Classic fairy tales are rich veins of fiction fodder. The original Grimm tales were very, very grim — and bloody and gory and scary and wonderful — and even the sanitized tales I grew up with (The Red Fairy Tale Book, etc.) and the squeaky clean Disney animated films have a definite appeal.

Fairy tales have all sorts of elements that are also found in good genre fiction: strong heroes and equally powerful (or almost equally powerful) villains, consequences that follow both actions and choices, and strong stories with beginnings, middles and endings — usually happy —plus an occasional moral or ethical lesson. Think about the beauty inside the Beast or fate of Cinderella’s step sisters, how many times have similar lessons turned up in popular fiction?

On the surface, fairy tales are all about the hero or princess, but dig deeper and you might find that villain turns out to be the most compelling character. Rumpelstiltskin is definitely one of these fascinating figures.

The princess is in a bind and she’ll say anything — she’ll promise anything — in order to spin wool into gold. The “evil” bargain she makes with the mysterious figure without a name is an act of desperation. No one would agree to give away their child unless they were under extreme duress so when she wants out of the agreement, it seems logical. What isn’t logical is Rumplelstiltskin’s need to sing about his name.


It’s like the criminal confessing to his cellmates or the evil genius explaining his plan to the temporarily disabled (tied to a chair, hanging upside down, laying alive in an open grave) hero, before the final stages of his evil plot. How many times have you read that scenario or seen it in a movie? And what’s going on with the giant atop Jack’s beanstalk? “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” Aren’t his giant footfalls on the floor enough to announce his presence? Does he really have to sing about smelling an intruder?

Apparently yes.





  1. If I remember correctly rumple is ugly and the princess (being a princess) is beautiful. So it is ok to lie and trick the uglies in the world to come out ahead. She made the agreement willingly. It was her choice.

    My question of the morning, what exactly are we teaching our youth with that story?

    • Candy

      Good question, what are we teaching with that tale?

      Well, we’re teaching people to expect evil geniuses to spill the details of their plan to the hero just before the end of the story. But that’s not much of a lesson.

  2. In thrillers, the wise, experienced policeman always says the criminal will trip up eventually – out of an inflated sense of ego, or because, deep down inside they really want to be caught. Given how many unsolved crimes there are in the world I’d say the lesson is ‘Mum’s the word’.

    • Candy

      In addition to unsolved murders, there are murders that are simply missed — or misplaced. Murders that appear to be death by natural causes or accidents, but aren’t what they seem to be. For a long time, “experts” were certain that there were no women serial killers but there were. They simply used less obvious means to kill. The old & wise & experienced policeman of fiction is like the evil genius who spills the beans when the hero is tied to the chair — a cliched character, full of comfortable certainty, like fairy tale characters.

      Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum… I love all those classic mysteries, but I also know that the truth is stranger and often less satisfying than fiction.

  3. Fear and intimidation are always go-to devices in the attempt to control the population. I think it’s great that some movie versions are now going back to the origins of the stories rather than relying on the nicey-nice Disnified versions. I used to have my creative writing students research the original plot lines of fairy tales, and it’s safe to say lots of jaws hit the floor.

    • Candy

      A few years ago I discovered the original very grim Grimm tales. I was horrified and fascinated and then — I felt cheated. We’d been fed stories stripped of their true power. I’m not a big Bruno Bettelheim fan (that whole blame the refrigerator Mom thing) but his discourse on the uses of enchantment has some juicy stuff — like the fundamental idea of a child gaining confidence and an individual sense of self from the true peril faced by children in fairy tales. Someone has to face a monster to show you that you, too, can triumph.

  4. You’d expect children to be traumatised by reading the Grimm tales in their original form hence all the sanitised versions, but I think they may be character building and they’re certainly no worse than many computer games they see.