Friday, March 25, 2011

The Shoemaker and the Elves

This is a classic Brothers Grimm  story which presents some difficulty for the modern storyteller. Obviously, the shoemaker has to eventually become independent of the elves, or else it's just not fair that he gets this magical assist without having to do any work for it. It's that whole thing of buying someone a fish versus teaching them to fish. 

Once upon a time and long ago, there lived a shoemaker named Schumacher. This was just a meaningless coincidence, as he came from a long line of accountants. It had caused quite a stir when he told his parents he wanted to be a shoemaker instead of an accountant, but, in the end, they were supportive in his chosen field. When he was old enough, he opened his own shop called Shoemaker Schumachers…No, I mean, Schumacher Shoemakers…I think. In those days, shoes were made by hand, not in factories like they are today. So being a shoemaker took patience, dedication and skill, and these Schumacher had to spare.

What he didn’t have enough of was money. Times had been tough in the village where he lived and worked, and he had no idea how he was going to make ends meet. And it wasn’t just him he was worried about, but his wife, Mrs. Shoemaker…that is, Mrs. Schumacher. And it wouldn’t be long before Schumacher and his wife heard the pitter-patter of little shoes…I mean, little shoemakers…NO! Schumachers! Little shoe—schu—

Aw, skip it!

The point is, that Schu…The Shoemaker had so little money he could only afford enough leather to make one pair of shoes. And even if he sold the shoes, he would only make enough money to buy one more pair’s worth of leather and if he sold that pair…and so on and so on and so forth. He couldn’t survive like that. But, what could he do? He cut the leather for the shoes and decided to wait till the next morning to sew them and hammer on the soles. With a weary yawn, he went to bed.

The next morning, imagine Schumacher’s surprise to see that the leather had already been sewn into a beautiful pair of shoes. The workmanship was superb, the stitching so intricate that one would think it had been sewn by tiny hands. Neither Schumacher nor his wife had any idea how the shoes had come to be finished.

That very same day, a wealthy man came into the shop. “I certainly hope you can help me,” said the gentleman. “I have very sensitive feet and it is next to impossible for me to find a pair of shoes that fits me comfortably. Perhaps you have…oh, my! What a handsome pair of shoes.” He tried on the mysterious pair of shoes and found that they fit as though they had been made to his exact measurements. He was so elated to have found a decent pair at last, that he gave Schumacher twice the price of the shoes and went on his way.

Schumacher and his wife were happy, but confused. Who had finished the shoes? Who could have made them so quickly and so fine? What are the odds that they would fit that guy who just happened to walk into the shop today? (Had they known they were in a fairy tale, they probably would’ve assumed magic, but they didn’t, and such is life) And most importantly, what are we to do now? Because, generous though the gentleman had been, they still only had enough money to buy leather for two pairs of shoes. It was certainly unlikely that they would be granted another miracle like the one that had happened the night before.

So, seeing no other alternative, Schumacher cut the leather for two more pairs of shoes and went to bed, vowing to finish the shoes in the morning.

Well, would you believe it? Once again, he awoke to find the shoes finished, and so beautifully! And once again, two people came into the shop and declared that the shoes were precisely what they wanted and paid handsomely for them. Which, for those of you who paid attention during multiplication lessons, means they now could afford enough leather to make four pairs of shoes. And when Schumacher left the cut leather on his workbench and went to bed…sure enough, the next morning he found four beautiful pairs of shoes.

This went on for several nights. All the while, Schumacher’s popularity in the village grew, and demand for his shoes had never been higher. All he had to do was keep cutting the leather and leaving it overnight and he was sure to have a shop full of shoes the next morning.

The whole “magic” idea was becoming more and more obvious to the happy couple.

After about a week and a half of this, Schumacher and his wife decided it was time to find out who their mysterious benefactor was. So, they hid themselves in the shop and tried to stay awake all night long. Sadly, this was before Starbucks had been invented, and without the aid of caffeine, they fell fast asleep.

Later in the night, however, they were awakened by a strange clicking sound, like…like…well, as it turns out, like a tiny hammer hammering in a nail. Because from their hiding place at the back of the shop, Schumacher and his wife saw who it was who had been helping them all this time:


Tiny little men and women, with pointy ears, tattered clothes and, ironically, bare feet. One stitching the pieces of leather together. One threading the laces through the holes. One with his little hammer hammering the nails in to keep the soles attached to the shoes. There had to have been a dozen or more, which is how they were able to finish so quickly. Schumacher and his wife stayed up the rest of the night, watching silently as the elves worked with great swiftness and dexterity. But, when the first light of dawn crept in through a crack in the window, the elves quickly put the finishing touches on the shoes and disappeared without a sound.

