The Flexibility of Fairy Tales

Hansel and Gretel by the Grimm Brothers

Let’s take another look at what I have on my bookshelf!

Image result for hansel and gretel Grimm

“Hansel and Gretel,” published in 1812, is one of those stories that nearly every single person knows about: either from reading it themselves or from hearing it referenced. It is one of the Grimm Brother’s most popular fairy tales. There have been various adaptations in both narrative and film over the years. Today, we are talking about the original Grimm version.

Summary

Once upon a time, there lived a family in the woods: a father, a mother, and two children: a boy named Hansel and a girl named Gretel. Now the family was very poor and apparently there was not enough to eat, so the mother (who is later revealed to be a step-mother) convinces her husband that they must abandon their children in the woods so that the parents themselves may live.

I’ve read some research on this and apparently during the Great Famine of the early 1300s, this was a common practice as parents would abandon their children in the woods so that they (the working force) could survive. Brutal, huh?

However, as the step-mother was plotting her plan, the two children overheard her conversation with their father. So in the middle of the night, Hansel went out and gathered white pebbles. The next day when their father took them into the woods, Hansel left behind a trail of the white pebbles. When they were later abandoned by their father, Hansel and Gretel followed the trail of pebbles back home.

The color white is prevalent throughout the story; most likely symbolizing their innocence.

While their father was overjoyed to see them, the step-mother was not. She demanded that he take the children out again the next day. This time she barred the door shut so that Hansel could not go and gather pebbles at night. The next day, Hansel and Gretel were led into the woods with their father and having no pebbles, Hansel dropped breadcrumbs instead.

Image result for hansel and gretel breadcrumbs
This picture makes me so sad because it really shows that Hansel and Gretel were young, innocent children with chubby baby cheeks.

When the children fell asleep and awoke, their father was gone, as too was the trail of breadcrumbs, eaten by animals in the woods. Obviously distraught, the children quickly became confused and could not find their way home. After hours of searching they came upon a house made entirely of candy: ” the house was built of bread, and roofed with cakes, and the window was of transparent sugar.”

Image result for hansel and gretel

Inside lived a witch who quickly tricked the children, imprisoning Hansel and enslaving Gretel who was forced to feed her brother until he grew fat enough to eat. However, the children were clever (as children in fairy tales often are). Every day the witch would tell Hansel to hold out a finger to check if he was getting fat. Gretel, (sneaky thing that she was,) gave Hansel a chicken bone which he held out instead of his finger. As the witch was half blind, she could not see the difference and only thought that Hansel was still too thin to eat.

Then, one day, tired of waiting, the witch decided to eat Hansel, fat or not. She ordered Gretel to strike up the oven by reaching far down inside of it. However, Gretel, knowing that the witch was trying to trap her inside the over, tricked the witch instead by pretending to be ignorant:

But Gretel perceived her intention, and said, “I don’t know how to do it; how shall I get in?”
“Stupid goose,” said the old woman, “the opening is big enough, do you see? I could get in myself!” and she stooped down and put her head in the oven’s mouth. Then Gretel gave her a push, so that she went in farther, and she shut the iron door upon her, and put up the bar. Oh how frightfully she howled! But Gretel ran away, and left the wicked witch to burn miserably.

Karma, right? And also, super dark!

Freed, the two children gathered up the gems that the witch had stored in her house and, with a little help from some animals friends, Hansel and Gretel finally made it back home. When they arrived, their step-mother had died, but their father remained and together the father and children lived happily ever after.

Review

The Obvious Moral of the Story

  • Those who are evil will be punished. In this story, there are two primary evil characters, the step-mother and the witch (ironic that they’re both women, but that is a discussion for another day). Both the step-mother and the witch are punished for their actions while the father and the children live happily ever after.

The Not-so-Obvious Moral of the Story

  • There are different types of evil, one of them is gluttony. Think about it, both the step-mother and the witch focused their actions on their desire to fulfill their physical appetite. Even Hansel and Gretel almost died because of their obsession with the candy house.

The thing I find the most interesting about this fairy tale:

  • Instead of doing what I normally do here, telling you what I find most interesting, I’m going to share a secret. This story is what originally made me fearful of ovens! For years, I would not go near one, even now I have to bake with my fiance so that he will open and shut the oven!

 

This is one of the Grimm Brothers’s most popular fairy tales. What do you think of it?

