the Grimms' "Rumpelstiltskin" provides on one level a simple moral that life is more precious than any precious metal, though this is the case only if viewed from the perspective of the miller's daughter (and Rumpelstiltskin, though he destroys himself at the end). The miller values gold and devalues life by boasting that his daughter can spin straw into gold when he knows she cannot; his boasting has the effect, however unintended, of imperiling her life. Similarly, the king values gold and devalues life by ordering the daughter to produce gold or face death. In the second and subsequent editions of KHM, the narrator relates that the king commanded the miller's daughter to spin a second time "wenn ihr das Leben lieb wäre" (if she valued her life; KHM 2nd ed., 1: 198), but these words are not present in the first edition. The implication in the second and subsequent editions is that the daughter herself will have to value her life, because no one else - including her father or, in particular, the king - intrinsically does. The king's valuing of gold above all else also manifests itself in the third edition when he rationalizes his marriage to a lowly miller's daughter: " 'Wenn's auch eine Müllerstochter ist,' dachte er, 'eine reichere Frau finde ich in der ganzen Welt nicht'" ("Even if it's just a miller's daughter," he thought, "I won't find a wealthier wife in the whole world"; KHM 3rd ed., 286). Here as elsewhere his single-minded concern is that of enriching his material wealth.
The daughter, by contrast, consistently regards life - whether her own or her child's - as more precious than gold. She literally saves her neck by giving Rumpelstiltskin the gold that encircles it, presenting him first with her necklace (Halsband) and then with the "Ring von dem Finger" (ring from my finger; KHM 7th ed., 1: 285-86), before promising her firstborn child. Her father's unwitting imperiling of her life (and first and foremost the king's spin-or-die ultimatum) gives her little choice but to imperil that of her child, and the Grimms' formulation of her thoughts stresses this: "'Wer weiß, wie das noch geht,' dachte die Müllerstochter und wußte sich auch in der Not nicht anders zu helfen" ("Who knows how it will go," thought the miller's daughter, and in her misery she did not know how else to help herself; KHM 7th ed., 1: 286). In other words, we are meant to view her promise to surrender her firstborn not as a sign that she no longer values life, but as her hope that somehow she will be able to get out of this bargain and save her future child from whatever fate Rumpelstiltskin has in store for it.
Indeed, after giving birth to "ein schönes Kind" (a beautiful child), she desperately offers Rumpelstiltskin "alle Reichtümer des Königreichs" (all the treasures of the kingdom) in lieu of her child, to which Rumpelstiltskin replies, "Nein, etwas Lebendes ist mir lieber als alle Schätze der Welt" ("No, something living is dearer to me than all the treasures of the world"; KHM 7th ed., 1: 287). Like the two trios of names guessed by the miller's daughter, these lines, too, first appear in the second edition of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen.
The tale as presented in the second edition of the KHM thus portrays a miller and king who value gold and disregard life (albeit to varying degrees), and a young woman who values life and repeatedly offers gold (both as miller's daughter and as queen) in order to preserve it. These offers show that she, too, knows the value of gold in her society, but unlike the king and Rumpelstiltskin, she gives it away instead of taking it. In contrast, the king views gold as the ultimate commodity and will commodify the life of a human being in order to obtain it. Rumpelstiltskin proves a typical dwarf in his interest in gold and his ability to produce it, but he nevertheless differs from the king in ultimately valuing "something living" above the material treasures offered to him by the miller's daughter once she is queen. As Roni Natov has observed of Rumpelstiltskin: "Although it may appear that his desire for a child is typical of the malevolent wishes of magical figures like dwarves and fairies (note the popular changeling motif in folk tales), Rumpelstiltskin is the only character who cannot be bought off. Nothing is as dear to him as human life. And he is the only male figure who recognizes its value. The miller and the king would easily sacrifice human life for gold" (74). Thus, in contrast to "Rumpenstünzchen," gold is indeed more important than flax in "Rumpelstiltskin," though one must be careful to differentiate between the various perspectives of the characters with regard to gold.
More importantly, perhaps, one must also qualify the conclusion that the miller's daughter in "Rumpelstiltskin" appears capable only of giving birth to a child. It is true that the Grimms' devaluation of spinning greatly circumscribes the daughter's agency in the tale by limiting her role to that of mother. Yet when read from her perspective and compared with the roles of the men in the tale, "Rumpelstiltskin" suggests that this role is great indeed. This does not mean that the tale is not patriarchal; it is, and it is made more blatantly so by the very fact that it enshrines her role as life-giving mother while wholly reassigning the traditionally female activity of spinning to a male character. It is noteworthy not only that the Grimms have fully relegated her to the roles of daughter, wife, and mother, but also that within the tale she must defend even her maternal role against Rumpelstiltskin's attempts to take her child. The maternal concerns evident in her incorrect guesses nevertheless suggest that this defense is meant to further enshrine her role as mother as it reveals her attachment to her child.