Schumacher walked through the shop in amazement. It was full of wonderful shoes. And now that he had seen the elves work, he felt certain he could duplicate their methods and make shoes just as good himself. Those kind little elves had saved him and his wife from poverty and destitution…which was awesome.

“They have been so kind to us,” said Schumacher’s wife, who doesn’t have a proper name because her role in the story is so small and I can’t be bothered to think up names for everyone. “Perhaps there is something we can do for them.”

“I know just what we can do, dear,” said her husband. “But we’d better do it quickly. It’s almost time to open the shop.”

So, the shoemaker and his wife prepared their gifts for the elves quickly and then opened the shop to the public. It was their best day ever and they made lots and lots of money. They went to sleep that night, feeling secure about their future for the first time in a long while.

Meanwhile, that night, when the elves appeared in the shop, they were surprised to find no leather, cut for shoes, no half-finished boots or aborted moccasins that needed repairing, gluing, nailing or lacing. All they found, right in the center of the shoemaker’s workbench, was a little note saying “Thanks for everything. I hope these fit” and…clothes! The Schumachers had noticed the ragged clothes the elves wore, so Mrs. Schumacher had made them each a new suit of clothes. Mr. Schumacher himself put his newfound shoemaking skills to the test by making tiny, tiny shoes for each and every elf.

Schumacher never saw the elves again, but the next morning he and his wife saw that all the gifts they had made were gone, and there was a new note in their place which read, simply, “Everything fits perfectly.” From that day on, Shoemaker was known as the finest Schumacher in all the land…no, I mean Schumaker mocked the fined shoes…no, I mean he showed the machest shoos that made the shoeiest makes that…Never mind.!


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) Not yet available on DVD, but occassionally turns up on TMC: A lavish biopic of the Brothers (it’s unclear how accurate it is) with three “story sequences,” one of which is based on this story and features some adorable stop-motion elves.
  • “The Elves and the Shoemaker” by John Cech and Kirill Chelushki, A beautifully ilustrated children’s book which is much better than my version.
  • "Muppet Classic Theater" (Video)(1994) Kermit and Robin play the shoemaker and his nephew who are visited in the middle of the night by three Elvises who fill the shop with blue suede shoes. I just think it's funny. I wish they'd put this on DVD already.

Next Week: "The Pied Piper of Hamelin"

Friday, March 11, 2011

Godfather Death

Death is a pretty common theme in fairy tales, but there have been only a hand full of stories about Death. One noteable exception is "Godfather Death" by the Brothers Grimm. My telling, however, incorporates elements from a few other stories, including “Death’s Messengers” and “The Wonderful Glass” also by the Brothers Grimm and clearly descendants of the same ancestral story.

I have, in the past, been criticized for this blog's pro-happy ending stance. Certain readers have indicated that my reworking of otherwise unhappy tales is "giving them diabetes," to paraphrase one specific unsolicited review. If you are one of these who are disatisfied with happy endings, I reccomend that this week's entry be the last that you read. I also reccomend you avoid fairy tales entirely and read grown up books, pausing only briefly to wonder what made you think you'd find morbid material in a collection of what are, essentially, childrens' stories.

However, if for no other reason than to prove to my friend that I can write dark stories, I just choose not to because they are bummers, I offer this week's story. A sort of morality play on the subject of avoiding, outsmarting, and conquering one of the admittedly few things that every single living creature on this planet has in common.

Everything that lives, dies. This is the way of the world, and cannot be changed nor altered in any way. Death, with his sweeping black cloak, his cold, empty eyes and his beckoning hand, can be delayed, of course, through good health and security, but even then, he might have an unforseen trick up his sleeve. But we shouldn't fear his coming. We should just make sure that the life we live before he arrives has been a good one, as this has so far proved to be the only thing that makes knowledge of Death's arrival easier to handle: A life well-lived. Avoid, Death, certainly. But don't try to conquer him. That is the mistake made by the Death's Godsons.

