"Rumpelstiltskin" (/ˌrʌmpəlˈstɪltskɪn/ RUMP-əl-STILT-skin;[1] German: Rumpelstilzchen pronounced [ʁʊmpl̩ʃtiːltsçn̩]) is a German fairy tale[2] collected by the Brothers Grimm in the 1812 edition of Children's and Household Tales.[2] The story is about an imp who spins straw into gold in exchange for a woman's firstborn child.[2]

Illustration from Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book (1889)
Folk tale
Also known as
  • Tom Tit Tot
  • Päronskaft
  • Repelsteeltje
  • Cvilidreta
  • Rampelník
  • Tűzmanócska
  • Eiman
  • Country
    • Germany
    • United Kingdom
    • Netherlands
    • Czech Republic
    • Hungary
    Published in



    In order to appear superior, a miller brags to the king and people of the kingdom he lives in by claiming his daughter can spin straw into gold.[note 1] The king calls for the girl, locks her up in a tower room filled with straw and a spinning wheel, and demands she spin the straw into gold by morning or he will have her killed.[note 2] When she has given up all hope, a little imp-like man appears in the room and spins the straw into gold in return for her necklace of glass beads. The next morning the king takes the girl to a larger room filled with straw to repeat the feat, and the imp once again spins, in return for the girl's glass ring. On the third day the girl is taken to an even larger room filled with straw, and told by the king that if she can spin all this straw into gold he will marry her, but if she cannot she will be executed. While she is sobbing alone in the room, the little imp appears again and promises that he can spin the straw into gold for her, but the girl tells him she has nothing left with which to pay. The strange creature suggests she pay him with her first child. She reluctantly agrees, and he sets about spinning the straw into gold.[note 3]

    Illustration by Anne Anderson from Grimm's Fairy Tales (London and Glasgow 1922)

    The king keeps his promise to marry the miller's daughter. But when their first child is born, the imp returns to claim his payment. She offers him all the wealth she has to keep the child, but the imp has no interest in her riches. He finally agrees to give up his claim to the child if she can guess his name within three days.[note 4]

    The queen's many guesses fail. But before the final night, she wanders into the woods[note 5] searching for him and comes across his remote mountain cottage and watches, unseen, as he hops about his fire and sings. He reveals his name in his song's lyrics: "tonight tonight, my plans I make, tomorrow tomorrow, the baby I take. The queen will never win the game, for Rumpelstiltskin is my name".

    When the imp comes to the queen on the third day, after first feigning ignorance, she reveals his name, Rumpelstiltskin, and he loses his temper at the loss of their bargain. Versions vary about whether he accuses the devil or witches of having revealed his name to the queen. In the 1812 edition of the Brothers Grimm tales, Rumpelstiltskin then "ran away angrily, and never came back". The ending was revised in an 1857 edition to a more gruesome ending wherein Rumpelstiltskin "in his rage drove his right foot so far into the ground that it sank in up to his waist; then in a passion he seized the left foot with both hands and tore himself in two". Other versions have Rumpelstiltskin driving his right foot so far into the ground that he creates a chasm and falls into it, never to be seen again. In the oral version originally collected by the Brothers Grimm, Rumpelstiltskin flies out of the window on a cooking ladle.



    According to researchers at Durham University and the NOVA University Lisbon, the origins of the story can be traced back to around 4,000 years ago.[undue weight?discuss][3][4] A possible early literary reference to the tale appears in Dionysius of Halicarnassus's Roman Antiquities, in the 1st century AD.[5]


    Stamp series on Rumpelstilzchen from the Deutsche Post of the GDR, 1976
    Grimms' fairytale stamp series of Rumpelstilzchen stamp set from the Deutsche Post of the BRD by artist Michael Kunter, 2022
    Grimms' fairytale stamp series of Rumpelstilzchen stamp set front cover from the Deutsche Post of the BRD by artist Michael Kunter, 2022
    Grimms' fairytale stamp series of Rumpelstilzchen stamp set inner cover from the Deutsche Post of the BRD by artist Michael Kunter, 2022, reciting the concise version of the story and the song Rumpelstilzchen sings

