Joseph Brant.

Bargaining is fraught with danger. You may pick the wrong prize. You may make a deal with the wrong person(s). You may wager the wrong amount and lose more than you can afford. The wrong partner may trick you to ruin the deal. A bad bargain is awful enough. But what happens when you are caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, and you cannot make the good bargain? The answer is archetypal. When you fail to get what you bargained for, you get vilified. No one likes you. Not your own people, whom you apparently failed. Not with others, who are too polite to disagree with your nation. You turn into a devil. Just like that devil Rumpelstiltskin. You and your reputation return to the forest whence you came. You are unheralded and unloved. You are demonized.

Joseph Brant has the misfortune to watch bargains go wrong on all counts. In the wake of his failure to secure sovereignty in Upper Canada for the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois League/Six Nations Confederacy of the Grand River/People of the Longhouse), Brant’s reputation turns to ashes. Lest Haudenosaunee writers, such as Rick Monture, let themselves get fooled into defending some kind of equivocation on Brant’s reputation, let me bluntly say it: racism lies here! No one like Brant.

Brant’s gravesite at the Mohawk Chapel in Brantford is in uninspiring condition (2016). No one seems to care about honouring his memory and recognizing his invaluable contribution to the Canadian nation, and to the Haudenosaunee in Canada. To recognize a person has value to a nation(s) is not to turn that person into an immortal myth like, say, Robin Hood or King Arthur or Charlemagne or Leif the Lucky. But why not? This country, more than any other, could use a hero. 

Masons put up a plaque on Brant’s tomb so far short of the real story of Thayendanegea as to be breath-taking. Thanks to the Masons – but no thanks. Joseph Brant would not have considered himself a “fellow subject” of the Crown. He and his people were the Crown’s allies in a terrible war fought on the Haudenosaunee’s front doorstep. One is sore mistaken to call Brant a United Empire Loyalist.

Apparently Brant’s supporters among the Haudenosaunee dare not speak up to recognize his remarkable achievements. That being so, Ottawa – the soul of political correctness – need not commemorate him. A national and First Nations’ travesty.


In the following paragraph is a relatively recent (2002) 21st-century sample of insensitive and incorrect and ignorant opinion, mixed with a pinch of fact.

“Once the white men arrived, the Iroquois peoples showed themselves adept at trading and bartering with the newcomers. But their talent was only prolonging the inevitable – the whites wanted land to expand into, and the Six Nations were sitting on prime property. The defining event was the American War of Independence in 1776. Most of the Six Nations made the mistake [sic] of backing the British, and when the thirteen American colonies won the war, the Natives’ days in Upper New York State and Pennsylvania were numbered [this statement makes no sense]. The Six Nations had the advantage of a leader, Joseph Brant, who had been educated in white schools [sic] and had embraced Christianity. He was just the sort of Native [American term. Not used in Canada] whom the British wished all Natives to be like [sic]. Brant helped to negotiate a deal with the British in 1784, in which nearly 2 000 people from all six Iroquois nations moved north across the border to a large and empty parcel of land [sic] on the Grand River in Upper Canada. What the British liked about the arrangement was it kept all these annoying natives in one place [sic].”

. . . and this gem 

“In 1879, the Canadian federal government had arrived at a scheme for turning heathen [sic] Native children into a semblance of Christian boys and girls; they moved them from reserves, and in the expectation of creating thousands of little Joseph and Josephine Brants [sic], they drilled them in white man’s ways at church-run boarding schools designed specifically for Native children.” 

Jack Batten, The man who ran faster than everyone: the story of Tom Longboat. Toronto: Tundra books, 2002.

Challenging Batten’s remarks

“. . . made the mistake . . .” (Batten)

Choosing England’s side was no mistake.