The father of these infamous young men was traveling much further and much longer than he should have at his age when he come upon a figure lying prone by the side of the road. Without a thought, he rushed over to see if he could help the man. Had he paused, he might've noticed that the only things protruding from the figure's black, black cloak were the hands and feet of a skeleton. But it was not until he had helped the spectre to its feet that this man realized that he was in the presence of Death himself. And, like virtually all men before and since, he feared the cloaked figure immensely.

“I was waiting on this road for you, old man,” said Death, “when I was set upon by a pack of wild dogs. That is how I came to be hurt when you found me. But now, you must come with me, for your time is nigh.” The old man continued to shiver and sweat, but he nodded his acceptance to Death. “However,” said Death after a moment's thought, “you did help me when you had no reason to, and for that I believe I owe you. I shall be godfather to your three sons,” (it didn't occur to the man to ask how Death knew of his sons), “and to each I shall give a great gift. A powerful, unique item which will ensure their great fortune for the rest of their days.” The man thanked Death and went to his reward peacefully, knowing, at least, that his sons would be all right.

Death has been called many things, but he could not be called a liar. He was as good as his word. He bestowed upon his godsons three objects of unparalleled power. To Tom, the eldest son, he gave a small glass full to the brim with water which, though quite cool to the touch, appeared to be perpetually boiling. “If you come across a person on their sick bed,” he explained, “look at them through the water in this glass. And if you see me at the foot of the bed, then they can be cured by sprinkling them with water from the glass. But if I am at the head of the bed, then it is too late, and I must have them.”

Philip, the middle son, received a magic sack. “Bid any animal get inside,” came Death's explanation, “and they will do so, and stay in the sack until you let them out.” Philip asked if it would work for men just as well. “Man is an animal, too,” was Death's sinister reply.

Finally, there was Harold. Harold, the youngest of the three, was the closest to their father and took the news of his passing the hardest of all. To him, Death gave a magic mirror to hang in his home. “If you miss your father, or any deceased person, simply think of them while looking in this mirror, and they will be reflected as though they are standing next to you. You can talk to them, ask them questions, but they can never leave the mirror.”

“Thank you,” said Harold, the first brother to do so, upon receiving his gift. “I'll use it well.”

Tom used the magic glass to become a great Healer. From all over the country, people would come to him with their ailing friends and relations and beg him for help. So he would go the sickbed, and look at them through his magic glass. And when he found Death at the foot of the bed, he sprinkled the cool, boiling water over the patient and they would be instantly cured. But when he found his godfather at the head of the bed, he told the family that there was nothing he could do, that the patient was beyond help. Of course, some people were upset to hear this and got angry with Tom, but most, knowing his power from his reputation, understood that if he said he couldn't help, he could not help, and thanked him for his time and counsel.

And all was going well for Tom, until the fateful day when he fell in love. He was taking a drink at a tavern when the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen burst in. “Are you the great healer? My father is very ill. Please, come quickly!”

Happy to help, espeically one so beautiful, Tom followed her to her father's bed. He took out his magic glass and looked through...and, alas, there sat Death at the head of the bed. The old man's time had come, and he, Tom, had to accept that. But he could not bring himself to let down this woman who was counting on him. So he hastily ordered, much to the confusion of the assembled, that the old man be turned in his bed, and his head placed at the foot of the bed, and his feet placed at the head. When this was done, Tom looked once again through his glass, and there, sitting at what was now the foot of the bed, was Death, looking furious. But the water was sprinkled and the old man revived. He was so pleased to be cured that he at once offered Tom his daughter's hand in marriage.

It was the happiest moment of Tom's life...but when he was alone again, he looked into the magic glass and in the bubbling water he saw his godfather looking back at him. “How dare you defy my will!” Death cried. “You know the rules. When I mark someone, they are mine, and you must not interfere. I will forgive you this time, but do not let this happen again!” The water bubbled more fiercely and the image of Death dissolved.

But Tom wasn't worried about his godfather's threat. He married the beautiful woman, lived in a beautiful home, had three beautiful children and lived a truly beautiful life...but Tom was tempted once again when he was called to the home of a poor old woman with many children who depended on her to survive. And when he looked through the glass, Death was at the head of her bed. Out of a desire to be merciful and spare these poor children, Tom once again cheated Death out of another soul and cured the old woman. The water in the glass bubbled fiercely and overflowed, spilling on Tom's hands and burning them, though the water in the glass remained cool.

