“Near a great forest there lived a poor woodcutter and his wife and his two children; the boy’s name was Hansel and the girl’s Gretel.”
I will admit – I am familiar with the Grimm’s version of Hansel and Gretel, so I was not blindsided by details or expecting my view of the tale to differ or transform after reading. There are a couple of things I want to talk about, so since I’m sort of going into this post with pre-determined ideas, I’m not going to summarize the tale. If you are unfamiliar with the story or want a refresher, this is the version that appears in my book (I’ve linked a fairly accurate cartoon version below if you’d like to watch it too/instead).
Of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales I’ve encountered so far, not many of them have explicit lessons in them. Of course, they are all up for different degrees of interpretation, but direct words of wisdom are quite scarce. Hansel and Gretel is an exception.
The second time “the wife” tells her husband that they can no longer live with the children, and must abandon them in the wood for good, the unidentified narrator offers up this line of wisdom to explain why the husband gives in again: “He who says A must say B too, and when a man has given in once he has to do it a second time.” A piece of advice that sort of teaches the importance of always staying true to one’s self, and maintaining a consistent character. If the husband had stood up to the wife and denied her horrible request at the start, i.e. not given in, he would have likely been able to stand up to her when she made the request again.
The flaw of this line from the fairy tale is its obligatory nature; it is certainly possible for someone who has given in once to gain strength to not give in again, which diminishes the potential for a lesson. Of course, in the fairy tale realm it’s all or nothing, so in this case I’m buying into the obligatory wording.
And again we see the mother figure/a female main character as the evil doer. If she’s not giving her child up to a witch she is the witch or she’s known as a manipulator in the eyes of men. Anyone familiar with fairy tales is familiar with what a step mother symbolizes; how interesting it is that maternal instincts are nowhere to be found in non-biological maternal figures.
Something else that stands out to me is Gretel’s moment of triumph at the end. From the beginning of the story, she relies on Hansel to get them both through hardship, like when he cleverly thought to leave pebbles and crumbs. Throughout the story it seems that Gretel is helpless without Hansel, but she is the one who figured out how to trap the witch in the oven, after all; girl does not crack under pressure. It felt like while the two were dependent on each other, as individuals they were equally strong willed. Their relationship is quite sweet – I always enjoy reading about healthy, loving, adventurous siblings.
Are you familiar with the Grimm’s version of Hansel and Gretel, or do you only know a step mother version? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
- Aarne-Thompson classification system – 327A: The Children With the Witch (TALES OF MAGIC, Supernatural Adversaries, The Children and the Ogre)
- I highly recommend taking 20 minutes out of your day to watch this cartoon rendition of Hansel and Gretel. It’s quite well done and gets SO DARK – it really took me by surprise. Maybe turn some lights on first.