Though the Grimms might seem to regard the queen principally as childbearer, the king in the tale does not; he is interested in her primarily insofar as she can spin gold (which she cannot). The only male character who appears to value her ability to give birth is Rumpelstiltskin, though he values this ability for his own gain. Indeed, whereas Rumpelstiltskin's spinning yields gold, the daughter's pregnancy results in what is to her and to Rumpelstiltskin, too, the fer more valuable birth of a child. Admittedly, it is not quite so simple: Rumpelstiltskin's spinning of gold is what saves the daughter's life and enables her to marry the king and bear a child, and Maria Tatar has found in the tale "an even exchange between the life-giving labors of the queen and the lifesaving labors of the diminutive gnome" (257). Teleologically, however, the birth of the child is ultimately more important than either the gold or the spinning both to Rumpelstiltskin and to the queen.
We might thus qualify Tatar's view that "the queen's only real triumph seems to be the identification of 'The Name of the Helper,' as the story is known to folklorists" (257). As we have seen, the miller's boasting about his daughter initiates a cycle that endangers both her and her child. The queen's real triumph, at least as the Grimms appear to conceive of her, is that unlike the other characters in the tale, she seeks to protect life when it is endangered - first her own, and then that of her child. The king tells her to spin straw into gold if her life is dear to her, and Rumpelstiltskin tells her she must guess his name if she is to rescue her child. In both cases the plot shows unequivocally that life is dear to her, even though she is unable to accomplish these tasks herself.
The queen's desire to preserve her child's life is emphasized in particular by the incorrect names she gives when attempting to guess Rumpelstiltskin's name. The first three names (Kasper, Melchior, and Balzer) the queen guesses on the first day indicate this most readily. Since Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar have been the names traditionally attributed in the West to the Magi who traveled to Bethlehem to worship the Christ child, their names in "Rumpelstiltskin" recast the story in the context of the Nativity and Epiphany. The names suggest the queen's hope - however unrealistic it may be - that the diminutive dwarf will relinquish his demand for her child and instead exercise the benevolence and wisdom associated with the Three Wise Men. In the context of "Rumpelstiltskin," the portrayal of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew is striking not only because the Magi come to worship the infant Jesus (and bring gifts that include gold), but also because both the Magi and Joseph are warned of Herod's evil intentions in dreams (Matthew 2:1-15) and Herod subsequently has all young children in Bethlehem killed in the Massacre of the Innocents. Viewed in this context, the names Kasper, Melchior, and Balzer in "Rumpelstiltskin" bring to mind the preservation of life even in situations where it seems most endangered.
It is interesting in this regard that critics like Maria Tatar have pointed to deception as a key theme in "Rumpelstiltskin": the miller deceives the king when boasting that his daughter can spin straw into gold, the miller's daughter misleads the king into thinking that she actually has this ability, and the queen plays dumb at the end by continuing to guess names such as Hinz and Cunz when she already knows Rumpelstiltskin's name (Tatar 256-57). The extent to which deception is thematized in the story of the Magi is also striking: as depicted in the Gospel of Matthew, Herod pretends to the Magi that he wishes to worship Jesus, when in fact he plans to murder the infant, and the Magi in turn outwit Herod by returning to their country by another route rather than fulfilling his order to report back to him on Jesus's whereabouts (Matthew 2:7-12). The Three Wise Men's names in "Rumpelstiltskin" thus may be interpreted as representing the queen's fervent hope that the dwarf will come to want to worship her child rather than harm it, but they might also serve as an indication that, like the Magi and the holy family, she will save her child from imminent danger.
Nevertheless, virtually no attention has been given to the names of the Magi in the Grimms' "Rumpelstiltskin." A rare comment on these names can be found in Heinz Rölleke's annotated edition of the third edition of the Grimms' tales. Rölleke notes that these names are "die Namen der Dreikönige, mit deren Fest früher das neue Jahr begann, so daß diese Namen wohl stellvertretend für alle Heiligen des Kalenders stehen" (the names of the Three Wise Men, with whose feast day the new year traditionally began, such that these names are probably representative of all the saints in the calendar; KHM 3rd ed., 1223n252.21). Although this explanation is certainly plausible, it is curious that Rölleke and other critics have not explored the thematic connections between the story of the Magi and the situation presented in "Rumpelstiltskin" - connections that point to "Rumpelstiltskin" as a tale not only about spinning or gold but also about birth and the protection of an infant.
