"Rumpelstiltskin" (/ˌrʌmpəlˈstɪltskɪn/ RUMP-əl-STILT-skin;[1] German: Rumpelstilzchen) is a German fairy tale.[2] It was collected by the Brothers Grimm in the 1812 edition of Children's and Household Tales.[2] The story is about a little imp who spins straw into gold in exchange for a girl'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
    • England
    • 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. The next morning the king takes the girl to a larger room filled with straw to repeat the feat, the imp once again spins, in return for the girl's ring. On the third day, when the girl has been taken to an even larger room filled with straw and told by the king that he will marry her if she can fill this room with gold or execute her if she cannot, the girl has nothing left with which she can pay the strange creature. He extracts a promise from her that she will give him her firstborn child, and so he spins the straw into gold a final time.[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? ][3][4] A possible early literary reference to the tale appears in Dio of Halicarnassus's Roman Antiquities, in the 1st century CE.[5]


    Stamp series on Rumpelstilzchen from the Deutsche Post of the GDR, 1976

    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 (IPA: /ʀʊmpl̩ʃtiːlt͡sçn̩/) 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, 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). Russian might have the most accomplished imitation of the German name with Румпельшти́льцхен (Rumpelʹshtílʹtskhen).

    In other languages, the name was translated in a poetic and approximate way. Thus Rumpelstilzchen is known as Päronskaft (literally "Pear-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). For Hebrew the poet Avraham Shlonsky composed the name עוץ לי גוץ לי (Ootz-li Gootz-li, a compact and rhymy touch to the original sentence and meaning of the story, "My adviser my midget"), 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. 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. Urdu versions of the tale used the name Tees Mar Khan for the imp.

    Rumpelstiltskin principleEdit

    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, for which compare Adam's naming of the animals in Genesis 2:19-20.

    • Brodsky, Stanley (2013). "The Rumpelstiltskin Principle". American Psychological Association.
    • Winston, Patrick (2009-08-16). "The Rumpelstiltskin Principle".
    • 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.

    Media and popular cultureEdit

    Literature adaptationsEdit

    • Gilded, a 2021 first novel of a duology by Marissa Meyer about the god of lies


    Ensemble mediaEdit

    • 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. A diminutive, evil con man who deals in magical contracts, this version of the character has a personal vendetta against the ogre Shrek, as his plot to take over Far Far Away was foiled by Shrek's rescue of Princess Fiona in the first film. Rumpel manipulates Shrek into signing a deal that creates an alternate reality where Fiona was never rescued and Rumpel ascended to power with the help of an army of witches, a giant goose named Fifi, and the Pied Piper. Dohrn's version of the character also appears in various spin-offs.
    • In Once Upon a Time, Rumplestiltskin is one of the integral characters, portrayed by Robert Carlyle. In the Enchanted Forest, Rumplestiltskin was a cowardly peasant who ascended to power by killing the "Dark One" and gaining his dark magic to protect his son Baelfire. However, the darkness causes him to grow increasingly twisted and violent. While attempting to eliminate his father's curse, Baelfire is lost to a land without magic. Ultimately aiming to save his son, Rumplestiltskin orchestrates a complex series of events, establishing himself as a dark sorcerer who strikes magical deals with various individuals in the fairy tale world, and manipulating the Evil Queen into cursing the land by transporting everyone to the Land Without Magic, while implementing failsafes to break the Dark Curse and maintain his powers. Throughout the series, he wrestles with the conflict between his dark nature and the call to use his power for good.
    • 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.



    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 (3rd ed.). Pearson Longman. ISBN 978-1-4058-8118-0.
    2. ^ a b c "Rumpelstiltskin". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-11-12.
    3. ^ BBC (2016-01-20). "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".
    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 2015-11-29.
    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.

    Selected bibliographyEdit

    Further readingEdit

    External linksEdit