Monday 15 July 2019

call it magic...

Sources of Inspiration

Change point of view: Choose an alternate character to retell a familiar story.


Listen. Magical creature or not, everyone needs to make a living, don’t they? Spinning straw into gold isn’t as lucrative as you might think, not when you’re a homunculus like me who for some stupid, arbitrary magical reason can’t make use of the gold that I spin. I wasn’t born into money; I don’t live in a palace in a gleaming city. No, I live in a cottage on a high mountain on the edge of the forest where the fox and the hare say goodnight to each other. And a bloody racket they make of it too. There aren’t any good roads up here; there aren’t any supermarkets and you can’t find a decent latte up here no matter who you know. When I heard that crying, I didn’t have to leave my comfortable little home and travel down the crappy roads through the forest and all the way to the city, but I did. Alright, so maybe I didn’t entirely do it out of the goodness of my heart, but I went when it would have been easier to stay at home. I may move with unnatural speed, but I also like to sit in front of my fire with a good book. So I went. With all that happened, that still has to count for something, right?

Did I stop to wonder why this slip of a girl was locked in a room in the palace with a spindle and a bundle of straw? Well, to entirely truthful, not really. When you’re in my line of business, straw and spindle are really just the tools of the trade, so this was just another opportunity. The whats and the whys would have been pretty obvious to anyone, but there are certain protocols that ought to be followed in situations like these, and what are we if we don’t pay heed to these niceties? Savages? I politely asked this girl why she was weeping. The king wanted the straw spinning to gold. Of course he did. Who wouldn’t? If you heard that someone could do something magical like that and you were king, would you just shrug your shoulders on a juicy nugget of information like that and let it pass? No, of course you wouldn’t, not when this one simple thing could transform an era of austerity into an era of prosperity. You’d want a piece of that too, wouldn’t you? It’s hard to blame the guy really. Quite why the miller thought that an audience with royalty was just the moment to make that sort of ridiculous boast is another matter. What on earth was he thinking? What did he think was going to happen? Or maybe he knew all along and was just playing the long game; rolling the dice with his daughter’s life and counting upon the greed of the king. And counting on me too. Hm. Have I been manipulated all along?

Could I help this poor girl? Of course I could, but I wasn’t about to do it for nothing. That necklace felt like a fair exchange to me. She certainly wasn’t complaining when she agreed and then sat back and watched me spin that room full of straw into gold. The tears dried up pretty quickly too, as I recall.

Of course, all this wouldn’t be enough for the king, would it? So I wasn’t exactly surprised when I heard the crying again the next night. Back I went, back down the mountain, back through the forest and all the way to the palace in the city. She was in a different room this time. Bigger, of course, with more straw. We did our little dance, she offered me her ring as payment, and I spent the rest of the night doing what I do best until all that straw was spun into gold. The tears dried up pretty quickly on that evening too, and I don’t remember getting a thank you either. If that girl hadn’t known what to expect before, she was fully in on it now.

The next night? The same of course: down the mountain, through the forest and all the way up to the palace in the city. The biggest room yet, and the whole thing absolutely rammed to the ceiling with straw. There were going to be some pretty uncomfortable horses in the stables of this city come winter, that’s for sure. Naturally, the king was beside himself with joy at all this gold and thought he was onto a real winner here. Turn this last lot into gold, he said, and I’ll make you my queen! Yeah, yeah. Of course you will. After all, what kind of king doesn’t want a beautiful young maiden who can spin straw into gold in his bed? Let’s just hope he doesn’t have a straw mattress, eh?

Having already given me her necklace and her ring, the question of payment was now a touch awkward:
“I have nothing left to give you,” she wailed.
Alright then, how about your first child when you become queen?

Look, perhaps I should explain myself at this point.

