The original versions of many classic fairytales are not as what we are familiar with today. Most of them are dark and cruel with lots of violence and gruesome endings. Fairytales in the past were not intended solely for children but for adults as well. The moral lessons are still there, but the method of telling it is in no way beautiful. Nowadays, these fairytales had been re-told and sanitized as to make it more acceptable and off course with more happy endings.
In the popular version collected by Brother Grim in 19th century, Hansel and Gretel get
In the earlier French version, Hansel and Gretel do not become lost. They are led into the forest by their parents who cannot afford to feed them. The father doesn’t really want to abandon the children but the mother talks him into it and he finally gives in to his wife’s desire. This idea of infanticide is horrifying. The children have to deal with resentment from adults who supposed to be their caregivers.
Child abandonment has a historical reality. This original story of Hansel and Gretel is a reflection of the hardship of life in the middle ages. It is a common practice
In a newer version, there is an effort to sanitize this cruelty by saying that the wicked mother is not the children’s biological mother; she is a stepmother, a stranger, not a real mother. Stepmother becomes the scapegoat. Everything is her fault. In the end of the story, the mother, is dead. Hansel and Gretel re-united with their father and they live together in a perfect joy.
In the earlier version, there is no witch but a devil. The devil does not use oven to cook the children but he puts together a sawhorse and plans to put the children on to slowly bleed to death. The children pretend they do not know how to get on to the sawhorse. The devil’s wife demonstrates and while she is lying on the saw horse, Hansel and Gretel tied her up and quickly slash her throat. A cruel death indeed, but torture of bad guys is common in the middle ages.
In its historical context, this story reflects the fears, condition and value of society of the times of its origin which might appear too barbaric to modern society. However, the moral lesson in the newer and original version is still the same. Hansel and Gretel teach us, children and adults, the struggle for survival in the tempting dangerous world.