Once Upon A Time: Rumpelstiltskin’s Family Tree

Beth Bender

The writers of Once Upon a Time have created the most complex family tree that I have ever seen in television.  While Emma, the main protagonist of the show, lies at the heart of the family tree, I’d like to highlight perhaps the most complex member of the tree: Rumpelstiltskin.  We didn’t learn until the second season that Rumpel’s son, Baelfire, is Henry’s father.  While I would love to see the picturesque, loving grandfather and grandson relationship, Rumpel carries a lot of baggage with him from his relationships with his own family, as seen in “Nasty Habits”, this past Sunday’s episode.  In order to understand Rumpelstiltskin’s family baggage, you have to look at the members of his family.


His father and mother

While he was alluded to somewhat in the newest episode, we don’t really know much about Rumpelstiltskin’s father.  We know that he was branded as a coward, and that Rumpelstiltskin was raised by several spinsters.  What was the reason for his father’s label? Did he injure himself to avoid fighting in war, just like his son would do years later?  What happened to Rumpelstiltskin’s mother?  The newest episode sheds some light on Rumpel’s childhood-he knew Peter Pan when he was young, and was friends with him for a long time until he realized Pan was deceiving him.  In the episode, Pan also states that everyone Rumpel ever knew ended up leaving him.  Was this the case for his mother?  Based upon the vague spinnets of backstory that have been given this season, I am really hoping to learn more about Rumpelstiltskin’s childhood.   

His wife and child

One thing that I loved about the second season of Once Upon a Time was that we got to see more of Rumpelstilitskin before his transformation into the Dark One.  Before his accumulation of power, he and Milah, his wife, were spinners and sold wool in their village.  When he was drafted to fight in the Ogre War, and subsequently after he injured himself to avoid fighting, his marriage started its downhill journey.  Milah is disgusted by her husband’s cowardness, and for several years, drinks and gambles.  When she falls in love with the pirate Killian Jones (who we know has Captain Hook) and confronts Rumpelstiltskin with her lack of love for her husband and her newfound love for the pirate captain, Rumpel crushes his wife’s heart in a fit of anger.

Based upon the relationship between his parents, it is frightening to imagine the household that Baelfire grew up in.  Having to learn that is mother is “gone”, and being the son of a coward is a big shock to any young kid.  Then, when Rumpel obtains the daggar that allows him control of the Dark One, Baelfire undergoes the character change in his father.  From timid to terrifying, Rumeplstiltskin wields his power over others to get what he wants and to give Baelfire anything he would ask for.  Baelfire, instead, hates his father’s wicked ways, It isn’t until Rumpelstiltskin abandons his own son for his power that he realizes the monster that he has become.

In the present-day story of the show, Baelfire, now going by his human name of Neil, remembers his rocky childhood, and his extremely hesitant to place any faith in his father.  In Sunday’s episode, Rumpelstiltskin adamantly expresses his desire to do good and save Henry, and Baelfire almost believes him.  But when Baelfire learns of the prophecy, the one that predicts Henry as Rumpelstiltskin’s undoing, he concludes that once again, his father is working for himself.  Baelfire paralyzes his father’s magic with nightshade, and abandons him while he takes Henry to find Emma and the rest of the group.  The relationship between Rumpelstiltskin and Baelfire has the most ups-and-downs, and while the end of the newest episode left the two in a pitfall, I hope that the writers will give Rumpelstiltskin a scene of redemption to show Baelfire that he truly has changed.


His grandson

In the first season of Once Upon a Time, Rumpelstiltskin, then known as Mr. Gold, was a terrifying force in Storybrooke.  He was as big of a power player as Regina, and used this power to intimidate his customers.  The one person he never really scared, however, was Henry.  Even though he wouldn’t learn of his relationship to Henry until the second season, Rumpelstiltskin knew that there was something special about Henry.  Okay, maybe it was that he was Emma’s son, but considering the kind, almost protective way Rumpel acted around Henry in the first season, I feel that he had an idea that there was something more to Henry.  As a grandfather to Henry, Rumpelstiltskin is the polar opposite to David, Henry’s maternal grandfather.  Where David would teach Henry basic swordplay, Rumeplstiltskin was distant, concerned about the prophecy that predicts his downfall on account of Henry.  His original intentions were to kill Henry, but based upon his current actions and words in the third season, he has had a huge change of heart, and is willing to die in order to save his grandson.  


When taking all of these family relationships into account, I would argue that Rumpelstiltskin is the most complex, and perhaps best character on the show.  He has many different facets, and has had the most topsy-turvy life of any of the characters in the show.  Robert Carlyle does a brilliant job playing the character, and I am looking forward to seeing what Rumpelstiltskin will do next, and when it comes down to it, if he will sacrifice or save Henry.

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