Hansel and Gretel
The two children come from a poor family, they overhear their step-mother persuading their father to send them into the woods so they wouldn’t have to spend as much money.
Hansel gathers some pebbles and the next day when they’re send into the woods he lays down the pebbles so they can find their way back. When they get back home the step-mother is furious and sends them away again, Hansel uses bread crumbs to mark the path but this is later eaten by birds. So he and his sister are stranded in the forest with no food, water or shelter.
They eventually come across a ginger-bread house and because they’re so hungry they start to eat the roof. An old lady comes out and asks them into the house with promise of food and a warm bed.
The lady is blind and it is soon apparent of what she wants from the children – she is a Witch and wants to eat them. She sends Gretel to work in the garden and fattens Hansel up, this goes on for a while because every time she tries to check how fat he is getting he gives her a bone to feel (probably from an old captive) so she is fooled into thinking he is fat enough.
Eventually she decides she will eat both the children regardless of how fat they are and prepares the oven. She coaxes Gretel to check if the fire is hot enough, Gretel pretends the doesn’t understand what she means so the Witch demonstrates, as she does Gretel pushes her into the oven and closes the door.
The children escape and flee back to their fathers house only to find that their step-mother had died. With the Witch dead and their father happy to see them they all live happily ever after with the Witch’s money.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm originally heard the story from Dortchen Wild. Initially both parents were to blame for the children’s abandonment and were their biological parents, this was changed by Brothers Grimm(Heiner, H, A 2007). Linda Raedisch argues that the story could stem from the medieval Great Famine where families were so poor that it led to children’s abandonment and in extreme cases cannibalism (2013: 180). This is both an interesting and scary theory which brings some solidarity to this fairy tale. Both the Witch and evil step-mother die at the same time, many people including Max Lüthi believe that they are the same person or metaphorically the same woman(1970: 64), I could use this point in my Web 2.0 film and use some foreshadowing to imply that they are the same woman.
Back in 1893 there was a children’s opera written by Humperdink and produced in Munich, it is a lighter version as the children aren’t abandoned by their parents. The opera had huge success and some claim this is the reason the Hansel and Gretel story is known so well today(Heiner, H, A 2007).
There have been countless remakes of this story over the years, be it in children’s books, films, theatre and even music. Fairytales like Hansel and Gretel are the stepping stones to the stories we tell today.
I think the main social function for this story is not talking to strangers, I find in some ways this story is more relevant today than back when it was created in the 1800’s. It’s a good story for children to learn because the world isn’t as safe as it once was, and accepting things off strangers is a dangerous thing to do. The story has this running theme that appears throughout countless classic stories like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty which is the wicked step-mother, I think this created a bad stereotype for step-mothers in general and can be linked to today’s society.
List of References
Heiner, H, A. (2007) History of Hansel and Gretel [Online] available from (http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/hanselgretel/history.html) [12 Feb 2014]
Lüthi, M. (1970) Once upon a time. New York: F. Ungar Pub. Co.
Raedisch, L. (2013) The Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications