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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hansel and Gretel


A number of years ago I was teaching a writing workshop in an elementary school. I thought it would be instructive and interesting and fun to have all the kids write their own version of a well-known tale. This, I figured, would eliminate the very large problem of the children needing to invent plots, and allow them to focus on writing description and dialog. We'd all tell our own version of Hansel and Gretel, one of the most iconic of the Grimms' tales.

Sorry to say, this plan fell apart at the start, because so many of the kids did not know the story! I was flabbergasted. I can understand not having an intimate acquaintance with Fenrir the Wolf or the Birbal stories, but Hansel and Gretel? If you are one of those students, grown up and with kids of your own, here it is:

Hansel and Gretel, by the Brother's Grimm

or you may prefer a plot summary 


There has been much fascinating (and some wacky) scholarship and analysis about this story over the years - Freudian, Jungian, Marxist, Feminist, Historical, Modernist - you name it.  But I suspect most children take it at face value, as I did: two little children learn that because there is not enough food, their parents are going to abandon them, and they must summon the courage and resourcefulness to survive on their own and defeat a cannibal witch.  There probably aren't a whole lot of things more frightening to kids than being abandoned by their own parents.  I even suspect that for some kids, the witch is less frightening than the initial betrayal and abandonment.  By taking this story to heart, perhaps children have a chance to imagine what that might feel like, and to follow Hansel and Gretel courageously through the forest to a sweet victory.

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