How To Grow Up Courageously

I’m really enjoying doing these Fairy Tale posts. I shall be quite sad when I run out of them, unfortunately there isn’t an endless supply of them. Hansel and Gretel today though and as I was already aware of cinematic versions of Snow White in my discussion Disney just got Grimm and Little Red Riding Hood in Red is better than White I went out and watched a cinematic version of Hansel and Gretel. Well done me for doing a bit of research for a blog post…

I have got a lot to say on this one as it turns out, in part because these are slightly longer tales than Snow White and Red Riding Hood. So Hansel and Gretel. Gretel and Hansel. What will you teach us about fairy tales? The Brothers Grimm continue their rush of popularity in my blog tags with this post because once again they’ve been scribbling down the folk tales. And the Grimm’s version of Hansel and Gretel goes like this…

Woodcutter with a wife and children, they are pretty poor and struggling to feed themselves. Sadly for little Hansel and Gretel their mother really isn’t very maternal, she reckons the best way the family can make ends meet is just to ditch the kids in the forest and forget about them. (Well… she’s not wrong I suppose, it would be two less mouths to feed…) The woodcutter takes a bit of convincing but eventually just says yes dear. All through this conversation little Hansel and Gretel had been eavesdropping (I guess there was another way their mother failed them, she should have told them it’s rude to listen in…) Gretel was very worried and Hansel came up with a plan. He collected up some shiny stones and filled his pockets. So when his nasty mother and down trodden father lead them into the woods Hansel leaves a trail of shiny stones. The mother’s plan fails but she is clearly from the if at first you don’t succeed  school of thought because she comes up with the same damn plan… This time Hansel doesn’t have time to gather shiny stones but makes do with breadcrumbs. This was not so clever because as you know the breadcrumbs get eaten by birds.

Good news though! There’s a conveniently placed edible house in the woods. So Hansel and Gretel won’t starve. Except… there is of course the witch. She was pretty friendly at first, fed them up, gave them a comfy place to sleep… then she locked Hansel up in a shed and forced Gretel to cook meals for him until he was nice and fat, ready for eating. There’s a certain amount of trickery from both siblings and eventually Gretel shoves the witch in the oven herself. She breaks her brother out of the shed, they steal the witches hoards of jewels and pearls (where’d they come from?) and they head for home… even though they are lost… On the way there’s a river (that wasn’t there on their way into the forest?) which they get a kindly duck to swim them across… Anyway they get home (somehow) to a delighted father. Not only have they found their way home and provided for the family with all those jewels and pearls that miraculously appeared. But even better for them they don’t have put up with their terrible mother anymore because ‘His wife had died.’ That’s literally all it says about her…

There’s a certain school of study that suggests that really their mother and the witch are the same character (not quite literally but they are both terrible people…) In defeating the witch they defeat their terrible mother so she no longer fits into their lives and has to die. There’s also a whole line of study here that suggests Hansel and Gretel overcoming the witch and returning home with the ability to provide for their parents… err father, represents their ascension into adulthood. Meaning the tale is all about children becoming adults, which on the one hand makes sense. But on the other hand not only does it sound like someone’s reading a bit much into this story but also as we didn’t have a concept of childhood until after the story existed why would that be the meaning? Riddle me that.

Another fairy tale collector returning to the tag list is Charles Perrault. Charles wrote Little Thumbling. As we learned from Little Red Riding Hood Charlie boy isn’t the most sympathetic chap, nor does he seem to like women all that much, which is probably why in Little Thumbling there is no Gretel. Instead we get the tale of the runt of a family of seven boys… wait for it, it gets better… ‘The oldest was only ten years old, and the youngest was only seven.’ (man, their parents were busy). ‘Everyone was astonished that the woodcutter had had so many children in so short a time.’ (I’ll bet they bloody were!) Perhaps because of this they can’t afford to feed their family. But this time mum is a bit more maternal and she really doesn’t want to go along with the woodcutters plan to ditch those hungry children to cut costs. This time it’s him that’s really quite persuasive. And just like Hansel, Little Thumbling has been eavesdropping, and he chooses some lovely pebbles to leave a trail with. All seven boys make it back home and mum is mighty glad to see them. And once again it’s not long before the kids are out in the woods again “accidentally” abandoned by their parents. Little Thumbling must have heard of Hansel and Gretel because he’s got his bread out this time… I guess he forgot about how the birds ate the crumbs though.