Image result for hansel and gretel

The Flexibility of Fairy Tales

The Poor Miller’s Boy and the Cat

. . . Where did all the time go?

Summary

There once was a miller who was getting old in age who had three field hands. He told these three boys that whoever brought back the best horse would inherit the mills when he died as long as they swore to take care of him for the rest of his life. Two boys were friendly with one another and hated the “simpleton” who was the third boy. When the three set off on their journey the other two boys abandoned the third boy while he slept. When he woke up, he was found by a cat who promised to give him the most magnificent horse if he stayed with and served her for seven years.

Image result for the miller's poor boy and the cat

The years seem to pass in a matter of days for the simpleton boy and he returns to the miller without a horse although the cat promises to bring one in three days. The other two boys (who apparently also took seven years to find horses) return with one lame horse and one blind horse. While the miller initially dismisses the simpleton boy, after three days, he accepts the boy as his successor when the cat (now a beautiful human princess) returns with six gorgeous horses and one utterly magnificent horse. The story ends,

“The princess said that she would give him the horse and that the miller could just keep the mill for himself. She took faithful Hans by the hand and got into the coach with him and drove off . . . Then the two married, and he was so rich, so very rich, that he had more than enough money for the rest of his life. So don’t let people tell you that a simpleton will never amount to anything in life.”

 

Review

Another not-so-well known fairy tale, perhaps even less known than the Frog King. Perhaps one of the most interesting things happening here is the role reversal in which it is the princess who comes to the rescue of the helpless male.

The obvious moral of the story: Faithfulness is rewarded

  • Throughout the story it seems like Hans is just caught up by the cat and her magical home. However, in the last paragraph the princess focuses on the phrase “faithful Hans.” Therefore, we can assume that perhaps Hans was not simply swept away by the princess’s magic; instead, he intentionally remained and served her.

The not-so-obvious moral of the story: Don’t judge a person by their appearance.

  • In the last sentence of the story, the Grimm brothers warn their readers to not judge a simpleton’s abilities or accomplishments. Can it be assumed that they are arguing against judgement of any kind? Perhaps.

The interesting involvement of time, or lack thereof.

  • Time is a curious thing in this story. The narrative itself is only four and half pages, yet the story is supposed to cover 7+ years. Time quite literally flies in the story as seven years passes in a matter of days. Time becomes insignificant and malleable. Does Hans servitude mean as much, is his faithfulness as important when seven years is hardly a wrinkle in time?

What do you think of this story? Have you read it before?

The Flexibility of Fairy Tales

The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats

Summary

Once upon a time, there was a household inhabited by a mother goat and her seven goat children. In the same forest, there lived an evil wolf. Now regardless of the fact that this wolf lives near by, the mother goat decides to go out into the woods and leave her children at home warning them to keep the door closed to everyone except for her. Through some trickery, the wolf ends up getting inside the house and gobbles up six of the goat children whole. He misses the seventh one though who is small enough to hide in the clock.

When the mother goat returns, she finds her house a mess and her children gone, all except one. Together the mother goat and the baby goat venture out into the forest and find the wolf fast asleep with the other goats still kicking and moving around in his stomach. Somehow the wolf remains asleep even while the mother goat cuts open his stomach and removes her children while the baby goat fills his stomach back up with rocks. After the mother goat stitches up the wolf’s stomach, the goat family hides and watches. The wolf awakens and goes to the well to get a drink. However, off balance from the stones, he falls into the well and drown. In other versions, the goats push him into the well.

They were so happy that they called their mother, and they all danced for joy around the well.”

Review

The story itself is short, barely four pages long. However, whenever a wolf is involved you can bet that appetite (either physical hunger or sexual desire) is attached to the story.

The Obvious Moral – Obey your parents. This is an obvious moral running throughout Grimm fairy tales that were not meant to entertain children, but to scare them and keep them in line. If the goats had listened to their mother, they would not have been eaten. Of course, this is problematic as the goats do try to respect their mother’s orders. However, they are tricked by the wolf. So can we really blame them?

The Not-So Obvious Moral – Run from gluttony. As briefly mentioned earlier, wolves usually represent some kind of hunger. In this case, the wolf’s own gluttony causes his downfall. He was so hungry that he swallowed the goats whole. By swallowing them whole, the goats remain alive in his stomach which allows the mother goat to rescue them. Furthermore, having eaten too much, the wolf is lured into a deep slumber that also leads to his downfall.