One might also point to the Grimms' comments regarding Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents in the afterword to their 1815 edition of Hartmann von Aue's Der arme Heinrich (Poor Henry). "Der bethlehemistische Kindermord, den ohnehin die Geschichte verwirft, indem Herodes früher gestorben war, könnte auch so betrachtet werden, daß der alte König nicht nur den verheißenen Herrn tödten wollte, sondern sich auch durch Baden in ihrem Blute verjüngen oder heilen," they write (The Massacre of the Innocents, which history in any case dismisses because Herod had already died, could also be viewed as though the old king wanted not only to kill the promised Savior, but also to rejuvenate or heal himself by bathing in the children's blood; 174). They also point to an account claiming that Herod had died "an einer entsetzlichen Krankheit, die wie der Aussatz Verderbniß aller Säfte bewirkte, . . . und sich noch durch das Bad in einer berühmten Quelle zu retten suchte" (of a horrible disease that, like leprosy, caused the destruction of all the bodily humors, and that he attempted to save himself by bathing in a famous spring; 174). The Grimms' interpretation of the Massacre of the Innocents in terms of Herod's desire to cure himself of disease is significant in light of the second trio of names guessed by the queen in "Rumpelstiltskin," since the trio points to disease and deformity. There is, in short, a sense in which disease and deformity (and first and foremost the avoidance or curing thereof) form an embedded thematic link between the first and second trios of names.
Rumpelstiltskin nevertheless rejects the names of the Magi, replying, "So heiß ich nicht" (That is not my name). On the second day, the queen "ließ . . . in der Nachbarschaft herumfragen, wie die Leute da genannt würden, und sagte dem Männlein die ungewöhnlichsten und seltsamsten Namen vor: 'Heißt du vielleicht Rippenbiest oder Hammelswade oder Schnürbein?'" (had her servants go out into the neighborhood to ask what the people there were called, and then she repeated the strangest and most unusual names: "Is your name Bippenbiest or Hammelswade or Schnurbeinl"; KHM 7th ed., 1: 287). Whereas the names of the Magi exemplify the Grimms' tendency to insert references to Christianity or Christian piety in their tales, the second trio of names might sound not Christian, but pagan. Moreover, the names of the Magi evoke benevolence, wisdom, and magnificence, but each name in the second trio suggests a part of the body and its deformation. As such, the names remind us of dwarfs' associations in Germanic mythology with illness and death. As Jacob Grimm wrote in his chapter on elves and dwarfs in Deutsche Mythologie, "Ihre berührung, ihr anhauch kann menschen und thieren krankheit oder den tod verursachen; wen ihr schlag trift, der ist verloren oder untüchtig" ("Their touch, their breath may bring sickness or death on man and beast; one whom their stroke has fallen on, is lost or incapable"; 1: 381; Stallybrass, Teutonic Mythology 2: 460-61). In his penetrating essay on dwarfs in Germanic mythology and as portrayed in Jacob Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie, Paul Battles notes that "the one trait associated with dwarfs in all three traditions - English, German, and Scandinavian - concerns their power to influence human health (both positively and negatively)" (74). Read in this context, the second trio of names guessed by the queen suggests her fear that Rumpelstiltskin is an agent of disease - and thus that he will claim the child in the manner in which we speak of disease claiming its victims.
Precisely what Wilhelm Grimm may have associated with each of the three names is unknown, as is which, if any, sources he took them from. Nevertheless, each seems to suggest a type of disease or deformity. Bippenbiest, translated as "Ribfiend" (Tatar 260) or "Ribsofbeef" (Zipes, Complete Fairy Tales 195), points most obviously to pulmonary illnesses, such as those discussed in the chapter "Von Pestilenzischer Pleuresi, oder stechendem Rippenwehe, und von Pestilenzischer Brust Kranckheit, und Squinancie" (Of Pestilential Pleuresy, or Stabbing Rib Pain, and of Pestilential Chest Illness and Squinancy) in Johan Weyer's Arzney Buch of 1580. The Grimms were familiar with Weyer's book, as a notation found among Jacob Grimm's papers indicates.4 Moreover, in the appendix to Deutsche Mythologie titled "Beschwörungen" (Spells), Jacob Grimm lists among charms against fever the following utterance used specifically against chest infections ("gegen brustgeschwür," against ulcered lungs): "Scher dich fort, du schändliches brustgeschwür von des kindes rippe, gleich wie die kuh von der krippe!" (Be gone from the child's rib, you vile ulcered lung, just like the cow from the crib [manger]! 3: 504).
