Fairytales never grow old, just like many of the characters who inhabit them. And Liesl Shurtliff's Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin (Knopf, April 2013) is a delightfully cheeky (forgive me) retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin tale. Consider it a backstory of the curious and misunderstood little man of spinning gold and stolen babies. This is Liesl's debut novel, and with a starred review from Kirkus, as well as Publisher's Weekly trumpeting that "the picaresque-style narrative gives the maligned character a refreshingly plainspoken voice," we're sure to see more wonderful works from her.
Twelve-year-old Rump has never known his full name. Having lost his mother young, before she could utter or explain it, he's been the butt of everyone's jokes for as long as he can remember. However, things begin to change for Rump when he stumbles upon an old spinning wheel. Suddenly, Rump has something to offer as he learns he can spin straw into magical gold. On Rump's journey to figure out his full name and his destiny, he discovers much more about himself.
Question: What inspired you to put your own spin on the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale?
Liesl Shurtliff: I was actually brainstorming another story idea when I imagined a world where names are much more than just a title, but a person’s destiny. Instantly my mind gravitated toward the Rumpelstiltskin tale, for if there was ever a name of great importance in a story, it’s that one. And yet, for the crucial role he and his name play in the story, we know so little of Rumpelstiltskin in the traditional tale. We know nothing of where he comes from, what his name means, how he learned to spin straw into gold, or why on earth he would want someone’s first born child. I’ve read a few retellings that are well written and answer some of these questions, but I wanted to tell a story from Rumpelstiltksin’s point-of-view, and not only so we would understand him, but also love him. Shortening his name to Rump got me on the right track and everything grew from there.
Q: In the world of fairytales, the princesses tend to get most of the attention and shelf space. Did you choose to write about Rump and his plucky best friend, Red, for a reason? Were you trying to reach a particular audience?
LS: I can’t say that I was writing it for any reason other than to carry out an idea that was growing inside of me. I didn’t think of what is or isn’t on the shelf, necessarily. (Though I will admit that I felt my premise was a unique one and that gave me confidence.)
It was clear to me from the beginning that this was going to be a middle-grade book, not because that’s what I wanted, but because that’s just where the voice and story naturally fell. Rump always had a lightness and humor that felt very natural to the age. I guess my inner 10-year-old is alive and well.
Q: Rump has some delightful quirks to his personality, especially a knack for making up rhymes. Do you share Rump's idiosyncrasies?
LS: I do! Though I’m not so carefree with showing those idiosyncrasies with people I don’t know. Admittedly I cover myself up a lot of time, and don’t reveal my “weirdness” until I feel comfortable that a person isn’t going to think I’m completely mad. But really, we’re all a little mad around here, aren’t we?
Q: Rump makes wonderful realizations as he wrestles with his destiny. "Deep inside I have a power that no one can take away from me. A deep magic more powerful than any magic placed upon me. A magic I that I was born with, that grew inside me, deep in my bones." What do you hope kids take away from your story?
LS: Mostly, I just hope kids will enjoy the story, and come away with a sense of satisfaction that my version of a classic tale filled in the holes of a tale with many holes. I never write something with the motive to make people learn or understand something I feel they should know. However, if readers so choose to contemplate a lasting message from Rump I hope it will be that as humans, we are living paradoxes. We are complete messes sometimes, whether we inherited the mess or created the mess ourselves, but we also have this incredible power inside of us to confront those messes and untangle them and clean them up. No one gets through life without encountering hard things, but we can do hard things!
Q: What's ahead in your writing? Will we see more of Rump and Red? Or another completely original take on a traditional fairytale?
I think Rump’s tale has essentially been told. He could possibly crop up in a very off-hand way in another tale, but I don’t have any plans for him. As for Red, I adore her character and hope to tell her story some day, but for now she is taking a rest because, good golly, she went through a lot, too, and I imagine her own path is a difficult one.
I am working on another fairy-tale! One that I think will be just as fun and satisfying as Rump, if not more so, but I am keeping the details a secret until I am certain it’s going to work out. It’s still in the beginning stages and I don’t want to tell anyone what’s up next when I’m not certain that it’s actually going to happen. I hope it does!