The Haudenosaunee, who would have killed to remain detached (and continue playing one imperialist European country off against the other) had its back to the wall in 1775. The People of the Longhouse were forced to choose a side in the American Revolution. Neutrality meant, in effect, choosing the patriots’ side. Because of Thayendanegea’s relationship with Sir William Johnson, partner of Brant’s sister Molly Koñwatsiˀtsiaiéñni Brant, the young man gravitated toward the English. Good side to pick. In fact life was far better for Indigenous people in British North America – post American Revolution – than it was for the Oneida and some of the Tuscarora, and other First Nations who chose neutrality and were left to deal with the wild and frantic expansionism of the United States. “Brant acted as a tireless negotiator for the Six Nations to control their land without crown oversight . . .. He used British fears of his dealings with the Americans and the French to extract concessions. His conflicts with British administrators in Canada regarding tribal land claims were exacerbated by his relations with the American leaders. Brant was a war chief, and not a hereditary Mohawk sachem. His decisions could be and were sometimes overruled by the sachems and clan matrons. However, his natural ability, his early education, and the connections he was able to form made him one of the great leaders of his people and of his time. The situation of the Six Nations on the Grand River was better than that of the Iroquois who remained in New York.” Alan Taylor

“[Brant] was just the sort of Native [sic] whom the British wished all Natives to be like.” (Batten)

Not true. Brant irritated the British colonial administration. Administrators came openly to dislike him for thwarting their expansionist plans.

“. . . Brant’s persistence in encouraging Indian unity and in maintaining contacts with the other Indian nations became a source of annoyance and suspicion to the British government and to administrators such as Dorchester in the Canadas, who tried to keep the Indians divided, dependent, and subservient. Whereas they had once fostered an Indian confederacy and had encouraged Brant’s leadership, they now tried to discourage his diplomacy, undercut his influence, and redirect his activities to his own settlement. Brant was not one to be easily deterred, and the resulting controversy caused tension for many years.” Barbara Graymont

“[Brant’s] lifelong mission was to help the Indian to survive the transition from one culture to another, transcending the political, social and economic challenges of one the most volatile, dynamic periods of American history. He put his loyalty to the Six Nations before loyalty to the British. His life cannot be summed up in terms of success or failure, although he had known both. More than anything, Brant’s life was marked by frustration and struggle.” Alan Taylor

“. . . in the expectation of creating thousands of little Joseph and Josephine Brants.” (Batten)

This remark is just plain offensive. More than offensive. It’s racist. Batten’s ignorant and uninformed dig at “little Joseph and Josephine Brants” is grossly inappropriate, and insulting to the intelligence of the People of the Longhouse. Where would Batten get the confidence to make such a derogatory and defamatory statement? Surely not from anyone living in Ohsweken on the Grand River?


The Haudenosaunee’s Skunny Wundy is also a woodland trickster but, unlike Rumpelstiltskin, Skunny Wundy usually finds a way to hold the power position. Rumpelstiltskin loses his shirt.

Cautionary tales about bargain-losers are as old as sand. In The Metamorphoses the Roman poet Ovid relates the Hellenistic tale of tricky Dionysus and Midas. Christopher Marlowe pens The Tragic History of Doctor Faustus in 1592. Eight years later Shakespeare creates the jurist, Portia, in The Merchant of Venice to outwit the Jew who dares to strike the hard bargain with the Christian. Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust appears in 1808. Americans are not immune. Washington Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker” (1824) and Stephen Vincent Benét’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1936) are Rumpelstiltskin stories. A knowledgeable person could likely dig around to find a Rumpelstiltskin-type fable in the Haudenosaunee’s oral “storehouse” but I don’t know one, or even where to find one. Still. Bad bargain stories are timeless.

In their 1812 publication Kinder- und Hausmärchen – ‘Children’s and Household Tales’ – the Brothers Grimm include Rumpelstiltskin. Raven’s Shire blog gives us the provenance: “According to Sara Graça da Silva and Jamshid J. Tehran’s research, the Rumpelstiltskin stories are likely over 2500 years old, and possibly as old as the Indo-European’s life on the Steppes 6000 years ago.” 

In Grimms’ tale of Rumpelstiltskin, the beautiful queen pulls off a fast one to quit the hard bargain. Illustrators variously capture her triumph. The queen solves the zero-sum-game puzzle, a foolish addendum to the original contract, and defeats Rumpelstiltskin. The devil gnome is never seen again. Back to the forest! Good riddance. Baby and mother cannot be separated. A misshapen old fellow with knobby knees and Hobbit-like extremities should not get the best of them.


Nor should Rumpelstiltskin get the better of the miller’s daughter. In (2) Rumpelstiltskin is a lascivious and scheming red devil who preys upon a working-girl of the sweet apple-cheeked variety.