Whereas Bippenbiest suggests respiratory disease, the name Hammelswade might imply a deformity in the lower leg, where the peroneal muscle known in German as "die Wade" (the calf) is located. As Johann Christoph Adelung relates in his dictionary, the word Hammel refers most frequently to a castrated ram, and comes from "hamelan, verstümmeln, abschneiden" (to mutilate, cut off). In this context, it refers to "ein abgeschnittenes Stück, hamma und hamm bey dem Ulphilas lahm, verstümmelt, und Hamalsteü, bey dem Tatian den Richtplatz bedeuten, weil die Übelthäter daselbst gleichsam verstümmelt werden" (a cut off piece, hamma and hamm in Wülfila, lame, mutilated, and Hamalsteü, which in Tatian means the place of execution, because there the criminals are mutilated). Adelung also relates that it is from these various associations of the verb hammeln with cutting or laming that the word Hammel has come to refer to a castrated animal (particularly sheep, but also horses), and in Dutch to the name of the afterbirth. The English translation of Hammehwade as "Muttonchops" (Tatar 260; Zipes, Complete Fairy Tales 195) is appropriate insofar as "der Hammel" refers most frequently to a castrated ram, though it does not fully convey the anatomical meaning of the word Wade. Whether construed first and foremost as a laming of the legs or in terms of a castrated animal, the name Hammelswade appears to convey the queen's fear that Rumpelstiltskin is an agent of deformity or mutilation.
Like Hammelswade, the name Schnürbein suggests the deformity or atrophy of the legs and might also connote genital mutilation. Adelung relates that a common meaning of schnüren (to lace or tie up) is to castrate an animal by tightly binding its testicles with a cord. He also explains that schnüren can refer to a form of torture in which cords are placed around the arm and then tightly pulled. Since the word Bein can refer not only to the leg but also in certain uses to the penis, the name Schnürbein might indicate spindly legs (or legs to which a cord has been fastened), or it may have a genital connotation. Translators have justifiably preferred the former, more literal translation, with Maria Tatar using "Spindleshanks" (260) and Jack Zipes using "Lacedleg" (Complete Fairy Tales 195). Another possible meaning appears less likely: the name might also be a corruption of the condition known as Schurbein, which refers to the diseased legs of a person with advanced scurvy. It is nevertheless noteworthy that a reference to Johan Weyer's explanation of Schurbein, in his Arzney Buch of 1580, appears in Jacob Grimm's notes on mythology ("Sammlung von Zetteln mit Notizen zur Mythologie" [NLG 306], no. 609). 5 From a narrative standpoint, the name Schnürbein is also of interest because of its similarity to "schnurr, schnurr, schnurr" - the sound the spinning wheel makes in German as Rumpelstiltskin spins the thread of gold.
Like the names of the Magi, the names Rippenbiest, Hammelswade, and Schnürbein have been overlooked in the secondary literature on "Rumpelstiltskin." Without mentioning these names, Konrad Soyez has nevertheless proposed that the tale is founded "auf einer Ahnung von der Wirksamkeit eines einheitlichen Prinzips, das wir heute mikrobiellenzymatisch nennen und das als Wirkprinzip die Biotechnologie begründet, kurz: Rumpelstilzchen ist eine Mikrobe" (on a presentiment of the workings of a unified principle that we today call microbial-enzymatic, and that as a functional principle is at the foundation of biotechnology. In short, Rumpelstiltskin is a microbe; 80). Soyez presents as evidence of Rumpelstiltskin's microbial role his ability to find his way even into the locked chamber where the miller's daughter is confined; he also notes that despite Rumpelstiltskin's ability to appear out of nowhere, he is difficult to find when searched for. In addition, Soyez relates the transformation of straw into gold and Rumpelstiltskin's baking and brewing to microbial processes, and he emphasizes that Rumpelstiltskin, like a bacterium, can divide himself into two. He further observes that like bacteria Rumpelstiltskin can both hurt and help the humans around him: "Einen Hinweis auf seine schädigenden Wirkungen entnehmen wir der Aussage, es wolle 'übermorgen der Frau Königin ihr Kind' holen" (We may find evidence of his destructive powers in his utterance that he will take "the queen's child the day after next"; 80). Soyez's reading thus suggests that Rumpelstiltskin is a disease that can be survived only if it is correctly diagnosed (or named) and treated.
