A Grimm Project

242 fairy tales, 242 writing prompts.

Month: March, 2014

015. Hansel and Gretel

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

Hansel opened the bottom of the door—for the bottom of the door is the half reserved for children, fairy folk, and those who wish to creep under the devil’s nose—and went out into the night. Under the light of the full moon, he could see many white stones that glowed like stars. He filled his pockets with these.

“Where will you be taking us?” something asked. Hansel turned to the house—no one stood in the door, either half, or at the window. But on the roof, he saw a glint of light where the crooked metal chimney met the shining moon. And just there, he could make a little white cat out of the gloam.

“Hello sir,” he said, sure he was seeing some kind of fairy, and it would be best to act with respect.

“Good evening,” answered the cat. “You should take care with my kittens, there. They were all asleep, and now you’ve gone and woken them up. We’d like to know just where you intend to take them.”

“On the path,” said Hansel, though the words seemed heavy and unwilling to leave his lips. “Only on the path, to make our way home tomorrow.”

“Such an excellent plan, Hansel,” the cat purred. “Clever boy, to save yourself and your sister!”

Hansel felt the kitten-stones wriggling in his pockets to get out.

“Can you tell them to stay still tomorrow, when I lay them on the path?” he asked.

“I can’t tell them anything,” said the cat, whose eyes began to flash from colorless gray to deep, bloody red.

“But I need your help!” said Hansel – or rather, he thought he said it, but as the moonlight flashed then faded, and he opened his eyes, it seemed that he hadn’t. He was in his little bed, next to Gretel’s, and the moonlight spilled through the bottom of the bottom half of the door just as it had when he’d fallen asleep. Gretel lay in her bed like a porcelain doll, sleeping peacefully. Behind the dividing wall, he heard the snores of his father and stepmother. Tomorrow they would take him and Gretel into the woods, and he did not yet know how he might save them.

Cate Fricke
February 2014

illustration by Charles Robinson

illustration by Charles Robinson

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Thoughts on “Hansel and Gretel”

It’s hard to use such a well-known tale as a writing prompt. After all, I’m willing to bet that any time a person thinks of fairy tales and children lost in the woods, they are automatically thinking about Hansel and Gretel, the unwanted children sent to starve by a cruel mother (or stepmother, depending on the version).  In fact, the vast woods of fairy tales are brimming with children, many of whom aren’t lucky enough to have such recognizable names. But the pressure’s on, with this one—there’s so much already floating around in the collective consciousness.

So where to start? With the pitiless, desperate mother who convinces the children’s father to take them into the woods and leave them there? With the plaintive but hopeful figure of Hansel turning back to drop markers on the path, claiming that his little white cat is saying goodbye to him from the rooftop of the house? Or, most temptingly, with that most creative witch, clever enough to have fashioned her house into what a pair of hungry children most desire: gingerbread and candy. A holiday house, with horrors within. There’s so much! And so the writing of a 10-minute freewrite seems next to impossible.

Favorite lines from the Zipes translation:

“When their parents had fallen asleep, Hansel put on his little jacket, opened the bottom half of the door, and crept outside.”

“‘Oh Father,’ said Hansel, ‘I’m looking at my little white cat that’s sitting up on the roof and wants to say good-bye to me.’
‘You fool,’ the mother said. ‘That’s not a cat. It’s the morning sun shining on the chimney.’”

“Now, witches have red eyes and cannot see very far, but they have a keen sense of smell, like animals, and can detect when  human beings are near them.”

“So the very best food was cooked for poor Hansel, while Gretel got nothing but crab shells.”

I don’t need to tell the tale to you again. So let’s just get to it.

Read my writing response here, and read the full tale as translated by D. L. Ashliman, available at Pitt.edu.

illustration by Kay Nielsen

illustration by Kay Nielsen