Fairytales are often spoken of as something wonderful, the happy ending everyone wants. But when you sit down and analyze them, it quickly becomes obvious that this is not the case.
My daughter is really into fairytales right now, so we read at least a couple of them every night at bedtime. The version we read are modern re-tellings. The princess in The Princess and the Pea, for example, rides a motorbike.
Recently I read the book's version of Hansel and Gretel for the first time. At first I didn't think anything of it, but when I re-read it the next night, I was struck by how absurd the story is.
In this version, the witch/stepmother places a spell on the father to get him to ditch the children in the forest because they can't afford to feed them. I do like the spell explanation better than the original story, in which the father just agrees to do his new wife's bidding. Bad form, Hansel and Gretel's dad.
As we all know, the first time he isn't successful because Hansel leaves a trail of white stones. The second, he leaves bread crumbs and they get eaten up so they can't find their way back. Instead, they find a cottage made of goodies. There's a witch there, and she puts Hansel in a cage and enslaves Gretel. The plan is to eat Hansel. Why, I don't know. She has a house made of cake so you'd think she had enough to eat. This is supported by her efforts to fatten Hansel up by feeding him treats.
Hansel fools her into thinking he's still skin and bones by holding out a bone every time she comes to feel his finger. This is ridiculous on so many levels. First of all, since when can the witch not see anything? Secondly, how is a finger a good indication of someone's weight. She should have been feeling his belly or his leg or his arm. Thirdly, how can she not tell that there is no flesh on this bone? Any idiot could tell a bone from a finger.
Eventually, she gets tired of waiting for him to get fat and decides to eat him anyway. That's when Gretel tricks the witch into sticking her head into the oven and pushes her in. Hansel and Gretel are free, but before they leave they search the witch's house. They discover lots of money and jewelry. You would think that with all that money, she would have been able to go to the butcher's and buy a hog or something, but no, she apparently preferred cannibalism.
Hansel and Gretel stuff their pockets and lo and behold, their father arrives to save them! The spell has been broken because—dun dun DUN—the witch was their stepmother. In the original version, the kids just head back home. That's silly, because if they couldn't get home before, how do they suddenly know the way now? Also, if I were those kids, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't share the money with the people who had abandoned me. I'd move right into that house made of cake and live happily ever after.
The most ridiculous part, however, is the fact that the witch and the stepmother are the same person. If she was loaded and had a house made of cake, why didn't she bring her money with her when she married the father? If she had, they wouldn't have had to send the children into the woods. Unless...she did it on purpose because she wanted to eat the kids.
I had to know if this was how the original story ended, so I did some research. It turns out that it is implied (very vaguely) that the stepmother and the witch are the same with the line, "...and now they had nothing to fear, for their wicked stepmother was dead." Interesting.
And so, for all my over-analysis, I came to the conclusion that it's all just symbolism. With the stepmother out of the way, their troubles at home were over and they could return home. No matter how you look at it, though, it still doesn't make all that much sense.