Saskia bargains to obtain the help of an ugly little man to spin the straw into gold necessary to appease the king and in the process learns about her mother and finds out the identity of her true father. Saskia is a talented young girl who has an affinity for spinning all sorts of materials - wheat, flowers, meadow grass - into beautiful, fine skeins of yarn to help her and her destitute father earn enough money to survive through the winter. This story is told from the point of view of Saskia, and a mysterious character who calls himself "the Spinner" - a twisted, hunched and ugly man who is also gifted with the ability to spin fine yarn. The story begins by describing the Spinner's past and how he became the man he is.
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The spinner used to be a poor tailor, who was in love with a farmer's daughter, who is a talented spinner. The tailor dreams of opening up his own store, where his wife can spin yarn for him to cut into fine clothing. The tailor wanted to marry the farmer's daughter, however the farmer, being a greedy man, wants his daughter to marry the miller since the miller is wealthy. In his desperation, the tailor tells the farmer that he will make a wedding dress out of gold cloth if the farmer will let him marry his daughter. The farmer agrees to the bargain.
The spinner spends days trying to figure out how to get enough gold thread to be able to make a dress. The farmer's daughter, who is in love with the tailor, begs the tailor to come up with a solution as she doesn't want to marry the miller - who is old, ugly and a drunkard. The tailor has a moment of inspiration where he thinks he might be able to spin gold yarn out of straw, which he thinks has a similar texture and beauty as gold. The problem is, he needs a spinning wheel. He visits an old, blind woman and asks to borrow her spinning wheel. When the woman refuses, he takes the spinning wheel by force, promising he will return it to her once he is done.
The next few nights, he doesn't eat or sleep as he tries over and over again to transform the straw into gold yarn. One night, he finally succeeds - but the result is that his leg, which has pumped the spinning wheel's pedal so fast and hard - can't stop the "pumping" motion. The next day, his leg has stopped pumping the air, however it becomes permanently crooked and bent. When the farmer's daughter visits him, she is horrified by the state of his appearance. She tries to massage his leg, rub poultices and make him drink herbal remedies to try to cure his distorted leg but nothing works. Over the next few weeks, the tailor assembles the gold cloth to make her wedding dress. He remembers that he was supposed to return his spinning wheel to the old lady. When he finds the old lady, she refuses to take back the spinning wheel and hints that she had cursed him to have the crooked leg because of what he did.
The farmer's daughter begins to distance from the tailor. After the tailor presents the dress to the farmer, the farmer notices that the tailor looks sickly and his body is all twisted looking. The farmer tells the tailor that he doesn't want his daughter to marry someone who is sick and tells the tailor to go and get some rest and return to him when he is better. A few days later the farmer's daughter finds the tailor and she tells him that he is no longer the man she loved and that he has changed into a crazy, ugly, twisted and "rumpled" man. She tells him that she is with child - hinting that it is likely his child. She finally tells him that she is betrothed to the miller, as the farmer was too impatient to wait for his return. The tailor is heartbroken.
The tailor can't help but continue to love the farmer's daughter, however, and he watches her from afar, noticing when she becomes pregnant. On the day of the pregnancy, he finds out that she passed away after giving birth to their daughter.
The story now goes to the point of view of Saskia, whose real father isn't the miller, Christof, but rather the tailor, who now calls himself the "spinner". Saskia doesn't know that Christof is not her true father, but she suspects, since he doesn't look like her. Even her friend, Dagmar, comments on how ugly the miller is when Saskia is so beautiful. Because her father spends most of the time drunk and asleep, he has neglected his mill and all his workers have left, leaving Saskia destitute. Saskia is worried that she will not have enough to survive the winter. One day, Saskia is taught how to spin by Dagmar's mother and she quickly picks up an affinity for the skill - learning that her mother used to be a spinner, too. She uses her mother's spinning wheel to spin fine yarn to help her and her father survive the winter.
Meanwhile, the spinner has been traveling from household to household. He obtains work as a household spinner, weaver and tailor and often sleeps on the hearths of his clients. He is lonely and depressed since no one seems to be able to truly embrace him for who he is, and instead he is treated either with politeness, rudeness or horror. Because of the way people treat him, he has preferred to live away from other people, in the woods, coming out only to find jobs and sell his fine yarn. One day, as he is in the market selling his yarn, he is hired by Elke, who works at the Castle. Elke lets the spinner live in a cabin in the woods and supplies him with the materials he needs to spin fine yarn for the palace residents. Slowly, Elke and the spinner become good friends.