This basic premise is of interest in light of the associations of dwarfs with disease in Germanic mythology and folklore - associations which, like the names Rippenbiest, Hammelswade, and Schnürbein, Soyez nevertheless does not mention. As Lutz Röhrich has observed, some folklore traditions hold that demons bring disease by entering the human body and are forced to leave it only on being named; similarly, the act of giving a child a name in baptism serves a protective function ("Der Dämon und sein Name" 464). Paul Battles has also examined Old English charms that prescribe "various ways of warding off 'a dwarf,' though it is not always clear whether dweorg denotes the agent of a disease, its symptoms, or the disease itself" (33).
In his attempts to attribute all of Rumpelstiltskin's actions to microbial functions, Soyez nevertheless misreads several passages of the tale. For example, Rumpelstiltskin hardly seems microbial at the end; when he tears himself in two, the implication is that he destroys himself, but when bacteria divide, they multiply and spread. Soyez also does not examine the complex origins of the Grimms' tale, including the fact that Rumpelstiltskin tears himself in two only from the second edition of the KHM on. First and foremost, Soyez's failure to consider the various names the queen guesses also misses an important detail: Rumpelstiltskin may not actually represent a microbe, but the point is that the queen appears to worry that he is - or that he is a similar agent of disease or deformity. Her suspicions nevertheless seem unfounded, because in answer to the disease-like names she mentions, he replies with his standard "That is not my name." Either he does not actually represent a disease, or he is a disease with which she is not familiar and thus whose name neither she nor her messenger can ascertain by themselves.
That the names she does guess appear only from the second edition on deserves further comment. In lieu of giving specific guesses, the first edition of "Rumpelstiltskin" (1812) merely relates, "Da sann die Königin den ersten und zweiten Tag, was doch das Männchen für einen Namen hätte, konnte sich aber nicht besinnen, und ward ganz betrübt" (On the first and second day the queen pondered what the little man's name could be, but she could not think of it and became distressed; KHM 1st ed., 1: 254). The only guesses that do appear in the first edition are Conrad and Heinrich, and these are the names the queen pretends to guess at the end of the tale when she already knows that her tormentor's name is Rumpelstiltskin. "Cunz oder Heinz" has been written in the margin of the Grimms' personal copy of the first edition (KHM 1st ed., 1: 255), and indeed the second version begins to use the names Cunz and Hinz in place of Conrad and Heinrich (KHM 2nd ed., 1: 199). 6 Marginalia on the same page of the Grimms' personal copy also indicate their intention to change the ending in the first edition by incorporating the ending from Lisette Wild's version. There the last line of the tale, in which Rumpelstiltskin runs away in anger, never to return, has been crossed out, and the following words have been written in by hand: "stieß mit dem rechten Fuß so zornig in die Erde, daß es bis an den Leib hineinfuhr, dann faßte es den linken mit den beiden Händen, hob ihn in die Höh und riß sich mitten entzwei (Lisette)" (stomped so angrily with his right foot that he went into the ground up to his waist, then grabbed the left foot with both his hands, lifted it up in the air and tore himself in two [Lisette]; KHM 1st ed., 1: 255).
There are no handwritten comments indicating a planned incorporation of the two trios of names guessed by the queen into the second and subsequent editions of the tale. This suggests that these names were not part of the version Lisette Wild told to the Grimms, or of the version told to them by Dortchen Wild. This in turn indicates that the names were most likely added by Wilhelm Grimm himself, since from the second edition on the changes made to the tales were largely his. This likelihood seems to have escaped notice in the secondary literature on the tale; for example, Maria Tatar notes with regard to the second trio of names guessed by the queen, "The naming of possible names offers the opportunity for comic associations from both storyteller and listeners. It is easy to imagine the audience calling out names in response to the queen's efforts to identify the name of the gnome" (261). Though Wilhelm Grimm might have wanted to create the sense that the tale is being told to listeners, the evidence suggests that these names were chosen and inserted by Grimm himself and were not part of the tale as told to him by Dortchen and Lisette Wild. In other words, the names are not original to the tale in its oral form (in which form one might indeed imagine listeners calling out names to supplement the queen's guesses), but were added to the tale only in its written form.
