gretel grimm

GRIMM’S COMPLETE FAIRY TALES: Tales 13-16

#13 THE THREE LITTLE MEN IN THE WOOD

Two things I learned from this fairy tale: First, when you’re dealing with favor-asking elves, it is best to be kind and consenting. If you are, you are gifted with growing more beautiful everyday, gold pieces falling from your mouth when you speak, and a king to take you as his wife. If you are snobbish and unkind, you’ll get growing uglier everyday, toads falling from your mouth when you speak, and when eventually come to die, dying a horrible death. Easy choice, if you ask me. Secondly, if you are going to pronounce your own death sentence, even unawares, avoid using “to be taken and put in a barrel stuck full of nails, and rolled downhill into the water.” It just seems like a bad way to go.


#14 THE THREE SPINNERS

Here’s a good way to get out of your chores: Show your husband what your coarse friends who have spun all their lives look like. Ensure they have broad flat feet, an underlip that hangs over their chin, and broad thumbs from said spinning. One look at this group and Bingo! your husband will forbid you from spinning ever again for the rest of your life.

(Sigh) Why do fairy tales have to be filled with horribly shallow people?


#15 HANSEL AND GRETEL

The story of Hansel and Gretel is a scathing indictment of the day’s youth. These juvenile delinquents ate their parents out of house and home. Then they wandered off in the woods and ate the first bread/cake/sugar house they came across. That house didn’t belong to them! As if that wasn’t enough, they progress to committing murder by oven. Then they stole all the old lady’s pearls and precious stones and just ran off without a second thought. There’s entitlement laid bare for you. The kids are in fact NOT alright.


#16 THE THREE SNAKE-LEAVES

Note to self: If your spouse is the owner of magic, life-resurrecting snake-leaves, don’t try to kill said spouse. Especially when they’ve used the leaves to cure you of a bad case of the deaths. They’ll just get one of their servants to use the snake-leaves to bring them back to life so they can kill you again, only this time you don’t get the snake-leaf treatment. You dead, and you stay dead.

Hansel and Gretel

So I’ve been wondering recently about Hansel and Gretel- what became of them when they grew up.

They had a traumatic childhood experience which included growing up in poverty, a dead mother, a cruel stepmother, and a father who abandoned them twice in the woods due to lack of funds. Plus the experience led them to becoming murderers (granted it was self defense, as the witch was trying to eat them but still).

I imagine that Gretel, being the one to kill the witch, probably has a lot of fear and guilt from that day. Most likely I think she turns her trauma inward, becoming self-destructive.

But Hansel? He was the older brother, the one responsible over the two of them, he was the one who brought them back only to be abandoned again. I imagine that he would be feeling a lot of pain, resentment, anger and bitterness. His trauma is outward, against the world. Because it wasn’t him with the problem. He was a child- a victim.

And what does it come back to? He thinks.

Money.

It was money that was the cause of their abandonment. Their stepmothers vanity and cruelness, his fathers weakness, all of it chalks back to the fact that they never had enough money.

So if he betters himself, if he becomes wealthy, if he leaves Gretel and his family and everyone behind to chase after everything material in the world- perhaps it might fill the gap. Perhaps it might make him happy. Perhaps he might finally be worth something.

Perhaps not though.

6

Lately I’ve had an itch for picture books. They’re a source of brilliant illustrations, but more fascinatingly is the incredible challenge of writing a good picture book. You can bring only a handful of words and pictures to the table, so those who are skilled at using the medium are considered geniuses. If you go back to some of the literature of your childhood, I think you’d be REALLY surprised at just how witty, entertaining, and deep a kid’s book can be.

Although it’s not technically a picture book (a few too many words), one of the highlights in this journey so far has been Neil Gaiman’s telling of the classic Hansel and Gretel, illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti.

Above are some of Lorenzo Mattotti’s fantastic illustrations for this book. I envy the power of those little specs of light sprinkled between all those gigantic brush strokes. A story as dark as Hansel and Gretel deserves drawings as creepy as these ones.