Over the next few years, Saskia's talents at spinning improve. One day, the spinner finds out about Saskia and learns that Saskia must be his daughter. He asks Elke to ask Saskia trade her spinning wheel - which is her mother's - for his own magical spinning wheel. Elke doesn't understand the reason behind the request but does what he wants. Saskia doesn't want to trade her mother's spinning wheel, but her father forces her to. The spinner dreams of one day reuniting with his daughter - the one person he believes can accept him for who he is and see past his ugly and distorted appearance.
One day, Saskia's father brings Saskia to the King, who has requested to meet her after seeing the fine yarn she creates. Saskia's father has stopped drinking so much however this also means that he begins to talk too much and too loudly, bragging to the king that Saskia can even spin straw into gold. The false boasts anger the King, who then locks Saskia up in a room full of straw to force her to spin it into gold for him. Saskia is horrified.
Elke relates this incident to the spinner, who immediately demands that she let him see Saskia. Saskia thinks she is dreaming of some magical creature when she sees the spinner. The spinner is disappointed that Saskia recoils in horror when she sees him. He still offers to help her, however, in exchange that she give him something. Saskia gives him her mother's shell necklace. The spinner spends all night spinning the straw into gold yarn and disappears. The next day, the King is astonished and his greed increases. Saskia is moved into a bigger room full of straw. Saskia is afraid that the spinner will not return but he does. This time, Saskia gives him a golden ring that used to be her mother's and again the spinner fulfills his bargain. The next day, the King's greed still grows. Saskia reprimands the king for being so greedy. The king is impressed that Saskia is not afraid to stand up to him. This time he tells her that if she succeeds to turn straw into gold, he will make her his queen. Saskia doesn't want to be his queen but she knows that the other option is that the king will imprison her forever. The final night, the spinner returns, however, this time Saskia has nothing to give him but her body. The spinner refuses and is also heartbroken that even after having helped her each night, Saskia still cannot open her heart to him. He bargains with Saskia that she will give him her firstborn child in exchange that he perform his magic. Saskia has no choice but to agree. After the completion of this final task, the king again asks Saskia to marry him. Saskia refuses and is allowed to return home.
At home, Saskia's father is waiting for her with a room full of gold. Saskia is horrified and angry at her father and she runs away. On her way out, she is again met by the king. The king confesses that he truly does love her and as a gesture of the fact that he doesn't care about her magical ability, he orders her magical spinning wheel and all the straw to be burned. Saskia and the king are wed.
Over the next few years, the spinner looks forward excitedly to one day having a child of his own, a child who will love him unconditionally like no other person could. In order to prepare himself for his future child, he trains his body to be strong and he carves toys and a cradle. Elke remarks that the spinner doesn't even look like the decrepit creature he used to be - he is healthier and straighter than he was. Elke suspects that the spinner is up to something as he frequently asks for updates on Saskia's state.
Meanwhile, Saskia learns to love the king despite the fact that he is an impatient and difficult man. Everyday, she washes herself with vinegar to prevent getting pregnant, something she does in secret because if the king found out he would be angry. Despite these precautions, she ends up getting pregnant. She is nervous that the spinner will appear and take her child away. After she gives birth to a daughter, her worst nightmare comes true and the spinner appears. Saskia is horrified and curious since the spinner seems to know a lot about her mother and even accidentally calls Saskia "his child". Saskia refuses to give up her baby so the spinner lets her have three nights to guess his name. If she succeeds he will not take her child.
Saskia tries every name she can think of. Elke overhears Saskia's predicament and is horrified that the spinner would do something like that to another. Elke tells Saskia where the spinner lives and Saskia sends guards to eavesdrop on the spinner. They find out his real name and tell her that the spinner was named by Saskia's mother. On the last night, Saskia tells the spinner that his name is "Rumpelstiltskin". The spinner is so angry and heartbroken at Elke's supposed betrayal that his leg - which he has previously been able to control - starts pumping the air furiously and he runs away. The story ends in a bittersweet fashion as Saskia can keep her child but she is filled with tears at realizing that the spinner must be her real father, as he knows who she is and knows things about her mother that are true.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like that this fairy tale re-telling gives the readers a glimpse into the person behind the creature known as Rumpelstiltskin and makes the reader really feel sympathy for the spinner's story.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when, during one of the many times Elke visits the spinner to give him materials to spin with, Elke realizes that she might care for the spinner despite his ugly and distorted appearance. I like that the spinner did finally gain acceptance in the form of love from Elke.
Opinion about the main character:
I wish that Saskia had been able to see the spinner as the talented and kind man he was and not as a malevolent, ugly creature. I think that the spinner would not have demanded anything from Saskia if only she were kind to him and didn't behave just like every other shallow person the spinner has had to work for. The spinner only asked things from Saskia because he was hurt that she turned out to be like the others when he dreamed she would be understanding and compassionate since she is his daughter by blood and trade.