A few years passed and Tom, his burn long ago healed, had once again forgotten all about Death's warnings. Until the terrible day when his own son took ill. And Tom knew that Death was challenging him, daring him to defy his will a third time and his son was just a pawn in Death's twisted game. Filled with the fury of a father protecting his son, Tom sent word to his brother, Philip, to come and see his ailing nephew...and to bring his sack.

Philip arrived only a few days later. In the intervening years he had become a successful hunter, thanks to the magic of his sack. The rarest and most elusive game walked willingly into his sack at his command. He had a wife and children of his own and they wanted for nothing. But when Philip heard of the cruel trick Death was playing on Tom and his family, he was just as angry as his brother. And the two of them went to the boy's sick bed. And Tom looked through his magic glass. And there was Death, standing at the head of the boy's bed with a sickening smile on his skeleton face. And Philip looked through the glass too and cried out, “Death! Get into my sack!” Death had no choice. He climbed into Philip's sack. Philip tied it shut at once and he and Tom took it outside, promising to tie the sack to a high tree branch and never let him out again.

“No!” cried Death from inside the sack. “I beg of you, let me out! Let me out! Do you not know what the world would be like without me? If I cannot claim the souls of the deceased, then everyone will live forever. The world will get so full up that there won’t be room for everyone. I must perform my duties!”

“We will release you, Godfather,” said Tom, with cruelty poured into each word. “But you are to leave me alone from now on.”

“I shall,” said Death and the brothers released him. “Perhaps,” said Death as he departed, “in the future you will learn to choose your words with greater care.” And with no further explanation, he was gone.

Of course, Tom's son was cured at once. The whole family was glad of this and Philip took his magic sack and headed for his own home, to tell his own wife and children of the good news. But when Tom looked at his magic glass again, he found the water was still. The bubbles had gone. He put his finger in. The water was tepid, room temperature. It was just an ordinary glass filled with ordinary water. And suddenly the meaning of Death's parting words became clear to him. He had chosen his words poorly and Death had sworn to leave Tom alone from now on.

The years passed and there was sickness, and injury, but always recovery. The children grew and left, starting families of their own. Tom and his wife grew very, very old together before she finally succumbed to Death and passed away. In time, Tom's brothers passed away and left their treasures to him. More time passed and even his children had grown old and gone with Death to the next world. But Death would not come for Tom. He grew old, he grew sick, he grew weak. But Death would not come for Tom. He sat alone in his home, with no one and nothing to comfort him, except an empty glass, a burlap sack and a mirror.

Tom looked at himself in the mirror. His face was lined and gray and, were he not moving, a stranger might well think he had died years ago. He could not help but think of his brothers, and as soon as he did, there they were, reflected in the mirror on either side of him and, without thinking, Tom looked to see if they were actually standing next to him. Then he turned back to the mirror. “At least we can see each other again,” he said. His eye fell to his younger brother, Harold, who was smiling warmly at him. “Tell me, brother,” Tom said, “how did you manage to live so happily and so well. Why were you not burdened with Death’s gifts as I was?”

“I used the mirror to speak to our father, and other deceased persons. From them I gained wisdom and knowledge which helped me to lead a long, fulfilling life. And when my father appeared in the mirror and told me that my godfather had come for me, I accepted it. I didn’t fight, I didn’t beg for more time. I simply went with Death when he arrived.”

“Death,” said Philip, sagely, “is not so terrible or difficult or frightful as life.”


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • "Jim Henson's The Storyteller" (TV) The episode "The Soldier and Death" uses  elements from the same stories I culled from. It is based on an old Russian fable, which may have been the ancestral story I alluded to in my introduction.
  • "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" by J.K. Rowling. In this companion volume to her 'Harry Potter' series, Ms. Rowling gives us five fairy tales such as wizarding children might have heard while we were hearing Snow White and Cinderella. The best of these is, in my opinion, "The tale of the Three Brothers" which features prominently in the last Potter novel, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Perhaps the Grimm story inspired Ms. Rowling with the idea of Death bestowing gifts on humans which are then used to try and outdo him.
For More Great Stories, Click HERE

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Man Who Spun Straw Into Gold

Of course, we all know what this story is really called, but I always thought it was a shame that the biggest surprise in the story was given away by the title. So I came up with this alternate title, which preserves the mystery of the man's name. 

