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”

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