For this reason, too, the names should be regarded not as arbitrary, but as fulfilling vital thematic functions in the tale, even though precisely what Wilhelm Grimm associated with the names or how he arrived at them is currently unknown. That he appears to have added the names to the tale suggests that they should not be evaluated in the same way that names dating to oral versions of the tale could be. As Marianne Rumpf has shown in her article "Spinnerinnen und Spinnen: Märchendeutungen aus kulturhistorischer Sicht," tales in which the name of the spinning helper must be guessed were originally riddle tales, and the names themselves tended to differ in each tale (70). From this Zipes concludes, "In other words, the name is irrelevant, and the guessing game is mainly important because it provides suspense in the narrative structure of the tale" (Fairy Tale as Myth 63). From a historical perspective this is true, and it probably applies to the German name "Rumpelstilzchen," which seems to have its origins in the game "Rumpele stilt," as mentioned in Johann Fischart's Gargantua (1575), and has not been shown to bear a particular thematic relevance to the tale for which it is so famous.7
Though existing secondary literature has not detected a particular thematic meaning of the name "Rumpelstilzchen," it is interesting to note potential connotations. It is not clear whether stilz can be related to Stiel (Middle High German stil), but M. Höfler notes in Deutsches Krankheitsnamen-Buch associations of the word Stiel with the penis (686) and defines the verb rummeln or rumpeln (to rumble) as a "hin und her lärmen, rasseln, tosen, sausen, poltern etc." (clamoring, rattling, roaring, rushing, blustering back and forth, 531). Rummel (or Rumpel, commotion or hubbub), according to Höfler, could be used to refer to coitus or labor during childbirth (532). These potential connotations are particularly significant when one considers the many twentiethcentury critics (Sigmund Freud among them) who equate Rumpelstiltskin with the phallus. It is nevertheless impossible to prove what, if any, particular meaning the name "Rumpelstilzchen" bears, and as Rumpf and Zipes have noted, the name in riddle tales like "Rumpelstiltskin" functions chiefly as a means to provide suspense as the protagonist attempts to guess it. The name itself is largely arbitrary. Far more important, in my view, than Rumpelstiltskin's actual name are the various incorrect guesses the queen makes in "Rumpelstiltskin," since these guesses yield insights into the queen's character and her view of her helper-turned-tormentor.
With regard to these incorrect guesses, one might of course simply argue that Wilhelm Grimm included them merely to add suspense to the narrative, or to add to its uniformity. After all, each time Rumpelstiltskin spins, the wheel makes the sound "schnurr, schnurr, schnurr," always "dreimal gezogen" (drafted three times), and the spool is full; similarly, the miller's daughter offers three possessions in exchange for Rumpelstiltskin's services and guesses three names at a time. Though the name trios certainly add in this way to the structural uniformity of the tale, as my analysis has shown it appears that the names themselves were not selected arbitrarily but are meant to reveal the queen's perceptions of Rumpelstiltskin. These perceptions heighten her maternal concerns and in so doing reinforce the Grimms' promotion of women's roles as wives and mothers.
These concerns are gendered in the tale, but it is nevertheless difficult to read the trios of names guessed by the queen without thinking of Wilhelm Grimm's own lifelong battle with respiratory illness, or in particular of the death of his and wife Dortchen's firstborn child on December 15, 1826, at just over eight months of age. With regard to the death of his infant son, Wilhelm wrote in a letter of December 26, 1826, to Achim von Arnim:
Mein Kind hat sieben Wochen krank gelegen und ist am 15. d. Mts. gestorben, und vor acht Tagen habe ich es zu seiner Ruhestätte neben meine selige Mutter begleitet und die erste Erde auf seinen Sarg geworfen. Bis zu dieser Krankheit war es vollkommen wohl, blühend vor Gesundheit, und da die ersten Zähne ohne Schmerz und Schwierigkeit hervorkamen, so glaubten wir uns schon sicher, aber eine ungewöhnliche Leberkrankheit hat es uns doch weggenommen. Die Krankheit war ohne Unterlaß heftig, nur selten und auf kurze Zeit faßte ich einige Hoffnung. Die Nacht, in der es acht Stunden und länger mit dem Tode rang, werde ich niemals vergessen, noch fühle ich, wie sein armes Herz unter heftigen Krämpfen bebte, (qtd. in Schoof 201-02)8
My child lay ill for seven weeks and died on the 15th of this month. Eight days ago I accompanied him to his resting place next to my blessed mother and threw the first earth onto his coffin. Until this illness he was perfectly well, blooming with health, and since his first teeth had come in without pain and difficulty we believed that all was now safe, but an unusual liver illness took him away from us. The illness was without intermission severe, only seldom and for a short while did I muster any hope. I will never forget the night he struggled with death for eight hours and longer, and I still feel how his poor heart quivered under the violent convulsions.
