Book Review of Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

What My Kids Read Review: Rump by Liesl Shurtliff Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin is a new book, released April of this year. I found it on the Amazon bestseller list, and, having a weakness for fairy tales, decided to try it out. The overall message of the book was that you can choose your destiny. The author, Liesl Shurtliff, had trouble with her name growing up, so this was her exploration of the question: does a name define you? Rump discovers that it does not. I liked it enough to pass it on to Liam, who is 10 years old. It is yet another plot with an orphan as the main character, taking on the whole world, but it still had themes of compassion and redemption. Personally, I have enjoyed the television series, “Once Upon a Time,” and I feel like this book is similar in feel and style (although more age appropriate for middle school kids).

My Mom-Meter gives this particular book a 2 (Moderately Safe) for ages 9 and up.

I couldn’t find a good plot summary of this book, so I will do my best to sum it up. Rump is a retelling of the story of Rumpelstiltskin. Rump’s mother died when he was born, gasping out half of his name as she died, leaving him with only half a name. Everyone believes that your name determines your destiny, so Rump is determined to discover the rest of his name. Rump grows up in poverty with his grandmother, Gran, trying to scrape gold out of The Mountain. Gran dies, and Rump discovers that he has inherited his mother’s ability to spin straw into gold, but it comes at a heavy price. He is compelled to accept whatever someone offers in exchange for the gold (moldy potatoes, a necklace, or even a firstborn baby). Rump gets trapped into a deal with the miller to spin gold to save his daughter, and the daughter ends up promising him her firstborn if he will spin straw to gold so she can become queen. Rump spins the gold and then runs far away, hoping that he would never be given the baby, and desperately looking for a “stiltskin,” which is “magic at its greatest,” it could be any kind of object, but he needs it to be free from the magical curse he is under. When Rump runs away, he meet trolls and discovers that they are not as terrible as they seem. He then searches for information about his mother and finds his aunts, the Wool Witches. They create beautiful textiles, balancing skill and magic to create lovely quilts and blankets. Rump learns that his mother became too proud of her skill, pushed further into magic than her skill could handle, and began to spin gold. She was then enslaved by the magic, having to accept whatever anyone offered, never able to bargain or refuse. A merchant (who later became a miller) discovered her weakness and exploited her until she died. Being stuck in weaving or magic is called a “rumpel.” Rump believes that must have been his name, and he begins to accept his identity as a just stuck, or controlled by magic beyond his control. After hearing that the queen has had her firstborn son, Rump is compelled to go claim the baby, even though he does not want to. While at the castle, the miller threatens to hurt a girl named Red, Rump’s only friend, unless Rump spins a room of straw into gold. Rump manages to promise the queen that he will give her baby back to her if she can guess his name. Rump does spin the straw to gold, but as he does, he realizes his name is Rumpelstiltskin, and the queen guesses it, releasing him from the magic that binds that baby to him. He also realizes that he has the power to change things, so he saves Red and makes it impossible for anyone to have the gold he spun. In the end, Rumpelstiltskin understands that a name has importance, but that he can change his destiny.

Alcohol/Drugs:

  • In gossip, it is mentioned that a maid “spilled a glass of wine on somebody.”
  • Someone tells the story that a little boy once “pinched a swig of the king’s finest wine” and threw it up.
  • The miller’s breath smelled like “sour ale.”

Bullying:

  • Frederick and Bruno, the miller’s sons, call Rump lots of names like “Butt,” Cow Rump,” Baby Rump,” and “Rump Roast.” They throw “poop” at him, and tease him every chance they get.
  • Frederick and Bruno throw pebbles at Rump’s head all day.
  • Frederick and Bruno throw snowballs at Rump to harass him.
  • Frederick and Bruno try to set Rump’s pants on fire. They set a pile of straw on fire, and Rump barely escapes.
  • Frederick says “I’m going to punch [Rump] so hard he sees pixies!”
  • “When they were together, Bruno did whatever his brother told him, but by himself he was meaner than Frederick. Maybe he was only mean to me because other people made him feel small and he wanted to prove that he was big. I suddenly felt sorry for Bruno in a way I never had, and Frederick too, because he probably felt small around the miller and the miller probably felt small around someone else like King Barf. But I didn’t feel too sorry. Bruno might feel smaller than me even, but I didn’t think meanness was ever in anyone’s destiny. Meanness was a choice.”