It came to pass that King Rupert’s mother decided he needed a wife. You might not immediately think that this was any of his mother’s business and, in fact, the king himself felt very much the same way. But the Queen Mother (which is what you call ladies whose sons are kings) assured him that she knew best. Rupert was very young for a king, having taken over the throne following the death of his father when poor Rupert was only fifteen years old. Only three years had past and he was slightly more confident in his kingly abilities, but it turns out it’s hard to gain self-confidence when your mother is standing over your shoulder subtly hinting at what she would do if she were in charge of the kingdom and saying things like “Mother knows best,” which is very hard to argue with, especially when you are of a sensitive disposition, like our King Rupert.

So once it was decided that Rupert needed a wife, the Queen Mother issued a proclamation, which is a thing royal persons get to do, and sent her most loyal men out into the kingdom to find someone worthy to be the King’s new bride. Someone beautiful. Someone special. Someone unique.

“Someone,” said Rupert to himself, “who likes me.”

Meanwhile in the Village of Zam, on the far end of King Rupert’s kingdom, lived a humble Yam Farmer named Yom and his beautiful daughter, Pamela. In other words, Pam and Yom the Yam Farmers of Zam, which is hard to say but fun if you can pull it off. Pamela took very good care of her father and helped keep his yam business afloat. And, of course, all the local boys were fascinated by her beauty and wanted to be her boyfriend, but she didn’t want any of them. All they cared about was her beauty and she wanted someone nice. Someone kind. Someone special.

“Someone,” she told herself often, “who likes me.”

One day, when Pamela had gone into town to buy some supplies, one of the shopkeepers noticed her handkerchief.

“Ooh!” said Mrs. Miggins. “What a lovely hanky. Wherever did you get it?”

“I made it myself,” said Pamela proudly. “I make lots of things with my mother’s old spinning wheel.”

“Well it’s just lovely. Would you make one for me? I’d pay for it.”

Pamela was more than happy to oblige and the next day she came back to town to give Mrs. Miggins her very own, homemade handkerchief. And Mrs. Miggins showed her friends and they all thought it was fine. And they all found out that Pamela, the yam farmer’s daughter had made it and wanted their own. First it was hankies, then it was stockings and trousers and jackets and before long, Pamela was making clothes and things for everyone in the Village of Zam.

And that would’ve been just fine, until one day when Yom went into town himself. He was talking to a shopkeeper who noted that he and his daughter had a lot of extra money now that she was making these things.

“I know,” said Yom, never dreaming that his next words would change the course of his and his daughter’s lives forever, “sometimes it’s like she’s spinning pure gold on that wheel.”

Now I’m sure you know how careless talk can get out of hand and, as it happened, someone overheard Yom saying that. Then that person told a friend, and that person told a friend, and that person didn’t really have many friends, but he told someone anyway, and so on down the line until the entire village was irrevocably convinced that Pamela could spin pure gold on her spinning wheel.

By a stroke of incredibly bad luck, it wasn’t long after this rumor started being spread that King Rupert’s mother herself came to town to find a bride for her son. She and her advisors asked around to see if there was a girl in town who was remarkable, special, unique or otherwise noteworthy.

“Well, you’ll want Pamela Yom, the Yam Farmer’s Daughter,” was the unanimous reply. “She can spin straw into gold!” Obviously, this statement was of great interest to Rupert’s mother and she and her men went at once to Yom’s Yam Farm and asked to see Pamela…who was quite overwhelmed by the whole thing, lemme tell you. First of all to be talking to the Queen Mother at all was something extraordinary. Not to mention the fact that she had sought her out and specifically requested to see her, which was nothing short of a tremendous honor.

Needless to say, what with one thing and another floating through her head, Pamela was having a hard time really listening to what her ruler was saying to her. She was nodding her head and saying “Yes, Your Majesty” without really thinking about it or knowing what she was reacting to. So when the Queen Mother suddenly said, “Why, this is wonderful! How do you do it?” she was slightly thrown off. It quickly became apparent that simply nodding her head wasn’t going to cut it this time, but she had no idea what the king was talking about.

“Oh,” she said, thinking on her feet, “it’s an old family secret.”

“I would be honored if you would accompany me to the castle and perform this feat for me,” said the Queen Mother. “And I’m sure my handsome and charming son would be honored as well.”

“Come? With you? To the castle? To perform…what feat?”

“Why, spinning straw into gold, of course.” 

“Oh, of course. Spinning straw into—WHAT?!?!?