This letter was written seven years after the publication of the second edition of the KHM, the edition in which the queen first hopes that Rumpelstiltskin is like a benevolent Magus and fears that he may be a "Rippenbiest" or some other malevolent force. The queen's maternal concerns in "Rumpelstiltskin" are thus concerns that later confront Wilhelm Grimm and his wife as parents, not only with regard to the death of their son Jacob, but also when their secondborn child (their son Herman) grew dangerously ill as a three-month-old infant in 1828. As Wilhelm wrote in a letter of March 22, 1828, to Karl Hartwig Gregor von Meusebach:
Auch bei uns hat es ein paar ernsthafte Tage gegeben, das Kind, das bei seiner Geburt stark und gesund, und wie man sagte ungewöhnlich groß war, wollte nicht mehr gedeihen und ward nach einem unbedeutenden Unwohlsein so hinfällig, daß es einmal mit einer Todtenfarbe im Gesicht wie leblos dalag, und ich ein paar Stunden lang alle Hoffnung aufgab. Es erholte sich zwar wieder und ist jetzt leidlich wohl, lacht auch schon recht freundlich, aber innerlich denke ich oft, daß es uns Gott nicht läßt, es sieht auch zu gescheidt und zu blaß aus. Dieser Verlust würde uns noch härter als das erstemal niederschlagen; aber lassen Sie sich mit keinem Wort in einem Briefe merken, daß ich Ihnen das geschrieben habe, denn die Dortchen, nachdem sie während der Gefahr Fassung und Geistesgegenwart hatte, wurde doch nachher von Sorge und Angst angegriffen, daß sie selbst krank wurde, und ich froh bin, sie wieder hergestellt zu sehen, (qtd. in Schoof 204-05)
We, too, have experienced a few serious days. Our child, who after his birth was strong and healthy, was no longer thriving and after an insignificant period of unwellness became so frail that he at one point lay lifeless with the color of death in his face. He convalesced again and is now fairly well, but inside I often think that God will not leave him with us, because he looks too wise and too pale. This loss would hit us even harder than the first one; but please give no indication in a letter that I have written to you of this, because after retaining composure and presence of mind during the critical period, Dortchen became so seized with sorrow and fear that she herself grew ill, and I am glad to see her health now restored.
Wilhelm Grimm's own sense of the pricelessness and vulnerability of life is conveyed in both of these letters. Though he wrote the letters several years after adding the two trios of names to "Rumpelstiltskin," they yield insights into his own valuing of life as a father. His own experience of parenthood, in short, suggests that he would identify far more with the queen's valuing of her infant's life in "Rumpelstiltskin" than with the male characters' greed for gold. He is, of course, not accusing a dwarf of stealing his thriving infant and leaving a sickly or deformed changeling in its place, but his fear for his son is nevertheless similar to that fear, expressed by the queen's incorrect guesses in "Rumpelstiltskin," that harm will come to her child. As Lutz Röhrich has noted with regard to changeling motifs in Germanic folklore, "Rumpelstilzchen verlangt nach einem Menschenkind genau wie die Zwerge der Sage, die ihre eigenen häßlichen Kinder dem Menschen als Wechselbälge unterschieben und sich Menschenkinder stehlen" (Just like the dwarfs in legends who foist their own ugly children on humans and steal human children, Rumpelstiltskin demands a human child for himself; Sage und Märchen 285).
My own purpose is not to establish whether or not Rumpelstiltskin is actually a manifestation of such a dwarf, or perhaps even a symbolic representation of disease and deformity; instead, my point is that the second trio of names guessed by the queen suggests that she, as constructed in particular by Wilhelm Grimm, perceives him as such. Because I am emphasizing the queen's perception of Rumpelstiltskin rather than any actual role he might play, my reading does not necessarily dismiss the many other interpretations of his role. For example, Röhrich notes that in many versions the little man demands the girl herself, not her child, thus paralleling medieval legends in which dwarfs steal human women (Sage und Märchen 285), and in recent decades interpretations have focused on Rumpelstiltskin's role as a dwarf who desires the body of the miller's daughter (Fink), or who "wants a child without having to engage in intercourse to obtain it" (McGlathery 79). My own reading seeks not to repudiate, but rather to recontextualize, these and other interpretations of what McGlathery regards as "perhaps the most obscure and puzzling" of the betterknown Grimm tales (77). It is entirely possible that Rumpelstiltskin desires the miller's daughter; regardless of his actual intentions, however, her guesses indicate that she first hopes he is benevolent and then fears that he represents disease or deformity. In light of the Grimms' Calvinist values, their well-known efforts to sanitize sexuality from the tales, and their nineteenth-century views concerning women's proper roles, it is not surprising that the queen's incorrect guesses emphasize her role as a protective (and pious) mother rather than accentuating other meanings frequently associated with the tale.