I’m not some kind of pervert. It’s lonely up on that mountain and I just craved some human company. It’s as simple as that. No funny business. I'm a magical creature and we have strange and magical requirements. She didn’t have to say yes, did she? No one was twisting her arm. She could have said no and faced up to the king with a room full of straw the following morning. She agreed happily enough because she wanted to be queen and she knew the drill by now. It was an honest contract, and she got another room of gold in exchange for something that might never have happened. She certainly got her crown, didn’t she? I can only imagine the king must have found some other magical creature to get her a diamond for her engagement ring. He could certainly afford to by now. In that moment, in that room, that girl knew exactly what she was doing every bit as much as the king did when he shut her in there and made that promise to her. It was only later that she tried to back out of it.

So, a year or so later, I go back down the mountain, through the forest and up to the capital city to claim my dues. She’s had a few months to enjoy her new life as the Queen and to give birth to her beautiful, bouncing royal baby. Don’t feel bad for her: the king kept his word to marry her and she’s been living the life of Riley as the queen of a kingdom that’s suddenly swimming in riches. Meanwhile, I’m still living alone in my cottage up that mountain as everyone else is getting fat on my gold. She knew this day would be coming. As I made my way down the mountain and through the forest, I couldn’t help but wonder if the greedy king had been able to stop himself turning up in their bedroom one night with a spindle and a bag of straw, and if he did, what would she say? Not my problem, I supposed. Perhaps the king finally knew the answer to the question of how much gold was enough gold. Or he was in love. Or he’d just run out of straw and was waiting for the next harvest. Perhaps we’ll never know.

She was surprised to see me, of course. Or at least she pretended to be. She offered me all the riches of her kingdom instead of her precious child, but I wouldn’t be swayed: I can spin straw into gold, so what good are riches to me? A deal is a deal. But she cried and wailed so much that I eventually relented. After all, I'm a magical creature but that doesn't mean that I'm a monster or that I don't have feelings. If it means that much to you, I said, if you can guess my name within the next three days, then we can renegotiate, and you can keep your child. It seemed a little unlikely that she’d be able to guess, to be honest, but there you go. She had a chance now, didn’t she?

Why three days? Why make her try to guess the unguessable? I don’t know and I wasn’t really thinking straight. I sometimes wonder if there are forces in this world that drive our destinies but are beyond our understanding. Why do things always seem to come in threes? Why can’t I just use my own spindle and have a thriving business selling cheap gold that I’ve spun from straw to undercut the market and make myself as comfortable as can be? Who knows? Perhaps that’s just the way of this world.

You can imagine how this went.
Day one: down the mountain, through the wood and up to the city. Nope: Kaspar, Melchior or Balzer I ain’t.
Day two: Ribsofbeef, Muttonchops, or Lacedleg? Um. No. Seriously? Those are your guesses?
Day three: Kunz? No. Heinz? No. Rumpelstiltskin?


How on earth could she know that? Either the devil told her (possible in this world) or she sent someone out of the palace, away from the capital city, through the forest and up the mountain to hear me singing my own name in my cottage in front of the fire in my delight at the Queen’s inability to guess correctly. Hmm. Yes. Now I think of it, it might have been that. Don't look at me like that. I can't get Netflix up there. I don't know how this spy have got back down the mountain, through the forest, up to the capital city and into the palace in time to report back before I arrived to claim my prize, but get there before me he most definitely did.

Now I think about it, the whole thing just seems so preposterously unlikely.  I suppose that's a magical realm for you.

And that’s now it. She keeps her child and her king keeps all his gold and poor old Rumplestiltskin gets nothing, not even the power of the secret of his own name. It’s enough to make any self-respecting magical creature tear themselves apart in frustration and the unfairness of it all.

That girl needs to check her privilege.


  1. It's a story that raises a lot of questions when you read the Grimm original version: how did a man who lived on a mountain hear her weeping, locked up in the palace? How did he get there so quickly each night? Why does he want a ring or a necklace when he can spin straw into gold? Why does he suddenly ask for a child instead? Why is he dancing around on his own in front of a fire singing that rhyme with his name? Why was the miller driven to make up that story when talking to the king in the first place? Is the king likely to be happy with only three nights worth of gold? At any point in their married life, is he not surely going to ask again and wonder why it can't be done on command? etc.

  2. This isn't especially imaginative, but I wanted to see if I could write it without Rumplestiltskin somehow ending up as the villain. You can tell me if you think it's been successful in any way.