    The same story pattern appears in numerous other cultures: Tom Tit Tot[6] in the United Kingdom (from English Fairy Tales, 1890, by Joseph Jacobs); The Lazy Beauty and her Aunts in Ireland (from The Fireside Stories of Ireland, 1870 by Patrick Kennedy); Whuppity Stoorie in Scotland (from Robert Chambers's Popular Rhymes of Scotland, 1826); Gilitrutt in Iceland;[7][8] جعيدان (Joaidane "He who talks too much") in Arabic; Хламушка (Khlamushka "Junker") in Russia; Rumplcimprcampr, Rampelník or Martin Zvonek in the Czech Republic; Martinko Klingáč in Slovakia; "Cvilidreta" in Croatia; Ruidoquedito ("Little noise") in South America; Pancimanci in Hungary (from 1862 folktale collection by László Arany[9]); Daiku to Oniroku (大工と鬼六 "The carpenter and the ogre") in Japan and Myrmidon in France.

    An earlier literary variant in French was penned by Mme. L'Héritier, titled Ricdin-Ricdon.[10] A version of it exists in the compilation Le Cabinet des Fées, Vol. XII. pp. 125-131.

    The Cornish tale of Duffy and the Devil plays out an essentially similar plot featuring a "devil" named Terry-top.[11]

    All these tales are classified in the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index as tale type ATU 500, "The Name of the Supernatural Helper".[12][13] According to scholarship, it is popular in "Denmark, Finland, Germany and Ireland".[14]


    Illustration by Walter Crane from Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm (1886)

    The name Rumpelstilzchen in German means literally "little rattle stilt", a stilt being a post or pole that provides support for a structure. A rumpelstilt or rumpelstilz was consequently the name of a type of goblin, also called a pophart or poppart, that makes noises by rattling posts and rapping on planks.

    The meaning is similar to rumpelgeist ("rattle-ghost") or poltergeist ("rumble-ghost"), a mischievous spirit that clatters and moves household objects. (Other related concepts are mummarts or boggarts and hobs, which are mischievous household spirits that disguise themselves.) The ending -chen is a German diminutive cognate to English -kin.

    The name is believed to be derived from Johann Fischart's Geschichtklitterung, or Gargantua of 1577 (a loose adaptation of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel), which refers to an "amusement" for children, a children's game named "Rumpele stilt oder der Poppart".[15][unreliable source]


    Illustration for the tale of "Rumpel-stilt-skin" from The heart of oak books (Boston 1910).

    Translations of the original Grimm fairy tale (KHM 55) into various languages have generally substituted different names for the dwarf whose name is Rumpelstilzchen. For some languages, a name was chosen that comes close in sound to the German name: Rumpelstiltskin or Rumplestiltskin in English, Repelsteeltje in Dutch, Rumpelstichen in Brazilian Portuguese, Rumpelstinski, Rumpelestíjeles, Trasgolisto, Jasil el Trasgu, Barabay, Rompelimbrá, Barrabás, Ruidoquedito, Rompeltisquillo, Tiribilitín, Tremolín, El enano saltarín y el duende saltarín in Spanish, Rumplcimprcampr or Rampelník in Czech.

    In Japanese, it is called ルンペルシュティルツキン, Runperushutirutsukin. The Russian name is close to the original German, Румпельштильцхен, Rumpel'shtíl'tskhen.

    In other languages, the name was translated in a poetic and approximate way. Thus Rumpelstilzchen is known as Päronskaft (literally "Pear-stalk") or Bullerskaft (literally "Rumble-stalk") in Swedish,[16] where the sense of stilt or stalk of the second part is retained.

    Slovak translations use Martinko Klingáč. Polish translations use Titelitury (or Rumpelsztyk) and Finnish ones Tittelintuure, Rompanruoja or Hopskukkeli. The Hungarian name is Tűzmanócska and in Serbo-Croatian Cvilidreta ("Whine-screamer"). The Slovenian translation uses Špicparkeljc ("Pointy-Hoof").