In (3) we see the bad child who is no match for the mother queen. Rumpelstiltskin exhibits the inferior intelligence and the behaviour of a naughty boy. The queen guesses his name and he has a temper-tantrum – a great ugly childish fit.


Perhaps none too scary as a naughty boy, Rumpelstiltskin does better as a full-out monster. A grinch-like Rumpelstiltskin cannot break the most sacred human bond, which exists between a mother and her child. In (4) the court-jester-preying-mantis loses the game and the bargain is off. This Rumpelstiltskin is pure devil and the medieval queen saves her beloved offspring who kisses her hand – such is the child’s relief.


In (5 & 6) Rumpelstiltskin is a devious black-hatted gnome dressed like a Renaissance banker or a businessman. He materializes after it is clear that pure greed will factor into resolving the plot. Wanting a baby does not play into the banker’s motives. No. This bad fellow wants ransom power. To get power he will kidnap the king and queen’s heir unless the queen can stop him.


The miller’s daughter is beautiful. She is us. If not us she is a person like us. We are a good-looking people. We are honest souls. Occasionally we may have cruel leaders and silly fathers, but we are loyal to our community. We follow the rules – except when we’re threatened with the immediate extinction of our lineage.

Enter the trickster. Fear of her father makes the miller’s daughter vulnerable to the devil’s wiles and she agrees to the hard bargain. And there’s more fear to come. Fear of suffering a forever loss of her child makes her desperate to find a way out of the hard bargain. In the various illustrations Rumpelstiltskin gets no respect. And no sympathy.

Whatever Rumpelstiltskin’s stake is in the game (and in Grimm’s version of the story we don’t know why the gnome wants the queen’s baby), we believe he asks for “too much.” A mother’s child is no bargaining chip. Rumpelstiltskin is audacious in adding a win-or-lose puzzle to the existing bargain. Hubris marks his downfall. The same kind of audacity marks Shylock’s bargain. In wanting a pound of flesh, which would mean the death of Antonio, Shylock asks for too much. To negate the too-hard bargains, Grimm’s queen and Shakespeare’s indebted merchant must find loyal tricksters to cheat the respective demons out of their prizes. 


Who wouldn’t agree it’s better to trick the demons than to try to kill them? Better to make demons look the fools than turn them into martyrs, who might gin up supporters. In Merchant a disguised Portia (7), clearly acting in conflict-of-interest, solves the legal conundrum with some fancy hair-splitting for the benefit of her kindly husband, Bassanio, and his best friend, the very foolish Antonio. Says Portia, Shylock may have his pound of flesh but he may spill no blood in the process.

In Rumpelstiltskin the queen’s loyal huntsman wanders about the densely forested kingdom. Deep in the woods, the home of devils, the huntsman overhears the gnome chanting his own name. The huntsman gives the terrified queen the answer to the devil’s puzzle, which will release her from the addendum of her bond. Neither the queen nor the merchant can wriggle out of commitments without their caring, loyal helpers – the puzzle-solvers. The adjudicators. The courts.

The queen and Antonio are us and our loyal teams whereas Shylock and Rumpelstiltskin are singular and devilish opponents who pit their tribe’s evil magic against our loyal forces and our love for our children.

Consequently our team’s cheating ways lie beyond reproach. After all the gnome stands poised to steal our queen’s baby. And the stubborn Jew, Shylock, will have his pound of “our” Christian’s flesh, which effectively will kill “our” gullible Antonio. A person without feelings of mercy is inhuman, intones Portia, and that person deserves his comeuppance.

Comeuppance for the lonely devil, the one who asks for “too much,” is best served through tricks and cunning and exile and demonization and dismissal rather than open enmity and violence, which gets employed only as a last resort – better to cause a disappearing act than to create a martyr.

Thayendanegea as Rumpelstiltskin

Brant desires sovereignty for his people, but his demand is “too much.” Of course, in 1775, when there appears to be little choice, the Crown asks for Brant’s help and agrees to Brant’s deal. From 1784 to 1812, 90 000 American-born land-seekers head north. Some squat within the Haldimand Tract. Early on, at the first sign of a population shift in critical mass from Indigenous to European, the Crown, just like the miller’s daughter, shrugs off the original bargain. The Crown cancels the deal. There will be no sovereignty for the Six Nations. In land disputes the colonial courts, like a Portia, declare, time and again, for the settlers.