Now, I think I had better explain something to you. The Queen Mother was an amalgamation of the worst qualities of both queens and mothers. Powerful, hot-tempered, protective, demanding, short-sighted, and unwilling to accept certain unpleasant truths. She was also very imposing and Pamela found she was actually afraid of the old woman. Not to mention how horrible it would be to admit that she hadn’t been listening all this time. To deny that she had this ability now would be dangerous and Pamela didn’t dare do it…So, nervous as a mouse in a cat disguise, she journeyed back to the King’s castle, wondering all the way what the heck she was going to do.

Pamela was in serious trouble. As soon as she had arrived at the castle, she had been shown by two guards to the King and when she saw him for the first time, she completely forgot about the terrible fix she was in for the briefest of moments. She could see in the King’s eyes that he was a good man, an honorable man, a gentle and forgiving man…

Course, it didn’t hurt that he was also a major boy-babe.

They talked briefly before the Queen Mother returned and said, “Come, come, son. Don’t talk the girl’s head off. She has work to do.”

“I have?” said Pamela, slowly coming back to reality.

“Of course. All that straw isn’t going to spin itself into gold.”

“Mother,” ventured the King, nervously, “is this test really nessa—”

“It most certainly is nessa, don’t talk back to your mother. Come along, young lady.” So saying, she grabbed Pamela roughly by the arm and dragged her to a large room which was full almost completely with straw. The only thing in the room that wasn’t straw was the wooden spinning wheel in the center of the room. “Your task is simple,” said the Queen Mother. “You have one night to spin this entire room full of straw into solid gold. If this is not done by tomorrow morning, you will be arrested for perjury and punished to the full extent of the law. Sweet dreams.” And with that, the Queen Mother walked out of the room, shut the door, and the last thing Pamela heard was the turning of a heavy lock.

Given the circumstances, I think it’s fair to say that Pamela conducted herself very reasonably: She fell onto the nearest bail of hay and began to sob uncontrollablly.

“Don’t cry, my dear,” came a voice. Pamela looked up and was simply shocked at what she saw. A little man was standing over her. He had a long nose and a wicked grin, very bushy eyebrows and long hair starting at the back of his head and going down past his shoulders. His clothes were ragged and they looked as if they had been sewn together from pieces of hundreds of other garments. When Pamela looked closely at them, she found that this was indeed the case.

“Whatever has made you so unhappy?” asked the Weird Little Man. “It cannot be as bad as all that?” Pamela told the Weird Little Man all about her situation, and all the while he listened very intently. “There, there, child,” he said when she was through and had begun to cry again. “I can help you.”

“You can? How can you?”

“Well, by a staggering coincidence, it just so happens that I can spin straw into gold.”

“You…you can? You mean it’s really possible?”

“It is if you have the knack. And I most certainly have the knack.”

“Would you please help me by spinning this straw into gold?”

“I would be happy to…”

“Oh thank you, my little—”

“…for a fee.”

“A fee? What sort of fee?”

“Well, what have you got?”

The only remotely valuable thing Pamela owned was the ring on her right pinky which had once belonged to her mother. She hated the thought of losing it, but as she hated the thought of losing her life even more, she pulled it off and offered it to the Weird Little Man, who took it greedily and examined it closely.

“This will do nicely,” he said. “Now, you lie down and get some rest, child. I have some work to do.” The Weird Little Man snickered gleefully and went to work. Pamela lay back on a bail of hay to watch the Weird Little Man work. She fell asleep to the hypnotic sight of amber bails of hay turning magically into fine golden thread.

When Pamela awoke the next morning, it was to a blinding light all around her. The sun was coming in through the window and reflecting off the thousand bails of hay which had now become a thousand bails of gold. It was a stunningly beautiful sight. The Weird Little Man was nowhere to be seen, but Pamela didn’t care. Shortly after she awoke, the door to her prison opened and in stepped King Rupert, who was stunned by what he saw as well.

“Holy cow!” he cried in a way most unbecoming of a king. “You really did it!”

“Er…yeah, I guess I did,” said Pamela, unconvincingly. But it seemed to convince the King who was very impressed by her talent and asked her at one if she would be his queen.

“Not so fast!” came a chillingly familiar voice as the Queen Mother entered. “I think this is not sufficient dowery for a king’s bride, don’t you agree, my son?”

“Well, frankly, Mother—”

“Yes, I thought you would. So, we’ll prepare another room full of straw and tonight—”

“What?” Pamela was unable to stop herself from crying out. “You want me to do that again?”