    In Italian, the creature is usually called Tremotino, which is probably formed from the world tremoto, which means "earthquake" in Tuscan dialect, and the suffix "-ino", which generally indicates a small and/or sly character. The first Italian edition of the fables was published in 1897, and the books in those years were all written in Tuscan Italian.

    For Hebrew, the poet Avraham Shlonsky composed the name עוּץ־לִי גּוּץ־לִי Utz-li gutz-li, a compact and rhymy touch to the original sentence and meaning of the story, "My-Adviser My-Midget", from יוֹעֵץ, yo'etz, "adviser", and גּוּץ, gutz, "squat, dumpy, pudgy (about a person)"), when using the fairy-tale as the basis of a children's musical, now a classic among Hebrew children's plays.

    Greek translations have used Ρουμπελστίλτσκιν (from the English) or Κουτσοκαλιγέρης (Koutsokaliyéris), which could figure as a Greek surname, formed with the particle κούτσο- (koútso- "limping"), and is perhaps derived from the Hebrew name.

    Urdu versions of the tale used the name Tees Mar Khan for the imp.

    Rumpelstiltskin principle


    The value and power of using personal names and titles is well established in psychology, management, teaching and trial law. It is often referred to as the "Rumpelstiltskin principle". It derives from a very ancient belief that to give or know the true name of a being is to have power over it. See Adam's naming of the animals in Genesis 2:19-20 for an example.

    • Brodsky, Stanley (2013). "The Rumpelstiltskin Principle". APA.org. American Psychological Association.
    • Winston, Patrick (16 August 2009). "The Rumpelstiltskin Principle". MIT.
    • van der Geest, Sjak (2010). "Rumpelstiltskin: The magic of the right word". In Oderwald, Arko; van Tilburg, Willem; Neuvel, Koos (eds.). Unfamiliar knowledge: Psychiatric disorders in literature. Utrecht: De Tijdstroom.

    Literature adaptations




    Ensemble media

    • The 1994 direct-to-video Muppet Classic Theater adapted the story, starring The Great Gonzo as the title character, Miss Piggy as the miller's daughter, and Kermit the Frog as the king. In this version of the story, Rumpelstiltskin reveals that his mother sent him to camp every summer until he was 18. The miller's daughter, who has her father, the king and the king's loyal royal advisor help her guess the name of the "weird, little man", recalls that "a good mother always sews her kid's name inside their clothes before sending them off to camp." Thus, the girl decides to check his clothing, and finds Rumpelstiltskin's name inside.
    • A News Flash sketch from Sesame Street reporting on the fairy tale had Kermit establish a hotline (Sesame Street 5-55) to the castle of the miller's daughter-turned-queen with callers telling Kermit Rumpelstiltskin's name. Three callers called the hotline with three different ideas: the first caller said Rumpelstiltskin's real name was Fred, the second called Rumpelstiltskin Otto and the third Barry. Rumpelstiltskin's actual real name, however, turned out to be Bruce.
    • "Rumpelstiltskin", a 1995 episode from Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child.
    • Barney's Once Upon a Time involves the story told by Stella, with Shawn as the title character, Tosha as the miller's daughter, Carlos as the King, and Barney as the messenger.
    • Rumpelstiltskin appears as a figment of Chief O'Brien's imagination in the 15th episode "If Wishes Were Horses" of season 1 in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
    • Rumpelstiltskin appears as a villainous character in the Shrek franchise, first voiced by Conrad Vernon in a minor role in Shrek the Third. In Shrek Forever After, the character's appearance and persona are significantly altered to become the main villain of the film, now voiced by Walt Dohrn.
    • In Once Upon a Time, Rumplestiltskin is one of the integral characters, portrayed by Robert Carlyle.
    • Rumpelstiltskin appears in Ever After High as an infamous professor known for making students spin straw into gold as a form of extra credit and detention. He deliberately gives his students bad grades in such a way they are forced to ask for extra credit.
    • The cast of the children's TV series Rainbow acted out the story in a 1987 episode. Zippy played the title character, Geoffrey played the king, Rod played the miller, Bungle played the miller’s daughter, George played the baby, Jane played the maid, and Freddy played a peasant.
    • The video game Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has a similar format with the character of Doopliss inspired by Rumpelstiltskin, in which the player has to guess his name correctly, but can only do so by finding the "p" in a chest underground. This reference is more direct in the original Japanese version and other translations, in which the character is named "Rumpel".




