A novella offers a retelling and expansion of “Hansel and Gretel.”
Following the broad strokes of the original folk tale, Klaassen (Fiction-Writing Modes: Eleven Essential Tools for Bringing Your Story to Life, 2015, etc.) adds descriptions and a few plot changes. Young Hansel and Gretel overhear their mother and woodcutter father discussing their plan to take the children deep into the woods and abandon them to avoid their own imminent starvation. In Klaassen’s version, the children’s mother is not identified as a stepmother, and although their father hesitates to accept the plan, he eventually agrees. Hansel gathers reflective stones and leaves a trail when their parents lead them away, enabling him and Gretel to find their way back. Their parents, while happy when the children return, still can find no solution other than to abandon them in the forest. This time, Hansel leaves a trail of bread crumbs, with predictable results. The hungry children follow a magical white bird, first to a berry-laden bush, then to a gingerbread cottage inhabited by a cannibalistic witch who plans to fatten up Hansel for her next meal. This modern variation has Hansel, rather than Gretel, push the witch into the fireplace, ending the spell she has cast over the forest. Klaassen’s development enhances certain aspects of the story, such as the suggestion that the witch’s spell caused the famine; by killing her, Hansel ends the enchantment. But his reworking of the common fairy-tale device of the evil stepmother—making the children’s biological parents complicit in plotting their deaths—is more disturbing than the traditional version. More unsettling still is the children’s determination to return to their parents, perhaps to provide another opportunity for attempted murder. While Klaassen’s addition of descriptions, sensory details, and dialogue brings depth to his novella, there is a certain beauty to the spareness of the original version. Nonetheless, by eliminating the obvious villain, the author allows for more contemplation and discussion concerning both the parents’ difficult decision and their children’s innocent forgiveness.
An embellishment of an age-old folk tale that adds intriguing elements while remaining faithful to most of the original story.