The Gist: A poor woodcutter and his wife leave their two children, Hansel and Gretel, in the woods because they cannot feed them. The lost children wander until they come to a house made of bread and cake. While gorging themselves, the house’s owner, a witch, captures them and intends to cook them for her dinner.
“Hansel and Gretel” has some of the most iconic images of all the fairy tales: the house made of sweets and the trail of breadcrumbs. Face it, you can’t say the word “breadcrumbs” without this story coming to mind. Given its popularity, I’m surprised Disney hasn’t turned it into a feature yet (although maybe it’s on their to-do list).
I like this story because it is the children who save the day. Hansel comes up with plans to lead them back home—granted this plans aren’t always successful—and in the end it is Gretel’s bravery and wits that saves them from the witch and gets them home. You go girl!
As Pullman points out in his interpretation of this tale, “the death of the stepmother is very convenient” (85). It would be incredibly crushing to have to share newfound fortune with someone who wanted you dead. Pullman wonders whether the father killed the stepmother for forcing him to get rid of his children; he says that if this were one of his novels that is exactly what he would have the father do. That is a version of “Hansel and Gretel” I would love to read, but I have to say I don’t think the father from the Grimm version has the backbone to pull it off.
Question: If you could have a house made of food, what food would it be? Share your answers in comments. I’m torn between chocolate, cheese, and vegetables (the good ones)… allowing of course they can’t go bad or melt on me!
For more information about this feature, check out the main page for “A Grimm Year”.
- The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, 3rd Edition translated by Jack Zipes (Bantam, 2003)
- Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman (Viking)