Gross humor:

  • There are many word plays on Rump’s name. He is called “Butt” by bullies.
  • Bullies throw “poop” at Rump as a prank on his birthday.
  • Rump calls King Bartholomew Archibald Reginald Fife by his initials, “King Barf.”
  • Rump steps in donkey “poop.”
  • Rump imagines that Red’s granny, the Witch of the Woods, has eyeballs, blood, snakes, roaches, or small fingers bottled up.
  • Rump says that his donkey has a “stubborn rump.”
  • “Bottom” is mentioned once when Rump falls into a thorn-bush and has “needle thorns” in his bottom.
  • The miller’s daughter asks “Aren’t you the one called Butt?”
  • Someone tells the story that a little boy once “pinched a swig of the king’s finest wine” and threw it up.
  • “Troll farts…are a hundred times smellier than the human kind.”
  • Trolls eat a stinky concoction called “sludge.” Rump thinks he ate a worm or two in it.
  • Rump gets attacked by pixies and is swollen everywhere. He references his “lopsided butt” several times.
  • Rump says he needs to answer the “call of nature” several times. He threatens to wet his pants and doesn’t think he can spin gold out of “pee-straw.”

Language:

  • Rump says he was named after a cow’s rear end. 
  • The miller’s sons call Rump lots of names like “Butt,” Cow Rump,” Baby Rump,” and “Rump Roast.”
  • Someone says “Hogwash!”
  • An old man called the miller a “filthy liar, you cheat!” He also says “You dirty cheat! Rotten swindler!”
  • Red’s grandmother calls Rump’s grandmothers a “crabby old wretch.” Rump’s grandmother also calls Red’s grandmother a “crabby old wretch.”
  • “Idiot” is used multiple times. Rump thinks that the miller’s sons are “complete idiots.”
  • In one of Rump’s rhymes, he says “stupid, ugly rat.”
  • Red says “I don’t think you’re an idiot, Rump.” But Rump says, “I was an idiot. Why did I have to spin all that straw to gold?” Later, Red says “You are an idiot, Rump, but you’re the smartest idiot I know.”
  • “Numbskull” is said several times.
  • “Fool” is used a few times.
  • Someone says “Troll’s breath!” as an expletive.
  • “Wench” is used a few times.
  • Red utters a “slew of curses.”

Magic:

  • Pixies are prevalent in this story. They are pests that fly around, looking for bright, shiny things. They love gold, and attack to get some. They will bite and hurt someone to get gold.
  • Gnomes are mentioned. They run around giving messages to people. (They made me think of the house elves in the Harry Potter series.)
  • There is a “Witch of the Woods,” who turns out to be Red’s grandmother. She predicts things that will happen in Rump’s life, and warns him to watch his step.
  • Ogres are mentioned a few times in passing.
  • Rump remembers stories of a witch that would catch children and eat them (Hansel and Gretel reference), another witch who stole a baby and locked her in a tower (Rapunzel reference), mice turning into horses and a pumpkin being turned into a golden carriage (Cinderella reference), and a witch who was a queen that tried to kill her step-daughter for her beauty (Snow White reference).
  • Rump had heard that a witch could “brew a storm,” “turn you into a fat pig,” turn “someone into a toad,” or make a storm.
  • The peddlar, Kessler, could “touch fire, make things disappear, or turn one small thing into something else.”
  • Kessler turns fuzz into a mouse, and then all the mice in the village run ou and chase after Kessler.
  • Rump spins straw into gold.
  • Rump is caught by trolls. He learns that they do not really eat people, but they do not want humans to know that they can smell magic. They were once used as slaves to smell out magic, and decided to make humans think that trolls would eat them, so that the trolls could be left alone.
  • Rump imagines that Red’s granny, the Witch of the Woods, has eyeballs, blood, snakes, roaches, or small fingers bottled up.
  • Rump is compelled by the magic to accept whatever is offered for his gold.
  • “A stiltskin is magic at its greatest. Pure magic, un-meddled-with and more powerful than any enchantment or spell…they could be anywhere… and they could look like anything…A stiltskin’s magic grows with the object, becomes part of it. It’s a real deep-in-the-bones kind of magic…It’s stronger than even the strongest curse.”
  • It is mentioned that someone took a magic potion to make her beautiful.
  • The trolls fear the apples from an apple tree that was grown from the poisoned apple Snow White ate. They can smell the magic.
  • The trolls have a stash of magic things they have found. They hide them from humans because humans only hurt themselves and others with them.
  • “Luck” is mentioned once.
  • Rump’s aunts are called the “Wool Witches.” They use a combination of skill and magic to spin and create beautiful textiles.
  • When Rump announces that he is their nephew, the Wool Witches act “as if they had all been frozen by a spell.”
  • “Rumpel” means “wrapped or trapped in magic.”
  • One of the miller’s sons says “I’m going to punch [Rump] so hard he sees pixies!”
  • Rump is called a “demon” several times and “demon baby stealer.”
  • Rump feels that his mother and Gran are with him. “And that’s its own kind of magic – to feel that people who are gone are still here.”

Romance:

  • The bullies ask Red if she loves Rump and says that they want to be alone.
  • The miller says that his daughter will marry well. Rump is embarrassed because the miller thinks Rump likes to look at his daughter.
  • It is mentioned that Snow White awakened from the sleeping spell once the prince gave her “true love’s kiss.”
  • Rump thinks that there isn’t any way that he would be wakened by “true love’s kiss,” since he only knows Red. “I think she’d rather hit me in the face than kiss me.”
  • “True love was for fair princesses and maiden and knights in shining armor.”

