Hans and Gretchen: A Cautionary Tale for the '00s
Once upon a time in the Olde Worlde, there lived a family of four in a crude cottage on the edge of the wildwood - a long-suffering cotter, his pleasant wife, and their twin children, a son and a daughter. The cotter worked betimes at the manor of the local knight, mucking out the stables and slopping the hogs, while his wife happily worked their small kitchen garden and tended to their home and children. For many years all went well, but eventually, as sometimes happens even in the very best of families, the children, as they aged, became surly and uncooperative, and ultimately downright rebellious.
It happened one day that the cotter and his wife hitched their aging, rundown nag to their rickety wagon and traveled to market, after cautioning the children not to wander into the nearby wildwood, for no one knew what nasty and evil things lurked within, but surely something horrible would befall them if they were disobedient. Hans and Gretchen, of course, assured their parents that they would remain in the cottage and study their lessons.
As soon as the cotter and his wife had disappeared over the hill, Hans and Gretchen, overcome by cupidity, snatched several sweets purloined from the cooks at the manor, and set out on a thin track that led deep into the forest. They wandered for hours, marveling at the variety of trees and plants, and delightedly watching as small, furry woodland creatures cavorted and gamboled. Eventually, realizing that the thin track had become little more than deer trace, they bethought themselves of a plan whereby they could continue to wander, yet still find their way home. They broke their remaining sweets into crumbs, and dropped the crumbs behind them as they walked, never noticing that the sparrows and tomtits were avidly eyeing the tasty treats.
Time passed unheeded as Hans and Gretchen meandered, enchanted, through the depths of the forest, until they became aware of the lengthening shadows and concluded that they should begin the homeward trek. Turning back upon their route, they could discover no trace of the trail of crumbs that they had so assiduously dropped. Abjectly, they searched in vain for a path to which they could direct their steps. At length, understanding that they were utterly lost, they sat upon a rotting log and wept bitter tears.
As twilight pervaded the dim reaches of the woodland, the twins thought to detect the faint scent of smoke wafting through the woods. Following their noses, they eventually reached a hut situated in a small clearing. Their eyes grew wide and their mouths watered as they gazed upon a building that appeared to be constructed of gingerbread, peppermints, and gumdrops. As Hans and Gretchen dashed forward, drawn ineluctably to the sugary structure, a door in the front of the building abruptly opened and and a cackling, white-haired apparition appeared. She waved a well-manicured hand and the appearance of the hut changed suddenly from one of alluring sweetness to one of revolting healthfulness. Now, instead of the incense of peppermint and cake, the reek of celery, carrot and spinach filled the air. The twins tried to turn and flee, but they found themselves paralyzed, unable to twitch so much as a toe.
The petite, well-dressed, elderly woman bustled over to them, gleefully rubbing her hands together and burbling merrily to herself. Her argent hair was arranged in a tight bun, and her bifocals twinkled as she cheerfully regarded the hapless, motionless twins. "So, you were attracted to the unhealthy appearance of my hut, were you? It was, of course, but a glamour. I have so much to teach you!" she cried gladly, pushing Hans and Gretchen toward the door of her healthy hut. "There are so many, many things I can teach you about healthful eating! And I will make certain that you are thoroughly indoctrinated! We will begin with vegetables! Oh, this will be so much fun!"
Late that night, the cotter and his wife returned to an empty cottage. They spent many days searching futilely for their children, but Hans and Gretchen were never seen again.
This little bit of fluff was inspired by a small article in our local paper that appeared sometime last year. I wish I could have printed it verbatim, but I seem to have misplaced the original and the paper's online archives would not vomit it up. The original was a notice of the intent of one of our city schools to mount a production of Hansel and Gretel, except that they had updated it for the millenium by omitting the witch and including some lessons on healthy eating. Such is the state of political correctness in our time. O brave new world!
Faery tale copyright Malcolm Mott 2005