Breadcrumbs and the Dark Woods, the “What If” Game with Hansel & Gretel

I like playing the “What If” game. If you don’t know it (see what I did there?) it’s the game you play with yourself (or others, rules are optional) wondering what can or did happen. It’s especially gratifying with fairy tales. For me, happily ever after isn’t enough of a denouement to satisfy.

One of my favorite to play the game with is Hansel and Gretel. Spoilers ahead!


Hansel and Gretel–My Book of Favourite Fairy Tales, Jennie Harbour, 1921


I usually forget the ending where they return to the parents who essentially left their starving children in the forest to be eaten by roving carnivorous animals. I think when you’re a kid the idea of some old woman in the woods eating small children makes it pale in comparison. But as a parent, the ending horrifies me. The pictures we take away are of the gingerbread house and the crone luring them in, but it should be the picture above–Hansel and Gretel alone in the darkened woods left by their parents.

But they do go back, with no idea what kind of reception they’ll receive. They fill their pockets with jewels and money and return to their home, hoping that the windfall will gain the access to their beds. Tragic, right? So, I like to play the game. Imagine trying to ask them to do anything after that, like, “No, I didn’t take out the trash because I thought the door would be locked when I got back.” Or, “Remember when you left me and my brother in the woods? Yea, not going to collect firewood for you.” Snarky, I know, but wouldn’t you be if you’d live through abandonment and near cannibalism?

But maybe Hansel and Gretel can teach us something. Resilience, ingenuity and even forgiveness. They went back not knowing what to expect. Hansel and Gretel could be a tragedy, but what if it’s more about courage?

What if 2019 is the year we look at things differently?


By the way, visit my sister site, Books By I.L. Cruz to read this month’s MAIAM guest, Azaaa Davis!

8 thoughts on “Breadcrumbs and the Dark Woods, the “What If” Game with Hansel & Gretel

  1. What a great post. I always forget that ending too. It seems to be brushed over in the wake of a child-eating hag.

    I like the idea of looking at 2019 differently. 😊

  2. One of my favorite things about other fantasy writers is that they will nod very seriously along with fairytales, and then say, “Well, alright, so Rumpelstiltskin granting the lady’s wishes and tearing himself in half and whatnot all makes sense to me, but then how on earth does the queen stop the king from noticing she can’t actually spin gold after that? Because that marriage is going to fall apart if she doesn’t, and I mean that in an Anne Boleyn sort of way.” (Which I would absolutely read, by the way, just like the “ever after” of Hansel and Gretel.)

    You really drive home here that most fairytales, when examined, are much more frightening in their realism than in their fantasy. Yeesh.

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