And this is where the stories become kinda different. No Gingerbread House for Thumbling and his brothers, instead they find the house of a very friendly lady. She takes pity on them and feeds them but she seems like she wants them to leave quickly. No surprise when you find out her husband is an ogre and he’s expected home soon. They don’t take the hint though and when hubby comes home he’s pretty keen on the idea of eating all seven boys. His wife persuades him to save them for tomorrow, feed them today so they’ll be nice and plump (she’s expecting a lot from one meal…). The ogre and his wife just so happen to have seven of their own children (what a funny coincidence). In one bed goes Thumbling and his brothers and in another bed goes the ogres seven children. Mr. Ogre loves his kiddies to bits (is the ogre a better dad than their own father?) and gives them each a crown to wear to bed (I’m not totally sure I follow that one either). Mr. Ogre also loves to eat children and he’s pretty impatient, so he waits for his wife to fall asleep before he gets up to slash Thumbling’s throat… and his brothers of course but it’s easy to forget about them as all they do is cry and whine. But Thumbling had imagined that the ogre would do this so he’d taken the crowns and plonked them on his brothers heads (and his own). The ogre kills his own kids and heads back to bed. Thumbling woke up his brothers and got outta there fast. When Mrs. Ogre found her kids had been killed she was distraught (I guess Thumbling didn’t think about how his actions would hurt the kind lady…) and Charles, being the raging sexist he was, wrote this about her reaction

‘She fainted instantly, the first resort of almost all women in similar circumstances’

Nice one Charles that was a worthwhile and constructive aside to put in. Anyway what follows is the ogre pursuing the boys, Thumbling stealing the ogre’s enchanted boots (and because they’re enchanted they now fit him), runs back to the ogre’s house where the wife is still grieving and cons her out of all their gold and jewels. Then he heads home to his happy parents (pretty sure his dad is only happy because of all that gold he’s got…). As is standard with Charles he wrote his moral out for us and he thinks it’s that the runt of the litter might just surprise you. But let’s be honest the stand out features for us were the terrible parenting and the story only having a happy ending because he came home with money, just like Hansel and Gretel…

Now there are some more versions of Hansel and Gretel in my book… or so the contents says, but I’ve read them and I think they fit together but don’t follow the Hansel and Gretel story line so much. So considering this is already a long ass blog post I’ll do a different one on The Juniper Tree, The Rose Tree and Pippety Pew.

But what about that film I watched as research then? Well I chose Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters.

And not just because the cast looked good (though I wonder why Arterton had to put on an american accent for a European folk tale, is it because Renner couldn’t match hers?). Anyway now I have to eat some humble pie because I wasn’t annoyed by it in the least, it was bloody epic (emphasis on bloody), much like the original fairy tales it was not for children at all. Though I know I would have loved it as a kid, but look how I turned out… I don’t want to get too much into the plot line because to be honest it uses the Grimm Brothers tale as a starting point and builds from there. It perfectly weaves in fairy tale and folk tale features, there’s even a nod to Goldilocks in there. But it is radically modernised (style wise) and has a lot of comedic value. I won’t lie and say that the plot twists were spectacular because I guessed them but I actually didn’t care. I’ve gotten a bit side tracked talking about the movie and completely forgotten about those themes in the tales. Does it stack up? Yes and no. (Spoiler alert for anyone intending to watch the film, don’t read the rest of this paragraph) Gone are the villainous parents, yay, because they were a real drag. But we are still stuck on female villains, the witches are a plenty and as is standard with witches they are all female. You even get the suggestion of an initially trustworthy woman in the true villain of the tale. There is a male character who could be said to be villainous so I suppose he can represent Charles Perrault’s ogre. The other theme you get to hold onto with this and you could even say it’s strengthened with this film is the idea of the children over coming the trials and preparing themselves for adulthood and independence.

So what does this fairy tale tell us? Well aside from Charles (Perrault) still being a massive ass hat, Hansel and Gretel these days are symbols of children facing their fears. They used to be kids abandoned by terrible/selfish parents who had to learnt that if it seems to good to be true it probably is, but now not so much. Hansel and Gretel are the kids we all kind of wanted to be, not because they find a gingerbread house and definitely not because a witch imprisons them. But because they outsmart the adult, their wily and at the end of the day they bring home the bacon/jewels. They are crying children abandoned in the woods that grow into arse kicking heroes. Don’t we all want to be that? Don’t we all hope that when we grow up we’ll be something spectacular? I’m still waiting…

Hansen out.

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2 thoughts on “How To Grow Up Courageously

  1. Pingback: Wicked Motherly Love… – 25,000 Light-years

  2. Pingback: Choosing A Spouse 101 – 25,000 Light-years

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