Rumpelstiltskin

By Christopher Zoukis

Buried in the St. Matthaus Kirchhof Cemetery in Schoneberg, Berlin, next to each other, beneath two plain granite pillars which stand approximately three and a half feet tall, bracketed by tall oak and pine trees, with shrubs like skirts in front, and a row of ostentatious markers behind, lay the Brothers Grimm:  Wilhelm and Jacob.

They were collectors of words and folk tales and fairy tales.  As professors at the University of Gottingen they lectured in linguistics.  And like many professors in today’s world, they were political activists, liberal democrats. 

When the King of Hanover, Ernest Augustus I, who was the super-conservative son of King George III, wanted to throw out the liberal constitution of Hanover, the Brothers Grimm protested.  They, along with five of their fellow professors, were either fired or deported for their demonstration. 

While it sounds exciting, it really was much ado about nothing.  For as a result, both brothers were invited to live in Berlin by the King of Prussia.  Ironically, Prussia was even more conservative than Hanover. 

In present-day Germany, the Brothers Grimm are remembered, honored and cherished as the founders of the German Democratic movement, which of course led to the Berlin Wall and East and West Germany.

Throughout the rest of the world, though, they are remembered for their collection and publication of Fairy Tales, especially those for children.  And frankly, in today’s high-tech monomaniacal world, both the brothers and their tales are all but forgotten.  Which is too bad.  For the fairy tales, which are fantasy on one level, are wonderfully valid on another level, depicting the alchemy of turning lead into gold, or magically spinning straw into gold in the story of Rumpelstiltskin. 

Rumpelstiltskin’s magic is no different from the daily miracles occurring in Silicon Valley:  Google, Amazon.com, MicroSoft, et al, are versions of the same kind of magic.  Something wonderful is about to happen! 

All of these stories, whether modern or extracted from Germanic oral tradition, sound suspiciously like David and Goliath, Moses walking dry-shod across the Red Sea, and Daniel in the fiery furnace.

The Brothers Grimm, then, were historians.  And if you read closely, and listen well, and open your heart to the stories, they become strangely religious in their intent.

Rumpelstiltskin means ‘little rattle stilt.’ A ‘rattle stilt’ refers to a goblin or demon, which thumps on boards or planks at night, like the ‘noisy ghost’ in the movie Poltergeist.

Many varied and sophomoric explanations are assigned to the story, from that of a simplistic moral warning, namely, the dangers of lying, to the Freudian, which presents the tale as a warning against female masturbation. 

All such interpretations are junk, and lame to boot. 

The story is, in fact, the declaration of primo geniture, the importance of the first-born child, especially if male.  In the Old Testament, the Angel of the Lord destroys all first born male children in Egypt, called the Passover by the Jews.  Whereas in the New Testament, Herod attempts to thwart the coming of the King of the Jews by a similar act, the murder of all first-born males under the age of two. 

In this sense, then, the story is religious, historical and universally cultural. 

Yet the engaging part of the story is the alchemy, where coarse, common, vulgar material, straw, is magically transformed into gold.  The dull form and color of one thing, straw, takes on the composition and brilliant hues of another thing, golden thread, and not simply in color, but in essence.  Straw becomes gold.  It’s almost as if the story is the prophecy of molecular nanotechnology.

It’s all about the magic of structure and color.  The gift of magic, a miraculous conversion that changes everything it touches with its divine paint brush.