The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
by Liesl Shurtliff
First sentence: “My mother named me after a cow’s rear end.”
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Review copy provided by my place of employment.
Rump lives in the Village on the Mountain in the Kingdom, a place where there are two surefire things: names have power (which is why they don’t name living things), and the king loves his gold. The second is vital to the Village’s survival: it’s their duty to find gold in the Mountain for the king. Except their supply is dwindling. The first is Rump’s curse, or so he feels: he’s only got half a name. He doesn’t really believe his mother — who died shortly after giving birth — only meant to name him Rump. But as to what the rest of the name is, he has no clue.
Then: his grandmother dies, and Rump’s slowly starving because he’s too sad to work. That, and the miller — who’s in charge of the rations — is becoming stingier. Then, one night, he finds his mother’s old spinning wheel, and Rump discovers something: he can spin straw into gold.
If you’re familiar with the fairy tale at all, you pretty much know what’s going to happen next. Except, Shurtliff does some fun, fresh things with the tale while staying true to the basic story arc. The most unique, I think, is the idea of a “rumple” — magic that catches a person in it’s tethers — and a “stiltskin” — powerful magic that can break the rumple. I liked how she played with the name of the fairy tale character, giving it meaning, which also fit into the world she had built.
Shurtliff made this into a journey story as well: in order for Rump to figure out his own True Name, he has to leave the Village and travel to Yonder and Beyond in order to figure things out. On his way he meets several other characters that were clever and endearing, most notably: the trolls, who find magic items and hide them from humans; and his three aunts, who weave and spin marvelous things.
It’s a tight, clever little book, one that captures what’s best about middle grade fantasy (indeed: I picked this one up because both C and A raved about it, and I thought it sounded delightful), and what we love about fairy tales.