Rumpelstiltskin’s Secret : What Women Didn’t Tell the Grimms book cover
1st Edition

Rumpelstiltskin’s Secret
What Women Didn’t Tell the Grimms

ISBN 9780815384588
Published December 16, 2019 by Routledge
286 Pages 39 B/W Illustrations

USD $44.95

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Book Description

Everyone knows Rumpelstiltskin’s story—or thinks they do. But this innocent-seeming tale hides generations of women’s shrewd accounts of their relationships with men. And the verdict is not flattering. The fairytale may count among the world’s oldest dirty jokes. The theme of the tale, an observation repeated and varied throughout, mocks male inadequacy in many forms, beginning with sexual failure. The punchline misplaced, over time its wickedly funny insights about adult life passed for childish nonsense. The story hides, in plain sight, criticism of workplace sexual harassment—centuries before society took notice of the indignity. Rumpelstiltskin tells a feminist tale with lessons for men and women, about what women said to each other when they thought their private conversation and complaints passed unnoticed. In the story’s different versions, the Brothers Grimm, who recorded the tale, missed women’s wry observations.

Table of Contents

Preface by Maria Tatar

1. The Story's History

2. Meaning is Purpose

3. Rumpelstiltskin's Author

4. The Spinner's Libido

5. Fairytale Contracts & Commerce

6. Supernatural Zoology

7. The Talking Cure

8. The Devil vs. Motherhood

9. The Unknown Name

10. A Bad Reputation, Unearned

11. A Lamentable Example of Self-Abuse

12. Rumpelstiltskin's Competition

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Harry Rand is a senior curator of cultural history at the Smithsonian Institution.


"Who has not puzzled over Rumpelstiltskin at one time or another, a fairy-tale figure utterly lacking the charm of his folkloric cousins? Using the sleuthing skills of historians, the interpretive finesse of folklorists, and the artful insight of psychologists, Harry Rand helps us understand the origins of this figure and make sense of the stories in which he flourished."

-- Maria Tatar


"With stimulating psychological, linguistic, and historical analysis of one of our oldest tales, Harry Rand has created a lively book that persuades us a name is more than a name when it comes to women’s humor in the spinning room."

-- Dr. Katharyn Howd Machan, Ithaca College


"Astonishing depth"

-- Harvard Magazine


According to Rand, "Rumpelstiltskin  could be seen as a kind of antihero...very relevant to the lives of 21st-century women."

-- Washington Post