See the story from a different perspective. Imagine a cosmological interpretation of Rumpelstiltskin. Handsome Rumpelstiltskin bargains for us. Who are we? We are the sturdy and intrepid people who dwell in the woodland. We battle invaders. We strike the hard bargain. We spin the gold (collect the furs, fight in the strangers’ wars, suffer the consequences after invaders steal our land and property) for a greedy imperial parent. Why do we do it? Why do we form an alliance with the devil? We want the baby (our sovereignty). We need the baby. The baby is us and our nation. “Our home and native land.” In the end we lose. Why? We are never out-played or out-witted; we are simply out-manned and out-settled and out-lawed.

Have we bargained with the wrong partner? Have we wagered more than we can afford? Our past and future lives are at stake. Do we ask for too much? No. But our business with the foreign kingdom(s) is difficult because our correspondent insults our speech and our religion and our intelligence and our motives and our looks. We do not see ourselves as a team of lascivious, naughty, child-like, power-hungry, greedy, sub-human, inferior and psychopathic demons sans mercy. We see ourselves as us. We the people. The chosen ones. The exceptional.

In 1775 the Haudenosaunee finds itself stuck. Its nation and territory sit in the middle of three powerful and conflicting forces – American patriots, the British military, and wagonloads of American settlers moving west. All three put the squeeze on the owners of the beautiful Mohawk Valley. When the revolution heats up, warriors do not know where to turn to strike the most favourable alliance for post-war consideration. Treaties of non-encroachment (see the Treaty of 1763) appear to mean nothing to avaricious settlers, who, with the determination of fire ants, are on the move westward. Should the warriors of the Eastern woodland stay neutral? Should they side with United States? Or side with England?

In the end Thayendanegea strikes a bargain with the Crown. Brant will lead his “volunteers” into battle against the United States. In exchange, should the Indigenous allies of England lose the Mohawk Valley, the Crown agrees upon and promises equivalent restitution: to hive out sovereign territory for the Six Nations in the upper hunting grounds (Upper Canada). The bargain is struck.

The American revolution devastates the Mohawk Valley. Without mercy and undertaking a scorched-earth policy, the American patriots (the Sullivan-Clinton expedition), under the direction of George Washington, seize and devastate the ancient homeland of the Haudenosaunee. At Niagara, Brant and Brant’s warriors and volunteers are keen to collect on their side of their bargain with the British. They want a county for their nation.

Enter the team for the winning side: the British colonial government and the colonial court.

From the Indigenous person’s perspective the English parent is both hideous and unpredictable. As awful as the stonish giants. The saviour figure – the Haudenosaunee’s Rumpelstiltskin/Thayendanegea – is a gentleman (8) who keeps his word and fights, often brilliantly, against the American enemy. Thayendanegea tries to minimize reality but the truth, as he well knows, is going to be hard to bear.

His people are in a vulnerable position. The Pine Tree Chief knows very well Washington and the United States will never readily agree to the independence of aboriginal peoples. For Indigenous nationhood and sovereignty, the English hold the only hope (faint) because of their initial promises. But what a narrative switch. The “gnomes” are handsome. The “parents” are ugly. The “tricksters,” i. e., the courts and the colonial government,” hail from the larger, foreign kingdom and they have natural biases toward their own agendas and peoples.

An interpretation of Rumpelstiltskin with handsome gnomes? With ugly mothers and fathers? With cruel foreign courtiers instead of lovely Portia and the brave huntsman? Where is there such a topsy-turvy cosmological viewpoint? 

In the Raven’s Shire blog readers learn “Rumpelstiltskin is the spirit of a conquered people or one of their gods. In this possibility, Rumpelstiltskin might be after a mixture of revenge or is attempting to help his people rise up to their former glory by raising the future king of the land. In this he could be a Merlin-like [or Brant-like] figure of a conquered people who, just as Malagigi the wizard of Charlemagne’s court, was later derided as a devil by later people. Rumpelstiltskin might be a hero to a conquered people still hiding in the woods thus making him an enemy to the kingdom.” (Raven’s Shire blog.) 

