In honor of the movie “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” opening this weekend in theaters, I thought I would reflect upon the evil found in fairy tales. Or, more specifically, the evil found in the tale of “Hansel and Gretel”. I mean, I’ve seen the trailer. It looks like a Good versus Evil world in the film to me. And you have to admit, the evil in the “Hansel and Gretel” fairy tale is pretty bad. No matter which version you consider.
Before the Grimm’s “Hansel and Gretel” fairy tale, Charles Perrault wrote an earlier version called “Le Petit Poucet”. In it, there is no witch, but instead an ogre and his wife that want to bleed Little Thumb and his brothers horrifyingly to death and eat them. But of course they trick the ogre into cutting the throats of his daughters instead. Then they escape.
I like the fact that one form of evil in this story is an ogre. Out of all the personifications evil could take on, ogres are near to the top of the list of great evilness.
Moving on to the Grimms’ 1857 version of “Hansel and Gretel”, it is not an ogre, but a witch that personifies the evil in the world. But wait! There’s more evil in “Hansel and Gretel” than simply the personification provided by either the ogre or the witch. I mean, why were Hansel and Gretel so deep in the woods to begin with?
According to the Grimms, it is their stepmother (a.k.a “the woman”, or “the wife”, or actually their mother in far earlier versions) that initially wants to abandon them in the forest because there is not enough food to go around. Although he becomes increasingly sympathetic with each version, their father is reluctant to leave them to die, but does ultimately go along with the plan. Step back for a second. This action is very shocking. Is it evil, as well? It certainly sounds evil. But consider that some things I’ve read point to the fact that in Medieval times, this practice was rather common. We, in our comfortable world, do not have to face such a choice. Again, I ask, is it evil? (Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments, for I do not know what to think.)
Another point to be made is that it is the mother/female figure that wants to abandon Hansel and Gretel. Shall we explore the association of evilness with female figures in fairy tales more? There are certainly many Evil Queens from fairy tale worlds to choose from.
It is interesting. In our own world, in our own culture, mothers are seen as the main protectors of their children. But the Grimm’s “Hansel and Gretel” spins this around and turns it topsy-turvy on its head. Is it evil that the mother figure promotes leaving Hansel and Gretel to die? And what of their father? Is he to be left completely off the hook?
And how about the fact that “the woman”, “the stepmother”, or whatever you want to call her, ends up dead? Does this imply that the “bad” will get their just rewards in the end?
Honestly, I have the questions, but I do not begin to know all the answers. What I do know is that “Hansel and Gretel” is a dark and shocking fairy tale indeed.
I have not seen the new movie, “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”, but some early reviews imply that it is quite gory and very dark. If this is true, it seems the film continues the legacy left by the Grimms’ “Hansel and Gretel” fairy tale.
*Have you seen the film? What do you think? Leave a comment and tell me!