Gaiman is extremely faithful to the original storyline, but is talented at pointing out just how gloomy and terrifying Hansel and Gretel really is without going too far. Everybody expects the witch to be scary, of course, but she isn’t the most harrowing part of the narrative.

In Neil’s version, he puts a strong focus on the starvation the family goes through in the beginning of the story. For a mother to rationally come to the decision to abandon her children in the middle of the woods, she has to be in an extremely dire position. The details of the hunger and desperation the family goes through in the introduction sticks with you.

With a book like this, it’s tempting to consider whether Hansel and Gretel is too scary or bleak to be read to children, but often adults are the worst at deducing what does and doesn’t fit the interest of children.

If you know the history of the Grimm fairytales, you’d know that the Brothers Grimm didn’t collect those folk tales with children in mind. Instead, they were seeking to academically archive the legends and stories of their ancestry out of fear that they’d someday be forgotten.

The brothers never imagined children would take to these stories, since these tales are often fueled by the darkest emotions and experiences that a human being can go through. But believe it or not, it was the CHILDREN who discovered these books and fell in love with their gripping and twisted storylines. The market reacted, and we’ve considered them stories for kids ever since.

So I guess my point is that we should give children more choice in the matter. Nobody knows more about what you like or dislike reading than you do — no matter what your age is. It’s hypocritical and patronizing to expect children to survive the emotional turmoil that comes with youth (and life in general), but also forcibly shy their eyes away from stories of the same subject.

Also worth mentioning is that this book was published by Toon Books, a publisher of children’s literature and comics run by Francois Mouly. I spoke in another recent post about her brilliant editing and design careers at Raw and The New Yorker, but forgot to bring up her fantastic children’s book company. They publish some really really great stuff, and I recommend anyone looking for great comics to look in their direction.

Linked above is a nice video where Neil Gaiman talks with Francois Mouly and Art Spiegelman about this book and the act of scaring children. (Click here if the video doesn’t load properly)

grimm's fairy tales asks
  • cinderella: have you changed yourself for someone else?
  • goose girl: how realistically do you portray yourself?
  • hansel and gretel: are you reluctant to leave behind old places and people?
  • little snow white: describe your relationship with your mother
  • princess and the pea: do you value strength or fragility?
  • puss in boots: what outfit do you wear the most?
  • rapunzel: who are some of the best people to have come into your life?
  • rumpelstiltskin: if you could change your name, what would you change it to?
She crept up and thrust her head into the oven. Then Gretel gave her a push that drove her far into it, and shut the iron door, and fastened the bolt. Oh! then she began to howl quite horribly, but Gretel ran away, and the godless witch was miserably burnt to death.
—  Brothers Grimm, HANSEL AND GRETEL
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GREETINGS FROM THE CANDY COTTAGE

I am very proud to present my Hansel & Gretel Candy Cottage. I’ve tried to add as much detail as possible, from the liquorish and cotton candy trees, to the frosting roof, waffle cone walls, gum drop garden, peppermint walkway, cake pop decoration, macaroon door frame, and the frosted pretzel window. When I was finished, I thought it would be fun to make it into a postcard with the Witch presenting her sweet house in a sinister way. I made the text and added in the Candy Witch

I hope you enjoy!

Prints and apparel featuring the Candy Cottage are available at http://society6.com/dylanbonner

Fairy Tale Meme:

7 Villains - [The Witch from Hansel and Gretel]

Hansel and Gretel went to bed, thinking they were in heaven. But the old woman had only pretended to be friendly. She was a wicked witch who was lying in wait there for children. She had built her house of sweets only in order to lure them to her, and if she captured one, she would kill him, cook him, and eat him; and for her that was a day to celebrate.

Neil Gaiman’s newest graphic novel isn’t even out yet, but it already has a movie deal. His update on the Brothers Grimm fairytale Hansel and Gretel with illustrations by Lorenzo Mattotti comes out on October 28, and Juliet Blake is developing a live action version. Hopefully, it’s better than Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.