The blog’s description of the hero as a conquered Rumpelstiltskin is alluring. The people’s resurgence would make a great ending for Thayendanegea’s own personal wartime leadership and desperate bargaining. But no. Brant is not Merlin. Once a proud chief of his people and a valuable partner to allies, for Thayendanegea, the end is terrible and unjust. He is the devil. His own people turn on him. Could he have expected that? Perhaps.

Looking through the archival material, one sees it’s not as though Thayendanegea misunderstands the Crown’s capacity for double-dealing. Or overlooks the colonial court’s penchant for dirty tricks. Or believes he has no enemies among his own. But at the very least Brant dares to hope he can make the allies stick to the “too much” bargain they have agreed to when they are desperate for Indian assistance. 

9 The law is a trickster, an English Portia in Canada; Family Compact’s biased courts

One cannot imagine the frisson of shock, which must bolt through Brant and his volunteers, when they learn of the treaty between the United States and Great Britain, 1783. The Peace of Paris is a study in Eurocentric thinking. There is no mention of the allies. No acknowledgement of their crucial help. Nothing! By now, the displaced peoples have a strong presence in Niagara. Angry warriors threaten the Crown’s security and land claims in British North America. Their anger pushes Sir Frederick Haldimand, Carleton’s successor, into recommending some kind of action. General Haldimand argues with the Crown, and wins. Haldimand says the British do owe Brant and his people territory in the upper country to cover their losses. After negotiations, the British military surrenders the Haldimand Tract to the Haudenosaunee. Through strength of numbers, Indian sovereignty may win the day, that is, as long as Europe’s nations are in conflict. For warring enemies – USA and Britain – a strong Indian alliance matters. 

Peace is bad news for the Haudenosaunee, and peace is at hand.The United States and Great Britain sign their final peace treaty. On December 24, 1814, in the city of Ghent, United Netherlands, the war came to a close, although the news of peace took time to reach the warring parties. Thayendanegea cannot help the cause. He dies in 1807. Thayendanegea’s vision of a Canajoharie sovereignty for the Six Nations evaporates along with Tecumseh’s remains. A pan-Indian state is not a possibility. First Nations cannot trust the tricky Portia-like colonial courts – not ever. Brant, the great negotiator, and Tecumseh, the charismatic leader, are done. Neither is around to broker, on the ground as it were, a decent peace treaty for the first peoples in 1814. Once again, Great Britain fails to stand by its Indigenous allies.

In 1784, to American patriots, Thayendanegea is the monster Brandt [sic]. To the British military, Captain Joseph Brant’s usefulness has passed its best-before date. To the land-hungry, bigoted colonials, Chief Brant is too ambitious, too grand, too eager to rise above the Haudenosaunee’s innate “inferior” capacity and limited prestige (see Brant’s “mansion.” See also numerous sneering commenters, who believe the genius Brant must have been “white”). To the United Empire Loyalists (and the Masons), Joesph Brant is a mere UEL and a British subject. Among the confused and furious Haudenosaunee, especially those who have no idea what Brant was up against and who don’t appreciate his doggedness and skill in procuring the land on the Grand River, Thayendanegea is le vendu – the sell-out. 

As time goes by, the reputation of the capable leader shrinks like plastic wrap under a hot iron. In the 21st century, Thayendanegea stands pretty much alone. Suddenly, despite the statue in Brantford’s Victoria’s Park (1886) and the street and a hospital and a small museum, which bear his name in Hamilton/Burlington, Joseph Brant is disturbingly singular –  a name on a building, like that unknown person whose elementary school you attended. Who, really, is Major Ballachey?

For some time many historians have known the real Joseph Thayendanegea Brant, under terrible circumstances, is a loyal leader of his people. He is an ally of Britain (NEVER a United Empire Loyalist) and one of the saviours of British North America. Without Brant, it’s likely neither the Haudenosaunee nor the British would have a pot to piss in, not in Canada.

“Brant was a noble figure who dedicated his whole life to the advancement of his people and who struggled to maintain their freedom and sovereignty. His major failure was his inability to understand the nature of British imperialism and to comprehend the fact that the British would not permit two sovereignties to exist in Upper Canada. The Indians were manipulated and exploited by the British government to serve the purposes of the empire; they were encouraged to cede their land in time of peace, pressured to become military allies in time of war, ignored in the treaty of peace, urged to form an enlarged confederacy as a barrier between the British and the Americans, and coerced to abandon the confederacy when the British had composed their differences with their enemy and growing Indian power threatened to rival their own. British colonial agents were then urged to foster jealousies and divisions among the Indian nations in order to keep them in a state of continual dependency upon the British government.” Barbara Graymont, “Thayendanegea,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003.

