Hello. Come in to my little shop, why don’t you? Sit on that little stool, eh? Gaze about at my lovely golden wares, yes? Lots of lovely golden things.
What’s the matter? You got a problem with me? Oh, I see you know who I am. Well, then, I won’t condescend to tell you my name. That witch of a queen has made it known across the entire god-forsaken world.
Oh, won’t look at me now, eh? Turnin’ to awkwardly face the wall? Well, tell me now – must have had a reason for coming in here. What was it! To gaze at the dwarf? “Did he really stamp his foot through the floor?” “Can he really spin straw into gold?” That’s the great, monumental question!
And now I’ve made you cry. Everyone cries; no one likes Rumpelstiltskin – no one loves him. There’s a reason for that, and it’s probably why you’re still here – why you haven’t left the little stool in the corner. To hear my story.
And why not? I’m old and defeated, and I don’t know how it can hurt me anymore to tell it. But you won’t like it. It’s no fairy story of magic wishes. But maybe that’s what you want. Do you feed on other’s misery? Do you revel in their demise? Well, you will revel in mine.
Once, there was a little boy born of a pauper father who abused him from the moment he struggled out of the womb and gasped his first breath of cold air. Who would not begrudge the child a morsel of happiness? Who would not take pity upon him the moment they felt his fragile life in their hands?
His father. He fed him like a dog from only the rinds of squashes and the pits of plums, the bones of pigs and the bladders of cows. He beat him on the head until the boy was almost senseless, but it only fueled him into a passion of rage and revenge. He sat day and night in the grime of the mud floor hovel, scheming hatred in his heart. One day, as he gnawed on the bone of a raccoon, sucking even after all the flavor was long gone, he saw a rat scurry across the ground.
“If only I was like you, fortunate rat, who can gather for himself all the food he needs and go contented, unmolested, to his hole beneath the ground. If I could but thrive on my own without the help of a parent, I would be content.”
To his unbounded surprise, the rat answered him. “If you would like to be self-supporting, commend thyself to the devil, for he surely is in a place to help you.”
The urchin glanced about the low hovel. “Surely the devil would never come to such a low and dirty place as this, for he loves wealth for its own sake, and will revel in it where he may.”
“You are correct,” the rat returned. “Travel to the cloven pine bereft of its needles in the midst of the city, and you will find the devil’s palace.”
So the boy set out with only the rag about his middle, for that was all that belonged to him in the world. When he arrived in the city, he wandered about until he reached the tree, shriveled and hunched in a black corner of an alley, not even attempting to reach the light of the sun with its branches. The boy climbed in and found himself in the midst of a great palace, shining with gold and jewels and black ebony and lined with carousing courtiers. In the midst of the mighty hall sat the devil on a throne of glittering garnet.
“Why do you seek me?”
“I wish to support myself so I can be rid of my father and wreak my revenge upon him.”
“You can have what you seek in return for a favor.”
The boy swore to agree to anything.
“Every year, you must bring me a child in exchange for you to keep your soul. If you hold to this bargain, you will come to spend eternity here with me amidst these riches, but if you break it, you will be condemned to eternal damnation.”
The boy agreed to the bargain, and the devil swept his scepter into the glistening air and transformed him from a useless, starving child to a dwarf who could spin straw into gold.
And so you have heard my story. Every year, I kept the bargain by tricking women into giving me their children, but then the queen discovered my secret and crushed me, and so I have lost my soul. Now I will spend eternity in hell, and it is only a matter of time before I find myself there. Do you pity me? Do you hate me? Do you laugh at me?
But wait – don’t I know you? Why are you suddenly so familiar, and not at all horrified by my tale? I remember you – you were there, that day, in the devil’s chamber! You come here to claim my soul and bring it to your master.
But stop! Come no closer! Pray, don’t rise from your humble, tottering stool! For I have a plan, a scheme, a new deal – I intend to travel to the neighboring village, and my friend the rat will assist me in my plan. He and his family will infest the town, and when the villagers scream in panic, I will lead the rats away with my friendly piping. Don’t you see? Then those stupid people will trust me. They will pay me. They will grovel at my feet. Then I will tell them to gather all their children in the square so I can lead them to a happy place for the day. The parents will gladly give up their little ones, trusting blindly to my happy music; and piping merrily, I will lead the innocents to the cloven pine. There, I will deliver a hundred children for my pay.
Don’t you see? The devil will have to accept. I know he will. He will make this bargain – he must! Don’t move! For he would never take all those children and still demand my soul. No, I have been a faithful servant and brought him many souls. He will be merciful.
And I will trust to the devil’s fair nature, for what is our bargain to a hundred children? The devil does not keep account. He will forgive me. He must. He will….
Rumpelstiltskin cover image; Rumpelstiltskin’s foot through the floor; Ann Anderson’s Miller’s daughter; and Arthur Rackham’s dancing dwarf are courtesy of artpassions.net
The Devil Told You by Rie Cramer, courtesy of artofnarrative.tumblr.com
The Pied Piper by Arthur Rackham, courtesy of steelthistles.blogspot.com/2012/04/pied-piper-of-hamelin.html