“It’s no trouble, is it?” asked the Queen Mother. “After all, I only want to make sure my son is marrying the very best maiden in the land. Unless you think he doesn’t deserve the best.”

Pamela looked at the man she now realized she wanted to marry more than anything else in the world and agreed that he deserved the very best. And, though not certain that she qualified, especially with all the lying she was doing, she spent the rest of the day with the King, becoming better acquainted. It might have been the happiest day of her life, until sundown, when the Queen Mother took her and locked her up in another roomfull of straw until morning.

Surrounded once again by bails upon bails of straw, Pamela fell once again to despair. She knew there was no chance that the miracle which saw her through the previous night would repeat itself to save her now…The fact that it did just goes to show how wrong a person can be about this kind of thing.

“Oh, dear me,” said the Weird Little Man by way of a greeting. “More straw? Whatever shall you do?”

“Please, good sir,” begged Pamela. “You are the only one in the world who can help me. I don’t have any more jewelry to offer you, but—”

“I am not in the habit of working for free,” said the Weird Little Man. “But seeing as how you’re desperate, perhaps we can come to some other arrangment.”

“What do you mean?” asked Pamela. “What do you want?”

Here the Weird Little Man grinned, somewhat maniacally and said, in a very low voice, “Your first born child.”

“You want me to give you my first born child in exchange for spinning straw into gold?”

“If this straw is not spun into gold by dawn, you will be facing certain death. The decision is up to you.”

Well, Pamela thought about this, and the idea of parting with her future son or daughter did not appeal to her. But she was desperate and out of options, so she nodded in agreement…and once again she awoke to the sight of a roomful of gold. The Weird Little Man had, again, vanished without a trace, but he was not missed in the hours that followed when the Queen Mother finally consented to the marriage, arranged for the engagement party, prepared for the wedding, sent invitations to all the important heads of state in the land, and about a million other preparations which thoroughly exhausted her.

It should come as no surprise then that, shortly after the joyous union of her son, Rupert, and his true love, Pamela, the Queen Mother passed away. But this was all to the good as she was rather old and she did die happy in the knowledge that she had found the perfect wife for her son.

The wedding itself took place a mere week after the engagement was announced. It was a beautiful event, and the bride wore a gown made from the very golden thread that everyone believed she had made. They were a very happy couple, and Pamela made a very fine queen. In fact, it looked very much as though it was all going to end happily ever after right then and there, until that terrible, wonderful day when Pamela gave birth to a little daughter, who was called Goldie.

But in all the joy of the last several months, Pamela had completely forgotten her promise to the Weird Little Man. And a few days after Goldie was born, Pamela was cradling the child in her arms when she looked up and saw the Weird Little Man had appeared in front of her.

“The time has come to pay your fee,” said the Weird Little Man, wringing his hands with glee. “Give me the child.”

“No! I won’t let you take her!”

“We had a deal! Or would you like me to tell the entire kingdom who really spun all that straw into gold?”

Pamela knew what would happen if anyone ever found out. But she also knew that she could never part with her child. She clutched Goldie tightly to her chest and cried and cried to the Weird Little Man for mercy. After many long minutes, he finally relented…slightly.

“I will give you one last chance,” said the Weird Little Man. “I will come at this same hour for the next three days. I will stay for three hours each day. If, by the end of the third hour on the third day, you have not been able to guess my name, I will have your daughter!” With a high-pitched cackle, the Weird Little Man vanished. Pamela had no idea what to do, and her tears of sorrow attracted her husband’s attention.

“Pamela, dear,” said Rupert. “What is the matter? Is Goldie all right?”

“She’s fine, she’s just…er, just a little…” Pamela looked into the eyes of her husband. She remembered looking in his eyes the day they met and how much she had been willing to risk in order to marry him. How ever since they got married he had been so devoted to her. How many times she had lain next to him in bed and felt truly happy. She knew that she loved the King with all her heart and could not bear to lie to him anymore.

She told him the truth. The whole truth. How she had misunderstood the Queen Mother when she had first came to her house, how she had inadvertently lied about being able to spin straw into gold, how the Weird Little Man had saved her and how he had given her three days to save her baby. And to her great surprise, King Rupert was not mad.