Reporter John Bkila quotes Rick Monture, Associate Professor of English and Cultural Studies (McMaster), who says, “He’s (Brant [is]) over-romanticized by the white people and harshly criticized by our people. But I think he was somewhere in the middle, a man who was caught up in this big cataclysmic change (the American Revolution) for our people.” (Monture, We Share Our Matters: two centuries of writing and resistance at Six Nations of the Grand River. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press. 2015)

Brant is not “somewhere in the middle.” Brant is Rumpelstiltskin. He is nowhere. He has returned to the forest. He may be lauded by a few local elders, or by some of his and Peggy and Catherine’s descendants, or by a handful of devotees of William Stone’s Life of Joseph Brant Thayendanegea. He may be known in Brantford. Or in Hamilton/Burlington. But, elsewhere in Canada, the situation is entirely different. In twenty-one years of teaching some very savvy Canadian Studies students, I find not one person – from either mainstream or Indigenous cultures – has ever heard of Joseph Brant or knows anything about him, let alone mythologizes him. Everyone knows Laura Secord.

In his day, Brant is a “rock star” but so is John A Macdonald. So is George Washington. So is Laura Secord. (Why does Laura Secord loom larger in our collective Canadian consciousness than Joseph Brant?) Must students know about Pontiac. And Tecumseh. But outside of Brant’s home base, students in Canada simply don’t know about Thayendanegea and his and the allies’ herculean efforts to keep part of “Quebec” in British hands.

Thayendanegea, a leader of his people, is “later derided as a devil by later people” His own people. Joseph Brant arouses the ire of many of the Haudenosaunee, who to this day claim (falsely) he cheated them and let them down. Then there’s Canada. Canada is a politically correct nation with citizens poorly educated in history. Canada does not accord Brant the respect he deserves. In fact, today, the Mohawk Joseph Brant is almost a pariah. Perhaps that is the reason Oneida Graham Greene (12) agrees to play Shylock.


10 12
10 Demonized Indian devils   11 Haudenosaunee/Oneida actor Graham Greene playing Shylock at Stratford Ontario (2007)

There was once a miller who was poor but he had a beautiful daughter. Now it so happened that he came to speak with the king, and to make himself seem important he said to him: “I have a daughter who can spin straw into gold.” The king said to the miller: “That’s an art much to my liking; if your daughter is as skilful as you say, bring her to my palace tomorrow and I will put her to the test.” Now when the girl was brought to him he led her into a room that was filled up with straw, gave her spinning-wheel and reel, and declared: “Set to work at once, and if by morning you haven’t spun this straw into gold, you shall die.” Then he locked the room himself, and she was left there alone.

The poor miller’s daughter sat there, and for the life of her she didn’t know what to do; she had no idea how you could spin straw into gold, and she grew more and more afraid, so that in the end she began to cry. Then all at once the door opened and a little manikin stepped inside, saying: “Good evening, Miss Miller, why are you crying so much?” ‘Oh dear,’ replied the girl, “I’m supposed to spin straw into gold, and I don’t know how to do it.” Said the little man: “What will you give me if I spin it for you?” “My necklace,” said the girl. The little man took the necklace, sat down at the wheel, and whirr, whirr, whirr, three times the thread was drawn – and the bobbin was full. Then he put on another, and whirr, whirr, whirr, three times the thread was drawn – and the second one was full; and so it went on until morning, and there was all the straw spun and all the bobbins were full of gold. As soon as the sun rose the king came, and when he saw the gold he was astonished and delighted, but his heart grew still more gluttonous for gold. He had the miller’s daughter taken to another room full of straw – one that was much bigger – and he commanded her to spin that overnight as well, if her life was dear to her.

