A new take on the Brothers Grimm classic, 200 years after its first publication
Once upon a time, Hansel and Gretel sat at a scrubbed wooden table, selfishly contemplating how to get their next meal. To supplement their father’s food provision they had fished the river clean and eaten every edible fungus (including a wart off Gretel’s toe) for ten miles around; they could have walked further but the inevitable exercise discouraged them.
Unfortunately, since their father had married an accountant after their mother’s mysterious death in an unexplained freak wood-chopping accident, it was impossible for them to siphon off extra money for food.
‘They eat too much,’ said their stepmother, looking through the receipts from the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker (Hansel and Gretel were partial to a bit of wax too). ‘We need to lead them to the woods in true fairytale fashion to put a stop to this overspend.’
‘I don’t want to lose my children though,’ sighed the father. ‘At least they eat less than their mother…’
‘They re-mortgaged this log cabin, our home, without our knowing, to pay for sugar canes!’ she cried.
‘…I’ll get my coat.’
Gretel had been fortunate enough to be listening at the door during the conversation and therefore ran (well, waddled) to the kitchen to take a bread roll. In the likely event that they were taken to the woods to die, she could leave a trail of breadcrumbs… nah that was too much hard work… Gretel scoffed down the bread and resigned herself to the fact she might be living off nature for the rest of her life.
That night, their father took both Hansel and Gretel into the woods and ‘played’ a game of hide and seek, which even Gretel gullibly fell for due to her low IQ and appalling short term memory. Unfortunately for the father, his devious plan backfired after quickly getting lost; after counting to ten he turned back to ‘seek’ his log cabin instead of Hansel and Gretel (who were ill-concealed behind an unforgiving sapling), but he never found his way back home and was never seen again.
Hansel and Gretel meanwhile had come out of their hiding place, suffering severe hunger-pangs. It was morning and neither had gone without a three-course breakfast since birth.
‘I’m starving Gretel,’ Hansel moaned moodily as the two shuffled through the forest.
‘I’m starving and thirsty,’ whined Gretel, secretly wondering how to start a fire so she could cook Hansel.
Suddenly, a high-pitched shriek emitted from a clump of trees in the distance, stopping the pair in their tracks.
‘What’s that noise?’ said Hansel, straining to hear past Gretel’s stomach grumble.
The two followed the hideous warbling until, hidden behind a massive oak tree, they saw the source of the sound – an old witch, outside what appeared to be a house made of cakes, chocolate, fudge and sweets.
‘We’ve hit the jackpot!’ whispered Gretel ecstatically. ‘The sugar cane window-frames are mine Hansel –’
Gretel turned to Hansel, only to realise that he was already striding over to the witch with a massive branch in his hand.
‘Oh dear,’ muttered Gretel.
‘Oi! Witch!’ shouted Hansel roughly.
‘I’m no witch,’ said the old woman, shrieking with laughter.
‘You’re wearing black, you cackle and you smell like a mouldy cauldron – you’re a witch!’ said Hansel.
‘Well,’ said the woman a little taken aback, ‘firstly: black is a slimming colour young man, especially for a woman my age. And, I’m sorry that you don’t like my singing – I’ve been having lessons to improve my pitch by the way – but this is my land after all so I can sing if I want to. In actual fact you’re trespassing and… yes, I do smell,’ she conceded, sniffing her armpits, ‘it’s laundry day… tomorrow.’
‘But you live in a house made of sweets and cakes to lure children so you can eat them, you evil hag!’
‘No, I just have a sweet tooth dear. I used my pension to hire a very flamboyant but highly recommended builder. Call it a mid-life crisis if you will but I felt like a bit of unnecessary spending! I had to put my foot down on a marshmallow chimney though – it would never have taken the heat… these designers hey?’
Gretel joined her brother; they needed this woman’s house for themselves.
‘Oh and you’ve brought a lovely friend with you! Well, I’ve got a spare room – if you help with the chores it’s yours. I’m getting on in years so you can live for free and help yourselves to a bit of my roof in exchange for a -’
Everyone knows what happened to the old woman. Even as Gretel pushed her into the oven she sang through her pain, albeit out of tune. As for Hansel and Gretel, their guilt caused them to comfort-eat the house in just one day, leaving them homeless. They slowly starved away over many painful years until they were an acceptable, healthy weight.