Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

"Mom let me name you after my Barbie doll," my older sister declared when we were little kids. Dippy me believed her well into adulthood before learning that I was named after a friend of my mom's. There is power in names and thinking I had been named after something as frivolous as a doll bothered me growing up. I remember thinking mom and dad had too many kids if they were letting siblings name them after toys. I imagined naming my brothers, "Hasbro" or "Matchbox" or "G.I. Joe." At least I wasn't named, "Rump" as in this tale. Yeek! Talk about having an identity crisis. Rump's mom gasped only part of his name before dying right after giving birth to him. His name is sure to have young readers howling from the first sentence,"My mother named me after a cow's rear end. It's the favorite village joke..." to leaving a breadcrumb trail of butt, poo, and fart jokes. Plot and characterization are driven by this overarching theme that a name is full of meaning and power that determines a person's future. Twelve-year-old Rump, who is smaller than average, agonizes over his name because it is not a whole name and therefore he will not be able to determine his destiny.  He believes he won't grow up but will be trapped as half a person. He lets some town boys bully him and doesn't know how to believe in himself, much less imagine a future that leads to a worthwhile occupation.

His best friend, Red helps him seek out his name and answers to his past. Red looks at facts and is not superstitious like Rump. When the two go into the scary Woods, Rump is afraid of being attacked by squirrels like the boy at school, but Red explains that the boy had chicken pox. She's the voice of reason who is more cautious when dealing with magic and reminds Rump there are consequences to those who use it. When Rump finds a spinning wheel he discovers that he can weave straw into gold. Ecstatic, he believes he has found his destiny that will make his problems disappear. Unfortunately, gold makes his life more complicated with greedy people manipulating him and innocent people being threatened with death. He goes on a quest to make things right and discovers what it means to make your own destiny.

The story oozes with references to other fairy tales that made reading it great fun. Red from "Little Red Riding Hood" has a path that appears in the woods just for her. The two sit on wood stumps that the woodcutter made and Red's grandma has terrific senses even though Rump thinks she's a witch that will eat him like in "Hansel and Gretel." Opal has a weird tick where she licks her lips like a frog which made me think of the "The Frog Princess." Rump rescues Opal like a princess and the thorn bushes made me think of "Sleeping Beauty." The magic mirror and poison apples in "Snow White" make an appearance along with the singing harp and magic seeds found in "Jack and the Beanstalk." The author puts her own twist on these items and ties them in with Jack's internal changes as he grows up. I was so into the Brothers Grimm references that when I read, "Gran once said there would be times in my life when I would be trapped, with walls all around me too high to climb and no way out. Then I would need someone from outside and above to throw down a rope and pull me up," that I thought of Rapunzel. That's probably a stretch but I was having a hey-ho time. And did Hadel have a bug eye as a nod toward some of the depictions of Rumpelstiltskin in past folktales? See what I mean? Once I started  looking, I couldn't stop.

The plot is predictable in spots but that is pretty normal for fairy tale twists. The skeleton of the fairy tale is usually apparent and this one follows Grimm's, "Rumpelstiltskin," somewhat closely. I did have questions in the plot as to why Gran never told Rump about his mom, why she didn't see her other daughters, and why she didn't burn the spinning wheel. The unpredictability occurs in the character development of Rump who is the opposite of the normal hot-tempered, creepy character in the original fairy tale who is outwitted by the princess. The German word, "rumpelstilzchen," means something similar to a poltergeist or ghost. Rump is a decent kid; he's no nasty goblin. I loved the twist with the trolls and their pet. That was hilarious. Even the ridiculous donkey is used to tie in with the overarching theme of finding a name. Rump realizes that his treatment of the donkey might have been one reason for its obstinate behavior. He reflects that if he had given donkey a name besides "Nothing" and treated him differently, the two might have gotten along better. 

On his quest Rump grows physically which shows he's growing internally too. He isn't a good listener and luckily the author uses this ploy for humor such as when Red, whacks Rump on the head so he'll listen. Rump isn't very good at thinking things through and this is important for his actions at the end with the villain. I find the technique some authors' use of having a character withholding information to advance a plot point annoying and was glad Liesl Shurtliff avoided this in her tale. The villain is one-dimensional and we are not privy to his motivations.

I appreciated the kid and adult humor along with the play on words from "King Barf" to "Yonder and beyond." Troll Mard thinks "Rump" is the best human name she has ever heard because it's not romantic or sentimental. Then she hollers to her brothers, "Gorp! Grot! Out of the stream and into the mud!" Rump describes troll farts as a "hundred times smellier than humans" and their snores like thunder; however, the trolls impart more wisdom to Rump than most humans. Humans are prejudiced toward trolls because of their ugly, nontraditional ways and the author does a great job showing how people need to respect each other in spite of their differences.

Rump's search for his name and destiny is really his search to grow up. He must learn to control his magic and exert his will rather than be trapped by it. He learns that growing up means making a choice of how to live up to his name whether that means choosing to be small and weak or choosing to be strong and smart. This struggle to grow into a better, more confident person is universal and one that many can relate to in life. Plop on your rump and enjoy this wonderful story and message.

4 Smileys

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