The True and Completely Accurate Tale of Hansel and Gretel (a re-worked fairytale by Kell Smurthwaite)
The True and Completely Accurate Tale of Hansel and Gretel
Once upon a time…
So many stories begin that way and it’s a sure-fire bet that whatever you’re about to be told has as little to do with the truth as rice pudding has to do with computers. In short, if it begins with “Once upon a time”, you’re being lied to, or at least not being told the whole story, but only one side of it. You will all have heard of poor little Hansel and Gretel; of how they were led into the forest and left there by their Wicked Stepmother; threatened with cannibalism by an equally Wicked Witch who lived in a Gingerbread Cottage; of their daring escape with hidden riches that restored their family’s fortune and they all lived “Happily Ever After”.
That’s another tip-off by the way – nobody ever lives “Happily Ever After” in real life. So in this story, there’ll be no “Once Upon a Time” or “Happily Ever After”. It begins, instead, with a wedding…
The day was sunny and bright – perfect wedding weather; not too hot and not to cold, everyone was happy – except a boy called Hansel and his sister, Gretel. They were sullen, moody and crotchety – like most teenagers, actually. The reason they were so miffed is that their father was remarrying that day and it meant disruption to their lives and another adult to boss them around – this time one that wasn’t even related to them.
Their father wasn’t marrying for love, but for money – his new wife was young and pretty and came with a considerable amount of money on which he hoped to get his hands. She, being blinded by love, was silly enough to let him have access to her accounts and he soon frittered it away on booze, gambling and other women – yes, he was a philandering, greedy git, but she hadn’t realised that when she said “I Do”.
The truth of it is, she wasn’t a wicked woman. In fact, she was sweet and kind and tried her hardest to fit in with her new family, but she hadn’t expected to be faced with such a handful as her new step children turned out to be. Hansel was lazy and Gretel was sly and neither one of them could be trusted with any kind of responsibility.
The day came when the money ran out and the father was forced to try and find work (not that he had much luck, as he was every bit as lazy as his children – it was easy to see who their role model had been all these years) while the step mother tried to keep the house in order and work within a very tight budget to feed a family which included two teens with bottomless pits instead of stomachs!
One morning, after pleading with them to tidy their rooms and begging them to help around the house (they, of course, refused), she, now exasperated and at her wits’ end, sent them out into the woods to pick berries so they would at least have something to eat come dinner time (not to mention getting them out from under her feet so she could get things done). Dragging their heels, they made their way into the woods… and this is where everything started to go terribly wrong.
Both bickered and argued their way along the path, complaining of the terrible abuse they suffered at the hands of their horribly Wicked Stepmother and how it was such a terrible hardship to be actually asked to contribute to the household in any meaningful way. And as they wandered, they picked some berries and ate them, rather than filling their baskets as they had been asked.
As the day wore on, they grew drowsy and with their bellies filled with fruit, they thought it would be nice to have a little rest, so they lay in the shade of a willow tree and dozed off.
They woke, hours later and chilled to the bone in the fast-darkening forest and immediately realised that there would be hell to pay if they came home now with empty baskets (their father never disciplined them, but their new stepmother surely would punish them in some way – perhaps even sending them to bed without any supper and this simply would not do!) and so they hatched a plan – they would run away!
At home, their stepmother was frantic with worry – Hansel and Gretel had been missing all day and had not returned – whatever would she tell her husband? And so she fretted and paced back and forth in the tiny kitchen, gnawing her nails down to the quick, before sitting herself down and crying her eyes out (she was a compassionate soul who always put others before herself and could not bear the thought of her husband’s grief when he came home and found his children gone).
In the woods, Hansel and Gretel found their stomachs complaining loudly at the fact that they’d had nothing but berries all day long and it wasn’t long before their noses detected the heavenly scent of freshly baked gingerbread. They picked their way through the undergrowth, well off the beaten track and found themselves standing by a little wooden gate. The gate was set in a pretty picket fence running round a lush garden full of herbs and vegetables, and there, resting on an open windowsill to cool, was a tray of gingerbread.
It was more than the children could stand to see and smell the goodness before them and they crept into the garden till they were directly under the sill. Slowly, sneakily, Hansel reached up to take the tray…
“Ouch!” he yelled, and dropped the still-hot tray to the ground with a loud clatter – gingerbread flying everywhere. A golden-haired head popped out the window, looked down and saw Hansel and Gretel huddled together, nursing the blister that was fast appearing on the palm of Hansel’s hand.
“That’s quite a burn you have there, laddie, you’d best come inside so I can see to it, or it may get infected,” she said and bustled round to the front door to undo the latch.
In case you haven’t guessed, this is the so-called Wicked Witch of which you’ve heard so much. What will come to pass now will prove that tale to be nothing short of slander!