The girl didn’t know what to do and began to cry; then the door opened again and the little manikin appeared, saying: “What will you give me if I spin the straw into gold for you?” “The ring on my finger,” answered the girl. The little man took the ring, began whirring again with the wheel, and by morning he had spun all the straw into shining gold. The king was delighted beyond bounds by the sight; but he still did not have his fill of gold, but had the miller’s daughter taken to an even bigger room full of straw, and he said: “You must spin this yet again tonight: but if you get it done, you shall become my consort.” Even if she is a miller’s daughter, he thought, I shan’t find a richer wife in the whole world. When the girl was alone the little man came again for the third time, saying: “What will you give me if I spin the straw for you this time too?” “I have nothing more I can give you,” answered the girl. “Then promise me, when you are queen, your first child.” “Who knows how things will turn out?” thought the miller’s daughter, and in her distress she had no idea what else she could do; so she promised the little man what he desired, and in return the little man once again spun the straw into gold. And when the king came in the morning and found everything as he had wished it, he celebrated his wedding with her, and the beautiful miller’s daughter became a queen.

A year later she brought a beautiful child into the world, and she no longer gave a thought to the little man; then suddenly he stepped into her chamber, saying: “Now give me what you promised.” The queen was stricken with fear, and offered the little man all the riches of the kingdom if he would leave her child with her. But the little man said: “No, I would rather have a living creature than all the treasure in the world.” Then the queen began to weep and wail so sorrowfully that the little man took pity on her. “I’ll give you three days,” he declared, “and if by that time you know what my name is, you shall keep your child.”

All night long the queen called to mind all the names she had ever heard, and she sent a messenger far and wide throughout the land to find out what other names there might be. The next day, when the little man came, she began with Kaspar, Melchior, Balzar, and listed all the names she knew, one after another, but at each one the little man declared: “That’s not what I’m called.” The second day she inquired all round the neighbourhood to find out what names people were called there, and recited the strangest and most peculiar names to the little man. “Are you called Skinnyribs perhaps, or Sheepshanks, or Pegleg?” But each time he answered: “No, I’m not.” On the third day the messenger came back and told her: “I couldn’t find out a single new name, but as I came upon a high mountain round the forest corner by the back of beyond, I saw a little house, and in front of the house a fire was burning, and over the fire the funniest little man was leaping and hopping on one leg and crying:

‘Today I’ll bake, tomorrow I’ll brew,

The next I’ll fetch the queen’s new child;

Still no one knows it just the same,

That Rumpelstiltskin is my name.'”

You can imagine how glad the queen was when she heard the name, and when soon afterwards the little man stepped in and asked: “Well, Lady Queen, what’s my name?” she asked first of all: “Is you name Tom?” “No.” “Is your name Dick?” “No.”

“Might your name perhaps be Rumpelstiltskin?”

“The devil told you, the devil told you,” shrieked the little man, and in his anger he stamped his right foot so deep into the earth that he sank down as far as his waist; then he seized his left foot with both hands in a rage, and tore himself right down the middle into two.

Translated by Joyce Crick

[When the dwarf came to the queen on the third day and she revealed his name, Rumpelstiltskin lost his bargain. In the 1812 edition of the Brothers Grimm tales, Rumpelstiltskin then “ran away angrily, and never came back”. The ending was revised in a final 1857 edition to a more gruesome version where Rumpelstiltskin “in his rage drove his right foot so far into the ground that it sank in up to his waist; then in a passion he seized the left foot with both hands and tore himself in two.” Other versions have Rumpelstiltskin driving his right foot so far into the ground that he creates a chasm and falls into it, never to be seen again. In the oral version originally collected by the brothers Grimm, Rumpelstiltskin flies out of the window on a cooking ladle (Heidi Anne Heiner).]

Stylized European-looking Brant by Charles Wilson Peale 1797; 1 Warwick Goble; 2 & 3 unknown artists, vintage drawings of Rumpelstiltskin;  4, Warwick Goble (Mediaeval queen faces off with Grinch); 5 & 6, ©Paul O Zelinsky (queen and nurse and the banker);   7 Portia at the Trial, The Merchant of Venice; 8 Joseph Thayendanegea Brant, artist George Romney 1776;  9 Baba Yaga mother-figure, unknown artist; 10 Deviant Art, biased justice who peeks at “English” newspapers 11; demon Indians, 12 Graham Greene as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Feature image, Joseph Thayendanegea Brant by Gilbert Stuart.


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