Once upon a time, in the deep, dark forests of Germania, parents occasionally – when times were hard and starvation was at the door – left their children, usually the youngest, in the woodland to die. They did this hoping to increase the remaining family members’ chances of survival. There may, in other words, be a harsh reality behind the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected, edited, and saved for the printed pages, and the imaginary woods of the brothers Grimm is closely connected to the physical forests of northern Europe.
The tales partly sprung out of these woodlands. They reach deeply into the human psyche, and those who decide to wander in the forest where folktales are born can never know whom or what they will encounter. What the wanderers can be sure of, though, is that everything is there for their sake, and that everything has got to do with them, for the fairy tale is a decidedly paranoid genre.
The stories may seem simple, and they are simple, but they are also complex and subtle, and they display every possible human emotional state. The tales are exciting, funny, entertaining, tender, sensual, adventurous, and downright scary – as is the tale of Hansel and Gretel. The plot is well-known and few can recall when they first encountered it – the story was, in a certain sense, always there. Famine engulfs the land. Hansel and Gretel’s stepmother – in some versions, mother – decides to get rid of the children, leaving them behind in the forest. Hansel is thrifty, but eventually they do get lost in the woods. There the siblings find a house of bread (!) which is the home of a witch (!!) who, as soon as a child falls into her hands, kills it, cooks it, and eats it (!!!) How grim can it get?
For the majority of the story, Gretel cries, but when an opportunity appears she takes control of the situation, destroys the witch, and saves herself and her brother. How did this happen? How could this little girl all of a sudden become the destroyer of death/the witch? The answer is: it isn’t all of a sudden. Her innermost nature has been revealed before the dramatic climax of the story, but silently. So… when you find yourself in the forest where fairy tales are born… keep a sharp lookout.