Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff, 272 pp, RL 4


Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff is a clever exploration and expansion of the classic fairy tale and, as with the original, there is everything in a name. Names and magic are at the heart of Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, which is set in a bleak fairy tale landscape where a king who is hungry for gold satisfies his craving on the backs of is subjects. This world is dotted with gold loving pixies, magic sensing trolls and speedy gnomes used to deliver messages. There are also witches - wood witches and wool witches - who live apart from the rest of society to practice their magic. In this world, magic is as powerful and much harder to control than the power and destiny that the peasants believe is in a name. Unfortunately for our hero, his mother dies before she can bestow his full destiny on him, burdening him with the name Rump. The butt of jokes, pun intended, Rump has lived his twelve years with his grandmother, working in the mines like all the other villagers, trading what little gold the mountain gives up for food and of course, taxes.

Things go from bad to worse for Rump, who has always been small for his age, often being mistaken for an eight-year-old. His grandmother becomes ill and, against her wishes, Rump sets up his mother's old spinning wheel and tries his hand at it, the greedy miller offering to have his daughter Opal give Rump a few lessons for some extra gold. As the constant hum of pixies swarming him increases, Rump realizes that pixies don't just sense gold in the mountain, they can sense it in people. Grabbing the only thing within reach, Rump spins straw into gold and his life goes from bad to worse yet again. Exhausted from his night spent spinning but hopeful that having gold to trade for food might save his grandmother's life, Rump enters into a very unfair bargain with the miller and Rump realizes that spinning straw into gold isn't, "magic. It was a curse, and I could feel it wrapping around me fast now, tightening its coils." 

What you know about the boastful miller and his fearful daughter comes to pass and, good hearted boy that he is, Rump follows Opal to the castle knowing she will die if he doesn't help her. But not before he makes a visit to the house of Red, his best friend's grandmother, a wood witch. She tells Rump that his mother Anna came to their village from Yonder, but she had abused her magic and suffered under a curse - the inability to refuse a bargain, regardless of how unfair the trade. It seems this curse has been passed on to Rump. However, Red's grandmother told Anna that the only way to untangle her mess was to find a "stiltskin" - a "deep-in-the-bones kind of magic. It can't be taken away or undone or even abused. It's stronger than the strongest spell or enchantment." As the story unfolds and Rump unintentionally barters a third roomful of gold for Opal's first born child, he finds himself on the run and looking for his mother's family. Questions about spinning lead him to the Wool Witches, living in the woods near Yonder. He learns that the the curious, cake loving sisters are actually his aunts who teach him how to use magic with balance and he also learns the meaning of the word "rumpel." A rumpel is something that is wrapped or trapped in magic - for better or for worse. The sisters wrap their spinning in a rumpel of magic, but Anna abused her magic and spun herself into a rumpel so tight that it killed her.

Rump eventually puts the two words together and figures out how to free himself, but not without first spending some time with a band of trolls who have some very interesting qualities and insights that help Rump untangle himself, Opal and her baby Archie from the curse that followed him throughout his life. With Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin, Shurtliff performs the pleasantly surprising feat of turning the cranky, baby stealing, wooden spoon riding Rumpelstiltskin of fairy tale fame who makes people guess his name into the goodhearted, industrious Rump, a boy who's whole life depends on learning his own, true name.

Source: Review Copy

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