Interestingly, the youngest goat survives the wolf’s attack. Why? Is it because he was smart enough to hide? Or small enough to escape notice? Not sure of the answer. What do you think of today’s selection?

The Flexibility of Fairy Tales

The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich

. . . and the very little, very violent princess.

I have finally found the time to start adding blog posts to the “My Bookshelf” section of my menu. I thought, what could be better than to start with Fairy Tales? Here we go!

Summary:

The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich, also known to some as The Frog Prince, was written by the Grimm brothers and is traditionally the first story published in their collection. When I think of fairy tales, I don’t automatically jump to this story. In fact, it often slips from my mind when thinking of Grimm’s collection of tales. However, if the brothers saw fit to begin their collection with it, I suppose I should also begin my analysis of their fairy tales with this story.

Here is a brief summary for those of you who have not read it:

Once upon a time, a young princess of ridiculous beauty played with her golden ball next to a pond. She accidentally lost her ball in the pond and apparently could not swim. Her tears were noticed by a frog who rescued her ball from the pond and agreed to return it to the young princess if she agreed to let him live with her in the palace, to eat from her plate, to sip from her cup, and to sleep in her bed. Of course, the young girl simply wanted her ball back and agreed, but as soon as she got her ball she left without the frog.

Image result for the frog king or iron heinrich

That night while the young princess and her father, the king, sat at dinner, the frog knocked (not sure how) on the castle’s doors and called out to the princess reminding her of her promise. Although she did not want to, the king ordered her to fulfill her promise and to not “scorn someone who helped you when you were in trouble.” Unhappily, the princess lets him in, lets him eat from her plate and drink from her cup.

Image result for the frog king or iron heinrich

After dinner, she carries the frog to her room but sets him on the floor instead of her bed. When the frog reminds her of her promise and threatens to call the king, the princess picks up the frog and violently hurls him across the room where he thuds against the wall and then transforms into a handsome prince.

Needless to say after this act of violence, the prince and the princess marry and live happily ever after.

Now, who is Heinrich you might ask? The name from the title?

Not the Frog Prince. He is never named. Instead, Heinrich is the prince’s faithful coachman who arrives the following morning to celebrate his prince’s freedom. Heinrich also wears three wooden hoops around his chest to keep his heart from exploding with sorrow. As Heinrich drives the prince and the princess to their happily ever after, the story ends with:

“The sound of the hoops breaking from around Faithful Heinrich’s chest, for his master had been set free and was happy at last.”

 

Review

As I mentioned before, this story, although beloved and remade dozens of time, has never really struck my fancy. However, there are some interesting things happening here, especially if we believe that morals and life lessons can be discovered through fairy tales.

The obvious moral of the story: Honor your promises and you will be rewarded.

  • The frog honored his promise to retrieve the ball and the princess (unwillingly) honored her promise to the frog. His curse was broken and she got a fancy new husband.

The not-so-obvious moral: Action is necessary to accomplish anything worthwhile.

  • This might seem a little strange, but consider the scene in which the young princess hurls the frog against the wall. This violent act is hardly commendable and, if I were the prince, I would be a bit agitated with the princess. Some scholars have insisted that the violence of the action is unimportant (although I think the prince would argue), it is the action itself that is important. Neither the frog, nor the princess, could break the curse without being actively involved. I’m not sure if this satisfies being thrown across the room, but I can acquiesce the importance of having your protagonist being active rather than passive.

The interesting character of Heinrich

  • The fact that he is not the main character and yet, his name is in the title, begs further analysis of his character. He simply oozes off morals such as faithfulness and loyalty. However, we are only given this flat illustration of a servant happy to see his master freed. I don’t know about you, but I want to know Heinrich’s story.

What do you think of the story? Does it resonate with you or is it forgettable? Do you approve the princess’s violent actions? Do you want to know more about the servant Heinrich? Let me know your thoughts below!

 

Well, there we have it: my very first blog post for “My Bookshelf.” I simply adore fairy tales (thanks Jay Pines for reminding me of them) and I think I’ll do some more blog posts of this nature as long as you all seem interested. If you have a particular fairy tale that you would like my review of be sure to leave the title in the comment’s below!