In honor of Halloween, I’m bringing back one of my favorite types of posts: Fairy Tale Fails. The story this time? Hansel and Gretel. I figure if ever there was a story that best accompanies All Hallow’s Eve it is the one that has an actual witch in it.
Reading the Grimm’s Fairy Tale version of the classic tale, not a lot is different about the core story: two kids are idiots and try to eat a house made out of candy and a witch lures them in and tries to eat them. But there are parts of the story that I don’t remember ever reading.
In my mind, the story of Hansel and Gretel goes something like this:
One day a brother and sister were walking through the woods. They were wandering around but didn’t want to get lost so they brought a loaf of bread with them to leave crumbs on their trail so they can find their way home. Once they’re ready to turn back around they find that the crumbs are no longer there, most likely eaten by a bird. Unsure what to do, the siblings keep walking until they find a house made of gingerbread and candy. At this point they have been walking all day and are hungry (plus, candy!) so they decide to go up to the house and start picking off little pieces to eat. Hoping there is more food inside, they break into the house only to find a witch ready willing and able to lock them up and eat them. Once she prepares the oven for the kids to cook in, she lets them out and tells them to look into the oven to see if it’s hot enough. The kids somehow trick her into going over first and they lock her in the oven and leave. The end.
To this day I cannot for the life of me remember if anything happened after that point in the story. Or at least, I didn’t know until recently.
You see, I first started reading all of the original fairy tale stories several years ago. But that was always one of those stories that I honestly didn’t give a rats ass about. I never thought the story was entertaining, I thought the kids were idiots and the idea of a candy house was ludicrous – wouldn’t it melt or disintegrate??? And as for the witch, if you’re a person that genuinely wants to eat children, how did you get suckered into letting these kids run around your house with no ties or anything, and then be stupid enough to say, “you know what, maybe I should check, personally, to see if the oven is ready first. I’m sure the kids will leave me alone while I go near the place that they knew I was going to kill them in.” what??
So no, when I read the Grimm’s Fairy Tales I didn’t read the story. I skipped over the entire chapter and moved along to the next story. But as Halloween was approaching I wanted to get back into the Fairy Tale Fails swing of things and realized that it’s actually kind of the perfect story to tear apart via blog. It appeals to all the creepy things we hate: cannibalism, candy-luring creeps, kids lost in the woods, kids in general (HA! Just kidding, only some kids are creepy and I hate them). So I read the actual story. And it was weird.
The story begins with an explanation, one that I hadn’t actually thought about previously. Why were the kids wandering alone in the woods? According to the Brothers Grimm, the siblings live with their father and stepmother. When a famine strikes and everyone is starving, the stepmother (always berating the children and beating them) tells the father that she is going to take everyone on a walk in the morning and get rid of the two kids so that she and her husband can eat the extra food they’d been giving to the children. He doesn’t like this idea but she wears him down and agrees to the plan. Unbeknownst to them, Hansel has overheard their conversation and sneaks out of his room to pick up some white pebbles to leave a trail back to the house.
The next morning, the whole family goes on the excursion. The father and stepmom leave the kids, but to their surprise they’ve found their way home. Pissed that they survived and used the pebble trick against her, the stepmom talks to the father and says that the plan will work and they will do it again the next morning. In order to make sure they don’t go anywhere in the meantime to get provisions, she locks the children in their room.
On the way out the next morning Hansel grabs a slice of bread for the walk and begins leaving a trail behind. Again the parents leave the children. But when Hansel and Gretel go back to follow the bread crumbs they find that a bird has eaten them and that they are lost. This is when the story is the same:
They wander, find a gingerbread house and eat it’s roof. A witch comes out and lures them into her home with candy and the promise of comfort and sleep. She locks them away. She uses Gretel as her slave and decides to fatten up Hansel so there’s more of him to eat. When she’s finally ready to eat, she lets Hansel out and decides to kill Gretel as well. Still her slave, Gretel is told to go into the opening of the oven to see if the fire is burning well, but pretends that she doesn’t understand the command. Frustrated that the kid isn’t getting it, the witch goes to show her what she should be doing. As she leans forward, Gretel knocks her into the stove and locks it.
She and Hansel find out that theres a large pot of jewels and valuables. They take the jewels and leave. The only problem? Where are they going to go? Well, miraculously, a swan agrees to let the children ride on it’s back and swims them back to their father’s house. Going inside, they realize that the stepmom has died, and that now (with the riches they’ve acquired) they can live happily ever after as a family.
Okay. Where do I begin? Oh, right, I know: the step mom is a total dick and the dad is no better! What the fuck? I can understand the dad being lonely and getting into a relationship with a new lady. I also understand that that lady was a dick to the kids, but the dad is still lonely and maybe doesn’t care much about the kids. But what I don’t understand is how your wife can say, “I don’t want the kids anymore. I’m hungry, let’s drop them off somewhere to starve to death and we’ll live happily again.” and for the husband to say, “you know what, it’s been a tough year, I think you’re right. Let’s drop them off tomorrow.” What??
I don’t know, maybe I’m old fashioned, but I feel like the dad – the biological father – should maybe not want to give up the kids that easy? I know in the story they say that he wasn’t okay with it at first, but that begs the question, what made him change his mind? I just don’t get it.
Second, if Hansel is so smart that he knows to bring small items with him to leave a trail to get home, why is he not smart enough to know he shouldn’t eat a random house in the middle of nowhere made out of candy?
Third, and possibly most importantly, WHERE DID THIS MYSTICAL SWAN COME FROM AND HOW DOES IT KNOW THERE IS A GIANT LAKE GOING FROM THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE TO THEIR PARENTS HOUSE? AND HOW DIDN’T THE KIDS KNOW ABOUT IT? That seems like the perfect landmark to get the kids to know where they are so they don’t need stupid pebbles!
I don’t know, man. This story is just weird and gives me too many things to pick apart (and the majority of the story was the same as what I’ve grown up hearing!) But thanks to the spirit of Halloween, I can now sleep easy knowing that I understand the original, classic tale of Hansel and Gretel and never have to read it again.
If you like Fairy Tale Fails, or if you have a story you want me to analyze or read, leave me a message in the comments to let me know or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Hall-ow-eeeeen! MANIACAL LAUGH, MANIACAL LAUGH…