Violence:

  • Pixies violently attack Rump, biting him for gold, leaving him very swollen.
  • Red once punched a boy and bloodied his nose. After Red shows Rump a tree filled with honey, she says “If you tell, I’ll punch your teeth out.”
  • Red hits Rump on the head so he will stop talking.
  • Gran dies of old age.
  • Red slaps Rump and calls him a “numbskull.”
  • There was a story of a boy who was attacked by squirrels and had “little teeth marks all over his face and neck.” It was actually scars from the pox.
  • The miller’s sons try to set Rump’s pants on fire. They set a pile of straw on fire, and Rump barely escapes.
  • When Rump is caught by trolls, he thinks they are going to eat him. They talk about what parts of him they want to eat, but it is all for effect. Trolls do not eat people.
  • The trolls “whack” each other for fun.
  • One of the miller’s sons says “I’m going to punch [Rump] so hard he sees pixies!”
  • Rump was very mad at the miller for threatening Red. “I wanted to punch him – punch him in his big red belly and make him explode!”
  • The miller threatens to burn Red. He hits her and leaves a mark.
  • The miller slaps Rump very hard.

Other Possible Offenses:

  • There are several references to how “fat” the miller is, implying that he is greedy (which he is).
  • There is also a “fat” cook at the castle, but she is nice.

Potential Discussion Points:

  • The people in Rump’s village are so hungry, they give gold for a bag of flour. Rump will do anything to get food. Potential Discussion Point: Hunger can make people do desperate things. You might want to talk with your kids about times of famine in history, or even the Great Depression here in the US.
  • Rump says “Gold will make me worth something.” Potential Discussion Point: Did gold make things better for Gran and Rump?
  • Gran did not tell Rump much of anything about his mother. Potential Discussion Point: Gran was tying to protect Rump. Do you think it helped him or hurt him in the long run? Why do you think she kept the spinning wheel?
  • Oswald the miller keeps the food rations for his family, cheating the poor villagers out of their gold. Potential Discussion Point: You might want to talk about how your family believes we should treat the poor. You could even talk about what fair trade means.
  • Red says “All magic has consequences.” The trolls show Rump that magic comes with a price. They have a magic mirror that will show you whatever you want, but it enslaves you “until all you care about is yourself and the mirror.” Kessler the peddlar lost his mind because of magic. Potential Discussion Point: Do you think Red was right? What were the consequences of magic in this story?
  • Oswald the miller lies and says that his daughter can spin straw to gold, and the king demands her to do it at his castle. Rump believes it is his fault. “An innocent girl was being led to her doom because of me.” Later, he learns that her father had manipulated the entire situation because he knew Rump would feel obliged to save her. Potential Discussion Point: What would you do if you were Rump? What would you do if you were the miller’s daughter? How should the miller have acted?
  • Pride caused Rump’s mother to begin spinning gold, and it enslaved her. Potential Discussion Point: Have you ever seen someone do something out of pride that they were then stuck with the consequences?
  • Rump says, “When they were together, Bruno did whatever his brother told him, but by himself he was meaner than Frederick. Maybe he was only mean to me because other people made him feel small and he wanted to prove that he was big. I suddenly felt sorry for Bruno in a way I never had, and Frederick too, because he probably felt small around the miller and the miller probably felt small around someone else like King Barf. But I didn’t feel too sorry. Bruno might feel smaller than me even, but I didn’t think meanness was ever in anyone’s destiny. Meanness was a choice.” Potential Discussion Point: Why do you think people bully the weak? Is being bullied a good excuse to bully someone else?
  • The miller says that the king “would rather have gold than a child.” Potential Discussion Point: Whether or not that was true of the king, do you think that the miller would rather have gold than a child? He may have traded his daughter for gold, and he was definitely trading his grandson for gold.
  • A troll says “You humans always talk about magic and destiny like it’s the most powerful thing in the world. Like it controls you.” Rump says “Doesn’t it?” “I guess it does if you want it to… It’s the people who cause the trouble, Rump. Not the magic itself.” Potential Discussion Point: Do you ever feel like you can’t stay out of trouble, like it is out of your control? Is that feeling the truth? What should you do when you feel that way?

From a ten-year old’s perspective: I really enjoyed this book! The author packed so much story into such a short book. It is only about 250 pages, but it felt like it covered 1,001 pages. I liked learning the background of a fairy tale. I think most kids would enjoy this book.

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Comments

  1. haven’t heard of this one…thanks for the review!

  2. Kristal, I think it was released this year – it’s pretty new. Our library has it. :)

  3. I’ll have to reserve it! Oh, and I wanted to make a comment about “once upon a time” as soon as I saw the title of this post, but then read you already made the connection;)

  4. Kristal, great minds… :)

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