“I knew you couldn’t do it since the beginning.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“That morning, when I unlocked the door and saw all the gold. You looked as amazed as I did. That’s how I knew that someone else had done it for you. And I certainly didn’t care to find out who it was.”

“But…you married me anyway?”

“Pamela, darling, I didn’t marry you because you could spin straw into gold. I married you because I love you.”

“I love you too, darling.”

“But now we have work to do.” King Rupert summoned his soldiers and gave them an order. “Get the scribes and all my advisors, send them out into the city and the mountains and the forests. Ask every single person they can find what their name is. I need to know every single name in the world.” The men did their master proud. They fanned out all over Rupert’s kingdom and gathered as many names as they could. So when the Weird Little Man appeared again the next day, Pamela had a very, very long list to read from.









For three hours they continued in this way. Pamela reading the names off and the Weird Little Man telling her no. By the time he left, she had gone through the entire list. So King Rupert sent his men out even further and ordered them to gather even more names. Strange names, women’s names, dogs’ names. So when the Weird Little Man returned on the second day, the list was twice as long. But still the answer was the same.










“God, no!”



Three more hours passed and they were no closer to learning the Weird Little Man’s real name. The next morning, when the soldiers reported, the news was very dire indeed.

“We have scoured every corner of the globe, sire. There are simply no more names to be found.”

“Nonsense! There must be!”

But there were none. As the hour of the Weird Little Man’s return grew nearer, Pamela and Rupert were beginning to lose all hope. Until, about ten minutes before he was scheduled to return, there came a loud knocking on the bedroom door. When King Rupert answered it, a very bedraggled-looking courtier entered.

“Forgive this intrusion, sire,” said the courtier. “But I have something very important to tell you.”

“Go on,” said the queen, hopefully.

 “Your majesties,” he said, bowing to the King and Queen. “I am one of the hundreds, nay, thousands, who have been assisting you in your quest for names. I believe I have discovered a new one that might help you in your quest.”

“What is it?” Pamela asked frantically.

“I was in the forest late last night, trying to find something that had been overlooked. We were, all of us, very devoted to this mission, Majesty, as none of us wish any harm to befall the newborn princess. Anyway, I was very tired and had not eaten in hours. But I looked up and I saw a campfire burning. I moved carefully toward it, in case whoever built the fire was an enemy. Instead, I just saw a Weird Little Man, wearing tattered clothes. He was dancing around the fire gleefully and he was singing a song. It went sort of like:

            When tomorrow’s sun has set
            Then I will have won my bet
            And at last, perhaps I’ll get
            My very own claim to fame.

            When you outsmart a Queen and King
            Then you can do anything
            That is why I loudly sing
            Rumplestilskin, that’s my name!

“Rumplestilskin. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that name before. Did that help at all?” asked the courtier.

The King and Queen smiled. “Yes, young man,” said the King. “That helps a great deal.”

The next morning, the Helpful Courtier, woke up to discover that he had been promoted and was now one of the King and Queen’s closest advisors, with a significant pay rise, a much nicer home for he and his wife, and six fine stallions in his own private stable. And that evening, right on schedule, the Weird Little Man appeared.

“Last night!” he said, boastfully. “Where is your list?”

“I’m afraid it’s much shorter today,” said Pamela, trying to pretend she was unhappy. “Is your name Ringo?”








“Rumplestilskin,” repeated Pamela. “That is your name, isn’t it?”

“But…how…why…if…and…but…chicken…that…you…ARGH!!” Rumplestilskin screamed in anguish and stomped around the room. Eventually he got so mad that he stamped his right foot so hard it went through the floorboards and stuck there, then he took his left leg in his hands and pulled himself into two pieces, like a wishbone, both of which vanished in a puff of smoke leaving not a trace behind.

And from that day on, no one in the kingdom of King Rupert, Queen Pamela and Princess Goldie ever heard the name of Rumplestilskin ever again.


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • “Faerie Tale Theatre” (TV) How weird is it that so many consecutive stories have been on this show? Anyway, this version featured show host Shelley Duvall and Ned Beatty as the happy couple and Herve Villechaice (the little guy from Fantasy Island) as the eponymous imp.
  • "Muppet Classic Theatre" (Video) Gonzo the Great is brilliantly typecast as the Weird Little Man. In this version, the king and queen (Kermit and Piggy, of course) learn that their tormentor went to summer camp and therefore correctly presume that his mother sewed his name into his clothes.

NEXT WEEK: “Godfather Death”