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In a reworking of the Rumplestiltskin folktale, novelist Elizabeth Bunce notes the following:

The anti-Semitic overtones of the Grimm version are deeply disturbing to

me—and should be to any modern audience—and I have tried to steer well clear from them.

A Curse As Dark As Gold

There certainly are anti-Semitic Grimm tales, such as "The Jew in the Thorns." The only thing I can think of that’s possibly relevant in "Rumplestiltskin," though, is the following portion:

She first asked, “Is your name Kunz?”

“No.”

“Is your name Heinz?”

“Rumplestiltskin”

E.g., perhaps these are stereotypically Jewish names (or Rumplestiltskin itself is?)

On the other hand, there are many other possible ways it could invoke stereotypes of Jews, some of which might only be obvious in the original.

Is Rumplestiltskin supposed to be an anti-Semitic caricature?

  • If the phrasing of this question (e.g., asking about intent) is not appropriate for this SE, please tell me so I can change it. – Obie 2.0 Apr 5 '18 at 8:43
  • This one is in the realm of semiotics. You're going to have a tough time finding a place where this isn't opinion-based. But it might fit here, or Literature SE (or possibly over at Skeptics SE, since you're trying to refute some modern person's statement). Here, you seem to be seeking anti-Semitic kennings hidden in the story. Why don't you search the text for one or two more suspects and edit them into the question? – Spencer Apr 5 '18 at 9:49
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    @Spencer - Well, the way she talked about it, it sounded pretty settled. I’m certain there’s been some scholarly work on this. I can’t find anything else obvious (but there might be something non-obvious, which is why I am asking). – Obie 2.0 Apr 5 '18 at 9:56
  • I don't think it is a good idea to first assume some tales have antisemitic overtones and then go looking from them. Confirmation bias almost ensures you will find something that can be interpreted as antisemitic. I think the only way for clarity here is to ask the one that claims antisemitism to explain, unless this is clearly visible. – Discrete lizard Apr 5 '18 at 18:07
  • Nearly all analysis of art is partially opinion based--it's about having insights and building a case for them. The humanities are not hard sciences, nor are they intended to be. It's strictly interpretive and this is a valid inquiry. (Obie is clearly not the only person thinking about this: The Dark Side of the Grimm Fairy Tales – DukeZhou Apr 5 '18 at 19:26
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Was Rumplestiltzchen intended as a Jewish Character?

SHORT ANSWER: I would say, no, he was not. The Encyclopäpie des Märchens entry for Rumpelstiltzchen directs to “Name des Unholdes” (name of the fiend/enemy). Entry 5 on pg. 1170-1171 discusses the name Rumpelstiltzchen. It states that the Grimms knew of the name from Johann Fischarts Geschichklitterung (1582). “Rumpele stilt oder der Poppart.” It was a game. What kind of game it was is unknown.

LONG ANSWER AND COMMNET: Also, look at what the Grimms wrote about the text in the Appendix they wrote to the KHM. I consider the Appendix (Anhang) to be a gold mine of information. Most translators ignore it thinking that people like yourself will have no interest in it. Only Margaret Hunt and myself have translated it completely. From my translation:

“Already Fischart, can testify as to the age of this tale in Gargantug where the games are listed, is under No. 363 a game: "Rumpele stilt or Poppart." One also says Rumpenstinzchen. The story itself is also started in the following manner differently: a little girl was given a Kaute flax, out of this it should spin flax, but what it spun, was always gold thread and not a single thread of flax could come out of her wheel. Since it was sad, sat on the roof and spun and spun for three days, but still nothing but of gold. Thereon a small man-ling came walking: I will save you from all your need, a young king's son shall pass here, and marry you, but you must promise me your first child, etc. Also the man-ling is discovered differently. A maid of the Queen goes out at night into the forest there she sees it on a cooking spoon and riding around a large fire, etc. At last the man-ling also flies on the wooden spoon out of the window.

In many German Märchen Millers and Miller’s daughters come up (see No. 31.), the current recalls very particularly to the Nordic Fenia and Menia, that all, that one wanted to have were able to grind, and who the king Frode let grind peace and gold. - The calling of the children grabs into many myths.

The spinning of the gold can also be understood in a different way, namely through the hard difficult, sorrowful work of making gold wire, which was left to poor maidens (virgins) to do. So it is called in an old Danish song: nu er mim sorg saa mangefold, fom Jomfruer, de spinde guld.

In English: now my sorrow so many times, as virgins, they spin gold. Notes: Kaute = an old German expression for “a depression.”?

Handwritten notes:“After a different telling is begun in this way: the wife goes by a garden, wherein beautiful cherries are, gets strong desire for them and eats of them; a black man comes out of the earth and she must promise him her child. When is it born, he pushed through all watches [guards], who the husband has set out, and will only leave the woman the child, if when she knows his name. Now the man follows him, sees, how he climbs into a cave that is from all sides surrounded by hanging bone spoons[?] and hears how he calls himself Fleder Filtz.”

