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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3 Responses to “Once Upon A Time: Rumpelstiltskin’s Family Tree”
  1. Jessica says:

    Wow very interesting post. I always felt that Milah was to blame for him always reverting to dark. You know sticking to that “nasty habit.” When they presented her before he even talked to the seer, she seemed like she didn’t want him to go to war and was very sincere. However, I don’t know if she switched after she heard he injured himself or was she pretending the whole time. I kind of wish he would have let Bae talked to her when he found her, but then again by the time he came across her again Bae already left. Rump says all the time that magic comes with a price and since he uses it so much, looks like he’s paying it. Very cool article.

  2. Leonor says:

    I liked your publication. It is a very interesting reflection. You described it very well :) Undoubtedly, which raises more curiosity will be the nuclear family of Rumpelstiltskin at the moment with regard to her mother. We already know that he is the son of a crook who wanted to be a boy in Neverland. It’s Peter Pan Who knew? Now what we do not know is who will be his mother. In the original fairy tale he is the son of a dwarf with a fairy. Does the same happens in this story of “Once Upon a Time”? We already know that the father is not a dwarf, just need to know who the mother is. It’s a very cool publication.

  3. mickey liebrecht says:

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if Rumpel’s mother were Rapunzel? Rapunzel Stiltskin?

    Pan meets her as a boy, calls her Rumpel as a witty nickname – Rumpel, Rapunzel?. Rapunzel actually ends up having long, long hair made completely of the herb ‘Rapunzel’ which has very special healing properties when used appropriately by her, but when cut turns into normal hair. Her family makes her keep it in a braid of some kind and hidden so no one knows if her ‘hairy rumor’ is true – keep away those who would do anything to have it – but being practical people say it’s non-sence. Rapunzel proves the rumor true in front of Peter when she heals a wound of his when they first meet.

    Rapunzel and Pan have Rumpel – named after her – and live in a normal village away from Rapunzel’s old home. Thieves figure out from Rumpel – about 3 – that his mother has “hair made of pretty leaves and flowers”. They deduct who she is and try to take her and her hair for themselves when they find out they cannot cut it. Pan and Rumpel are obviously powerless to stop them, and she ends up killing herself in attempt to escape their grasp – would explain why Pan said everyone always leaves Rumpel, especially if he’s to blame somewhat in her death. She dies in Pan’s arms telling him she can’t use the Rapunzel on herself, that’s the price she pays for having it, and Pan’s hatred for everything – including Rumpel most of all – sparks to life, as does his obsession with magic, control and immortality (If you can find a way to stop death, what’s to stop you from defying it entirely? What’s to stop you from using magic to control it? From using it to bring someone back?) This would explain why Pan would be a little more than willing to sacrifice being with his son for magic and immortality – and by default, control.

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