    1. ^ Some versions make the miller's daughter blonde and describe the "straw-into-gold" claim as a careless boast the miller makes about the way his daughter's straw-like blond hair takes on a gold-like lustre when sunshine strikes it.
    2. ^ Other versions have the king threatening to lock her up in a dungeon forever, or to punish her father for lying.
    3. ^ In some versions, the imp appears and begins to turn the straw into gold, paying no heed to the girl's protests that she has nothing to pay him with; when he finishes the task, he states that the price is her first child, and the horrified girl objects because she never agreed to this arrangement.
    4. ^ Some versions have the imp limiting the number of daily guesses to three and hence the total number of guesses allowed to a maximum of nine.
    5. ^ In some versions, she sends a servant into the woods instead of going herself, in order to keep the king's suspicions at bay.


    1. ^ Wells, John (3 April 2008). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3 ed.). Harlow: Pearson. ISBN 978-1-4058-8118-0.
    2. ^ a b c "Rumpelstiltskin". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
    3. ^ BBC (20 January 2016). "Fairy tale origins thousands of years old, researchers say". BBC. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
    4. ^ da Silva, Sara Graça; Tehrani, Jamshid J. (January 2016). "Comparative phylogenetic analyses uncover the ancient roots of Indo-European folktales". Royal Society Open Science. 3 (1): 150645. Bibcode:2016RSOS....350645D. doi:10.1098/rsos.150645. PMC 4736946. PMID 26909191.
    5. ^ Anderson, Graham (2000). Fairytale in the Ancient World. Routledge. ISBN 9780415237031.
    6. ^ ""The Story of Tom Tit Tot" | Stories from Around the World | Traditional | Lit2Go ETC". etc.usf.edu.
    7. ^ Grímsson, Magnús; Árnason, Jon. Íslensk ævintýri. Reykjavik: 1852. pp. 123-126. [1]
    8. ^ Simpson, Jacqueline (2004). Icelandic folktales & legends (2nd ed.). Stroud: Tempus. pp. 86–89. ISBN 0752430459.
    9. ^ László Arany: Eredeti népmesék (folktale collection, Pest, 1862, in Hungarian)
    10. ^ Marie-Jeanne L'Héritier: La Tour ténébreuse et les Jours lumineux: Contes Anglois, 1705. In French
    11. ^ Hunt, Robert (1871). Popular Romances of the West of England; or, The Drolls, Traditions, and Superstitions of Old Cornwall. London: John Camden Hotten. pp. 239–247.
    12. ^ Uther, Hans-Jörg (2004). The Types of International Folktales: Animal tales, tales of magic, religious tales, and realistic tales, with an introduction. FF Communications. p. 285 - 286.
    13. ^ "Name of the Helper". D. L. Ashliman. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
    14. ^ Christiansen, Reidar Thorwalf. Folktales of Norway. Chicago: University of Chicago press by 1994 . pp. 5-6.
    15. ^ Wiktionary article on Rumpelstilzchen.
    16. ^ Grimm, Jacob; Grimm, Wilhelm (2008). Bröderna Grimms sagovärld (in Swedish). Bonnier Carlsen. p. 72. ISBN 978-91-638-2435-7.
    17. ^ Baugher, Lacy (2 November 2021). "Marissa Meyer reimagines Rumpelstiltskin in haunting retelling Gilded". Culturess. Retrieved 16 July 2023.
    18. ^ Schnieders Lefever, Kelsey (20 April 2020). "'Spinning Silver,' a retelling of 'Rumpelstiltskin,' to be featured Big Read book". www.purdue.edu. Retrieved 16 July 2023.

    Selected bibliography


    Further reading