I can not see anything anti-semitic in what the Grimms say here. To them, the text is about the difficult work of spinning.

I am working on translating the 2nd Volume of the First Edition of the KHM into English. I would caution against using modern cultural norms to interpret, identify or ascribe meaning the tales. Things that are abhorrent to us today were common place a long time ago. Would anyone today take a young child to see an execution today? No. Way back it was common. While some today may us a phrase such as: “He should be hung, drawn and quartered,” most probably have no idea exactly how gruesome that actually was. The cutting off of horses heads and hanging them on a wall may seem “barbaric” to us today, but when one understands that horses in Norse mythology were sacred animals often raised and uses specifically for sacrifices, to ward off evil, enemies, etc., it puts the whole question more into perspective. I would say that before people such as Bunce make such statements as you wrote, that they understand the mythology and history behind the tales first. Statements like that are easy to say if one does not know the facts.

Regarding the Jew in Thorns – it is a text I have worked on. I would say that it was not the Grimms that first created the Jewish character in the text. The text has a rich history. The Jew was first added in a Czech version from 1604. Johannes Bolte states that the German poem was brought into Čzech in 1604 by Tobias Mouřenin from Leitmischul: “Historia kratochvilná o jednom sedlském pacholku, kterak u sedláka za tři groše sloužil, a o poběhlým židu” (Entertaining History of a Fram-servant, who served a farmer for three Groscehn, and a lost Jew). It is in this Čzech version that the character of the monk is first changed into a Jew. Before that, in other versions, the hated character is a monk. For this I would consider Henry the VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Monks were not well liked in the past. Why has the monk's bad reputation mostly, if not entirely, been ignored?

I have looked at the origins of the text. I have looked at where, when and by whom the character of the Jew was added into different texts. I have not looked at the question as to why the figure of the Jew was added. The Grimm version, as Bolte stated, was also based on an oral version from Hessen.

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  • This is intriguing, but a little hard to follow. You can use a > at the beginning of a paragraph to produce nice-looking quotes. Also, some evidence of your credentials would be ideal (though not required). Are you Oliver Loo? – Obie 2.0 Apr 27 '18 at 19:04
  • Also, the Jewish element of the Jew in the Thorns being added later (possibly in response to anti-Jewish sentiment), and the fact that the target was originally a different hated minority, seems to strengthen, not weaken, the already strong evidence for anti-Semitism in the text. – Obie 2.0 Apr 27 '18 at 19:08
  • Welcome to Mythology and thanks for contributing! (Always nice to have an expert chiming in.) This is an excellent answer on many levels. Due to the length, you might consider some formatting to highlight the major points. – DukeZhou Apr 27 '18 at 20:21
  • Thanks. Yes, I am he. Can you give me some pointers on formatting? I will fix it as I can. Anti-semitism is a large question. Why do some people always concentrate on this text as the example? Why not also ook at KHM #115 where the wife of a man who killed a Jew tells her friend/godmother of the murder. She then tells the whole city of the murder. The man is then brought to a court of law, convicted and executed? In this text, an entire town and justice system can be said to "disapprove" of the murder. Order matters too. This was only 3/5 texts after KHM 110. – Oliver-Grimm Apr 27 '18 at 21:05
  • Were there texts in the KHM that we today in America consider anti-Jewish? Yes. Did Jacob and Wilhelm use language in their personal correspondence that can be considered anti-Jewish today? Yes. Does this mean they (one or both) were anti-Jewish? Don't we need more evidence? Were they actually anti-Jewish? I don't know. I do know that Jacob was very knowledgeable in the Hebrew language, Jewish religion, customs, writings and beliefs. The KHM does contain several references to Jewish texts. Should this not also be considered when answering the question? – Oliver-Grimm Apr 27 '18 at 21:20
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Heinz is short for Heinrich and Kunz is a (now rare) abbreviation of Konrad, all typically Germanic names. There is nothing Jewish about them, and certainly not about Rumplestiltskin. It is very difficult to see what is supposed to be anti-Semitic about this story.

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  • My experience is that many Germanic surnames we think of as Jewish in the US are not exclusively Jewish. However, many Jews converted to avoid oppression, and that history is sometimes lost. This answer needs some support. (Apologies for the downvote--I will amend if you provide some research.) – DukeZhou Apr 5 '18 at 19:35
  • May I add that I am talking about given names, not surnames. @DukeZhou – fdb Apr 6 '18 at 18:38
  • Edit that in and I'll remove my downvote. (I was confused confusion b/c both also serve as surnames.) – DukeZhou Apr 6 '18 at 20:41
  • +1: I don't see the anti-semitism in this story either. – Mozibur Ullah Apr 27 '18 at 19:46
  • @DukeZhou: I didn't know that Kunz is a 'rare abbreviation of Konrad'; that seems like good enough research to me. Jews also converted for reasons other than oppression and many were secular - does one 'convert' to secularism? – Mozibur Ullah Apr 27 '18 at 19:51

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