She was young and had a face as fresh as a daisy and a smile that lit up a room like the sun – she was no Witch, but she was certainly clever in the healing arts! Ushering the children into her little house, she sat them down in the kitchen while she gathered together her supplies.
“Help yourself to some cake, dearie,” she smiled at Gretel, “You look so hungry I’d bet you could eat a horse!”
She cleaned Hansel’s hand and applied a salve that cooled the wound and soothed the pain, so that he would never have known he’d burned it at all.
“How about telling me what two young’uns are doing wandering round the forest at this time of night, eh?”
This is where the lying began. Hansel and Gretel spun such a tale of woe it almost broke the young woman’s heart! They told of their Wicked Stepmother who had bewitched their poor, hard-working father with her beauty and treated them like slaves, sometimes withholding food for days at a time and beating them soundly for no reason, and how she had led them deep into the forest and left them there to be eaten by wild animals.
So touched was she by their story that she opened her heart and home to them both and invited them to stay a while with her. Her husband would be returning from business abroad in a few days and he had contacts in Social Services who could see that their stepmother would never harm them again.
She gave them a wonderful supper of homemade crumpets and cheese and honey and all kinds of goodies before tucking them into a warm bed in the spare room with soft blankets and fluffy pillows, and reassured them that she would help in any way she could and they quickly drifted off to a dreamless sleep, untroubled by guilty consciences.
Over the next few days, they were fussed over and generally treated like royalty, but despite all the kindness shown to them, they did not lift a finger to help around the house, nor even offer to do so. Instead, they helped themselves to food whenever they felt like it and lay about sunning themselves in the garden.
During this time, they began to realise that when her husband returned home, they would be taken to the authorities and there their lies would be discovered and they would be in a world of trouble! It was obvious that they could not allow themselves to be taken into custody and yet they could not return home. Whatever could they do?
It was now they turned their minds to robbery…
In the morning, their hostess announced that today her husband would be returning from abroad and would be able to help them. Hansel and Gretel knew that had to act quickly!
From several days of spoaching and spying, they had discovered the combination of the safe in the floor of the pantry. They crept in and turned the dial carefully – three to the right, two to the left, one right, four left, et voila! The door swung open and they were greeted with the sight of sparkling jewellery and money – more than they had ever seen in one place in their entire lives – this lady and her husband were obviously doing rather well for themselves!
They were stuffing their pockets with valuables when their benefactor came in from the garden. The look of shock and hurt on her face would have broken their hearts – if they’d had any!
Quickly, they grabbed her and stuffed her into the pantry, locking it from the outside so that all they heard as they made their escape was her banging and waling and yelling to be let out!
Running as hard and as fast as they could, Hansel and Gretel soon found their way back to familiar places and made their way through the woods, huffing and puffing fit to burst.
And then they stopped to rest and get their story straight. They would spin a story to cover their own backs, explain both their long absence and their new stash of goods, and ensure their welcome back into the family home once more.
After much discussion (and arguing, shouting and complaining, of course) they decided exactly what they would say and made their way back to their little house on the edge of the forest.
When they got there, they found the police with their father and stepmother and felt a moment of abject terror as they wondered if they had already been found out, but the policemen were only there to tell their parents that no trace had yet been found of poor, missing Hansel and Gretel, despite all the man-hours expended in searching for them.
Their stepmother cried tears of relief when she saw them walk through the door, their father was snoozing with his head on the kitchen table, having drank an entire bottle of whisky the night before – when he woke he’d have the very devil of a hangover!
Now, however, they were forced to tell their tale to the boys in blue, as well as their stepmother, of how they had been captured by a Wicked Witch who lived in an Enchanted Gingerbread Cottage filled with Riches, and No, they didn’t know the way back there, sorry. Of how the Witch had locked them up and tried to fatten them for the cooking pot and how they’d had to push her into her own oven to make their daring escape.
Nobody thought anything in their story was suspicious or remotely unusual; after all, Witches usually live in edible houses to lure children away and wasn’t there that case just last year that made the front page of all the newspapers?
It seemed like they had got away with it all. They could relax, enjoy their newfound wealth and be treated like heroes.
But then their father drank and gambled it all away and soon they were back to square one, only this time, they knew exactly where they could find more money… they would return to the scene of their crime!
I need not tell of their midnight trek through the woods to the little house; how they snuck in by picking the lock on the back door; how they were caught in the act by the husband who had returned from his business trip and freed his lovely wife from the pantry where she hadn’t exactly starved or been in all that much discomfort, but had lost all sense of trust in other people; how they ran off into the night and escaped with nothing but the pocket knife they’d used to pick the lock; how their misdeeds and descriptions were reported to the police the very next morning.
Hansel and Gretel are still at large. They are considered armed and dangerous and should not be approached under any circumstances. If you see them, please contact the police as quickly as possible so that they can be apprehended.
Maybe then we can all have a “Happily Ever After” once they’ve accounted for their crimes!
Kell Smurthwaite, 2006©