Hansel and Gretel: From Witty Children to Witch Slayers

The tale of Hansel and Gretel is one that many can tie back to their childhoods. The Grimms recorded version of the tale is ultimately one of the more popular accounts of the grim story. Two children were driven out of their homes by their father (coerced to do so by the children’s stepmother) due to the family’s poverty and lack of food. When led into the forest the first time around, clever Hans leaves a trail of pebbles which the children follow back home. The second time around, Hans had no resources to leave a proper trail for him and Gretel to follow back home except for the loaf of bread given to them by their parents. He leaves a trail of bread crumbs, but alas, his trail gets eaten by the birds in the forest (shocker!). The children walk aimlessly and get lost in the forest. On the third day, they fall upon a small edible house. Putting any morals they previously had about destroying someone’s property aside, the starving children proceed to eat parts of the home.

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Now, here is where the story begins to get interesting. The Grimm brothers’ account of the tale claims that the old woman who owned the house pretended to be friendly with the children but was really an wicked witch that lured children to her home with her edible home. Clearly, logic went out the window with this tale (how can the children’s breadcrumbs get eaten by animals but the witch’s entire home is left intact?). The witch proceeds to lock Hansel into a caged pen and fatten him up and subjects Gretel to “tough” housework (she cooked the food Hansel was fed and fetched water; it was all merely a slap on the wrist considering she was eating the witch’s home). When the time came to eat the children, the witch told Gretel to climb into the oven. Witty little Gretel tells the witch she doesn’t know how, so the witch shows her how (what can you expect from someone who makes an edible home?) and the young girl locks her in. With the help of a kind little duck, the children return to their father with stolen riches from the witch’s home and live happily ever after sans their stepmother, who died.

The morals of this tale is either unclear or completely irrational. If you’re starving, abandoning your children in a forest won’t work because they will continue finding their way back. If you’re lost in a forest and find an edible home, by all means, eat away at it, kill the owner, and steal her things; it will only bring you happiness and unbridled wealth. Be kind to little ducks because they can help you cross a river with your stolen riches someday.

Regardless of the questionable lessons the tale provides, the Grimm’s version of Hansel and Gretel still serves as a fairly useful warning for children to beware of strangers and food from strange places. However, remaining true to the violent and graphic nature of today’s cinema, a recently released film adaptation of the tale seems to toss any morals whatsoever out the window and plays with the idea that revenge is the sweetest medicine for any wound. Director Tommy Wirkola turns the clever children from the Grimm’s tale and transforms them into talented fighters in his film Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Wirkola’s version of the tale has the children successfully murder the witch, after which they deem themselves witch-killing professionals and go from town to town killing witches and saving the townspeople’s children. A grown-up Hansel and Gretel eventually discover that their mother, who was a white witch, sent them away in the woods to protect them from the black witch. Both parents were murdered by the witch-intolerant townspeople who discovered the children’s mother was a witch.

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The film has all the makings of a modern day blockbuster hit: action, bloodshed, gore, fighting scenes, a sexualized female, a troubled yet bravely heroic male, and guns. Somehow, the tale the Grimm’s recorded in their book is turned into a video game (which will probably be hitting the market soon) filled with the violence and horror that viewers enjoy today. What that says about modern day American culture is off-putting. With the advancement of technology, people’s attention spans have become seemingly shorter. What holds a person’s interest nowadays must, apparently, involve weapons and fighting. Perhaps it’s due to the new age of violence that has been created in the spirit of  “counter-terrorism”. What’s scary about movies like this is that tales that were once bedtime tales intended to scare children into obeying their parents and heed their warnings have been transformed into a message that violence solves everything. Children, start going to those shooting ranges and perfect your aim, you may need it one day to exact revenge on your enemies and their friends!

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