What is surprising, however, is that more attention has not been paid to these guesses, or to the productive function they play in the tale. Instead, the queen's obvious passivity in the tale has frequently been overemphasized. Lutz Röhrich writes, "In beiden Proben löst die Müllerstochter nicht selbst die ihr gestellte Aufgabe, weder das Spinnen noch das Namenerraten. Sie ist eine rein passive Gestalt, deren Haupttätigkeit das Weinen und Klagen über ihr Schicksal ist" (In both tests the miller's daughter fails to accomplish the assigned task, whether spinning or name-guessing. She is a purely passive figure whose main activity is crying and despairing over her fate; Sage und Märchen 286). Though the daughter is indeed a passive figure, the limited agency demanded of her within the passive role she is consigned to is nevertheless striking. She, a nameless miller's daughter, is told she must name her helper-turned-tormentor; a child whose father recklessly boasted about her must, as queen, protect her own child from danger after having had no choice but to imperil it with her bargain.
Viewed in this light, the queen's incorrect guesses become particularly significant. Though the queen does not produce spun gold or the correct name on her own, she does produce, in addition to her child, the various guesses that she hopes will save it from Rumpelstiltskin: "Nun dachte die Königin die ganze Nacht über an alle Namen, die sie jemals gehört hatte, und schickte einen Boten aus über Land, der sollte sich erkundigen weit und breit nach neuen Namen" (Now the queen thought the whole night through of all the names she had ever heard, and she sent a messenger out across the land to inquire far and wide about new names; KHM 2nd ed., 1: 199).
Passive though the queen is, her assembling of the names she already knows and the new names her messenger brings back constitutes a productive, if desperate, search for old and new that might even be compared with the Grimms' collecting and editing of their tales. Maria Tatar has seen in "Rumpelstiltskin" a tale that "shows us how the straw of domestic labor can be transformed into the gold that captures the heart of a king" and thus that it "thematizes the labor that gives birth to storytelling" (257). As the queen's incorrect guesses further illustrate, this labor is manifested not only in the oral tradition or in the versions as told to the Grimms by their informants, but also in the written Buchmärchen as edited and revised by Wilhelm Grimm in particular.
1. This essay is part of a larger project on disability, deformity, and disease in the Grimms' fairy tales. My research for this project was made possible by a University of Colorado LEAP research grant.
2. See, for example, Marshall.
3. The various editions of the Grimms' !under- und Hausmärchen are referred to in this essay using the abbreviation KHM, followed by the edition number, volume number (if relevant), and page number. Unless otherwise noted, all translations in this essay are my own.
4. See folder Nachlass Grimm 306 ("Sammlung von Zetteln mit Notizen zur Mythologie"), folder "Krankheit," no. 609, in the Grimms' archival materials in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. Weyer (also known as Wier) is also referred to in the chapter on illnesses in the first edition of Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie.
5. Johan Weyer writes in his Arzney Buch of 1580, "Im gleichen Schurbein, da die Schenckeln von solchen Plagen mehres theils verletzet, derhalb von der Hollendern genennet Blauschwit, wegen der braunen Flecken, die sich an den Beinen und andern Orten offenbaren" (The same is true of Schurbein, since the thighs are in many places so wounded from these miseries. This is why the Dutch call it Blauschwit, because of the brown spots that appear on the legs and elsewhere; 2). In Deutsches Krankheitsnamen-Buch, M. Höfler notes the many spelling variations of Schurbein, including "Scheuerbein," "Schorbein," "Schurbein," and "Schyrbein" (36-37).
6. Rölleke notes that Hinz and Kunz (taken from the Kaiser names Heinrich and Konrad) were among the most common medieval names in Germany (KHM 3rd ed., 1223n253.4). One might add that the Grimms briefly discuss the German expression "er sey Heinz oder Cunz" in the afterword to their edition of Hartmann von Aue's Der arme Heinrich (216), and that the stock characters in aphorisms by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and others frequently bear the names Hinz and Kunz.
7. For a commentary on the origins of the name "Rumpelstilzchen" in Fischarts Gargantua, see Lutz Röhrichs Sage und Märchen 280 and 283. See also Röhrich, "The Quest of Meaning in Folk Narrative Research" 2.
8. See also his letter of 21 April 1827 to Karl Lachmann (qtd. in Schoof 203-04.)
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Ann Schmiesing is an associate professor at the University of Colorado. Her research interests include eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German and Scandinavian drama, theater history, book illustration, and fairy tales. She has written on authors such as G. E. Lessing, Daniel Chodowiecki, Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel, Bjornstjerne Björnson, Henrik Wergeland, and Johan Falkberget. Her book Norway's Christiania Theatre, 1827-1867: From Danish Showhouse to National Stage was published in 2006.