Thoughts on “Hansel and Gretel”

by crfricke

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

illustration by Kay Nielsen

illustration by Kay Nielsen