“My mother named me after a cow’s rear end.” How’s that for a first line?
Rump, a.k.a. Butt, wasn’t really named after a cow’s hindquarters. It’s just that his mother died before she could pronounce the rest of it. Rump was the only person she told; unfortunately, he can’t remember it. So he lives with his grandmother in a mining village in The Kingdom, under the rule of the stingy King Bartholomew Archibald Reginald Fife (a.k.a. King Barf, a.k.a. King Barf-a-hew). He’s stunted by poverty and pestered by pixies (a.k.a. “buzzards”), who attack at the slightest trace of gold.
Not that there’s much gold in the mines anymore, between King Barf and the greedy miller who pockets the villagers’ money for meager shares of food. Things are getting desperate, and Rump feels like he has to do something. But in The Kingdom, your name determines your destiny, and “Rump” doesn’t exactly sound promising. Then Rump pricks his finger on his mother’s spinning wheel and sees a bit of straw–and suddenly he’s swarming with pixies. He thinks his money problems are over, but he’s underestimated the miller’s greed. Or stupidity, whichever comes first. Suddenly he and his loved ones are tangled in strong magic and unbreakable bargains. Sound familiar yet?
Rump is one of the most creative takeoffs on Rumpelstiltskin I’ve read, with some great lighthearted touches. Red talks like a typical wisecracking 12 year old, albeit one who’s had to grow (sort of) the hard way. The kingdom’s gnomes are sort of bumbling gleeful messengers/town criers, often unintentionally funny. “Watch your step” is a running joke as well as foreshadowing, but it doesn’t mean what you think it means if you’re familiar with the standard folktale.
Where the story does follow the tale, it tends to make more sense than the short tale has room for. Rump makes up rhymes too, but his have a reason (sorry): “When you say the words and the sounds match, it feels like everything in the world is in its place and whatever you say is powerful.” Rhymes are also part of how he and his grandmother communicate affection, and their bond is comfortable and well done.
Still, the best parts are the ones you’re not expecting. Rump has to find his own name this time, and if we follow him we get to learn what the heck a rumpel is, what sludge tastes like, what makes a good pixie repellent, and why trolls really set up traps around their camps. Also, Rump’s friend Red (guess who) has a tougher personality than I thought, as does her granny. For a down-to-earth tale of what’s in a name, this retelling will do nicely.
For a more dramatic retelling of Rumpelstiltskin in multiple points of view, try Donna Jo Napoli’s Spinners.