All writers think about the niceties of presentation and narrative. Usually, we are called on to exercise our skills with words and metaphor the way chefs are called upon to work magic with chicken bones and leeks and salt. We feed others and ourselves with our efforts at combination and recombination.
Sometimes, though, we are called on the way the miller’s daughter called on Rumpelstiltskin. Locked in the tower, at the end of everything, we are reduced to simple, tearful pleading.
The twisted little man comes to us in the middle of the darkest night of our lives and we beg, “Please, please, you are my last hope. Cold and dark as ever night was, and terrifying, too, this night will be my last unless I find some way to turn all of this straw into gold. Please, you must help me. Death comes for me in the gray morning light if you do not prevent it. I swear, I will believe in magic or anything you wish of me. I will promise you anything, anything at all. I cannot survive the night if I am left hopeless amid all of this worthless refuse.”
And the little man with the hard eyes says, “It is true that if I do this, if I take your dark room full of straw and use my magic to spin it into shining gold, it will see you through this night and save your life. But know this, child: the king will not love you for it. He will love only the gold, and will lock you back here again so that he may get more of it. He cares not for your suffering, only for the gold that comes of it. Suffering is temporary; gold is eternal. Do you still wish me to work my magic?”
“If I cannot hope that my suffering can be turned into something else, something pure and fine and golden, then I would as well not wait for morning, but die now. Work your magic, little man, and I will pay your price when I may.”
Dry old hands rub together with sadistic glee. “Spoken, sworn and done!” With a blur and a whir, he sets to work. Soon, where once was filth and dross, pain and suffering, the little man has spun basket after basket of finest gold.
In the gray morning light, the king is well pleased. “Never have I seen such a miracle!” he says to his advisers. “Prepare an even larger room for tonight!”
And the miller’s daughter weeps afresh.