February 22, 2024


Feel everything

Hansel and Gretel and the Fairy Tale Motif of Starvation in the Dark Ages

One of the most loved fairy tales of all time “Hansel and Gretel” shares its general outline with some of the most endearing and disturbing fairytales in existence. For this motif shows both the potential cruelty of parents, the darkness of a world without food and the ability of children to work together to overcome the impossible. The world of the Dark Ages is different from what we often portray it, people did not wish for greatness, adventure, and love people wished for food.

It is not coincidence that the French Revolution occurred during a bread shortage, or that the Russian Revolution came on the heals of starvation. Those with high sounding ideals in both these cases had fought for years to get people to rise up for freedom, but freedom as always takes a back seat to food and security. For peasants the threat of starvation is very real, and life is very dark indeed.

It is perhaps the need for food that causes the idea of cannibalism to be so prevent in Folklore, from witches to the wicked step mother in “The Juniper Tree” folklore is ripe with those who would eat others especially children. And so it is with the “Hansel and Gretel” motif, where desperation for food drives people to do the most despicable of acts, abandoning children to die and attacking them for food. One can argue now that it was the step mother who sent the children off to die, but this was just not the case in the original story, the Grimm’s Brothers it seemed could not stand the dark reality of the life the stories came from and so switched the mother for the stepmother.

Molly Whuppie shows this dark reality in perhaps one of the starkest ways possible, for parents who have too many children abandon them to the woods to die. It is interesting to note how easily the children forgive the children in all of these tales however, for when the children make their fortune overcoming the cannibalistic intents of the woodlands they typically return to the parents or at least one parent. It is always interesting to note that while the parents abandon their children to die the villain of these stories in normally a wealthy creature in the woods who the children must kill in the ultimate eat or be eaten game.

Molly Whuppie’s story stands out as one of the greatest examples of this game, for the starving children find a kindly women who takes them in and tries then to protect them from her monstrous husband. In return The oldest of the three girls plays the ultimate series of tricks, getting the father to slit the throats of his daughters and later to beat his wife to death, even as the wife freed Molly from certain death. Certainly the giant husband had tried to murder Molly and her sisters, but the sisters had done nothing to deserver their death.

Nor had the wife to deserve hers for she had tried to save the children from starvation. The message of this story then it would seem is that when starvation hits the children should play off the sympathies of the rich, or steal from them, for they have whole houses of food. Then the children should trick these wealthy benefactors to their deaths, so as to steal their treasures. For such are the dark realities of the fairytale world in which we once lived.