Review: Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff
Author: Liesl Shurtliff
Publisher:Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 2013
Recommended for grades 4 and up.
Let’s face it if you ask most individuals what their favorite fairy tale is, Rumpelstiltskin probably won’t be near the top. This tale of greed and gold, of promises and lies tends get lost amid the princess and adventure tales. This might be due in part to the fact that it is a strange little tale. There’s no real hero, unless you count the servant that discovers Rumpelstiltskin’s name. There’s the puzzling fact that a miller would ever claim his daughter could spin straw to gold, or that anyone would take him at his word. And what on earth does Rumpelstiltskin even want with a child? Even the ending of this fairy tale is sudden and disturbing, with none of the usual happy ever afters. It’s a story that needs better representation–a good polishing and some better explanations.
Fortunately, Liesl Shurtliff is up to the challenge. She’s spun a full fledged middle grade adventure fantasy out this strange little tale, and provided readers with an entirely new perspective on Rumpelstiltskin. Rump is a boy born with half a name. His mother died before his full name was spoken aloud, and now he’s stuck being called Rump. (an awful thing to have happen in a place where your name is your destiny). Rump’s life on The Mountain is one of poverty and ridicule, until he discovers his mother’s old spinning wheel. Suddenly caught up in the need to spin, Rump discovers he not only can spin, he can magically turn straw to gold with his spinning. But magic always has a price, and this magic brings nothing but trouble to Rump’s door. The more he tries to spin himself free, the more tangled he becomes in a terrible family curse. Rump’s only answer may be to find his true name, and with it, his true destiny.
Such an entertaining tale! The author starts readers off with the advantage over our main character, since they of course know what Rump’s name will be–but not the significance behind it. In the traditions of other retold fairy tales like Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, the author not only fleshes out the tale, but builds a world to encompass it, full of imaginative details and delightfully vivid creatures. It’s refreshing to have a male protagonist for a change–so many of these fractured fairy tales tend to have heroines. The author manages to deliver a satisfying rendition of Rumpelstiltskin while also providing readers a new look into why the events transpired as they did, as well as making our gold-spinner the hero of the story.
I’ve seen a few comments that feel the story doesn’t go far enough or that the characters aren’t plumbed for rich emotional inner lives nearly enough. My response is that this book is what it sets itself out to be, a solid middle-grade fantasy story. Rather than pushing the story into darker and edgier territory more suitable for teens (and believe me that has been done with Rumpelstiltskin) Shurtliff crafts and approachable yarn that will pull in fourth and fifth grade reader and introduces them to a fairy tale they might not know much about. While the story will doubtless be thin for young adult tastes, I think it hits all the right notes for younger readers. Rump is a likable, if troubled character who manages to make a muddle of things for a while before he learns how to untangle the mess. I won’t deny that the story’s true villains are more than a little two dimensional, but they fit well with the width and breadth of the story being told.
For a debut novel, this is very well done indeed. The writing and storytelling flow easily and it’s clear the author accomplishes what she set out to do and then some. If offering any criticism, I did feel that the “gross” element of the trolls was occasionally overdone. Despite the lighthearted tone of parts of this book, it is still a dramatic piece of fiction not a work of comedy. The trolls in general were a little cartoonish, but I was able to move past that and enjoy the story nevertheless. Ms. Liesl has left plenty of possibilities for more stories set in her world, but whether she pursues that avenue, or takes on another setting entirely, I do hope she keeps writing!
For similar fractured fairy tale adventures, readers should check out Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (Scholastic, 1997) and The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell (HarperCollins, 2011). If readers are interested in other Rumpelstiltskin stories, look for Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter by Diane Stanley (HarperCollins, 2002) and The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde (Houghton Mifflin, 2000).
Happy Reading! ^_^