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?