I was at the dentist a little while ago, and the dental assistant noticed me writing in my notebook. We got to talking, and she informed me she volunteers at a local preschool. The kids like to hear stories, but she doesn’t like the current form of many of the fairy tales. She asked me if I could write a version of Hansel and Gretel more suitable for children. I love the fairy tales, and I’m not sure exactly which part she found so objectionable, but I told her I’d try. Yesterday, I woke up from a nap with the first sentence in my head. I sat down and wrote up my version. I don’t know if it’s at all what she would want, but it’s what I have.
Gretel and Hansi
“Once upon a time, that’s how they start see. Once upon a time there lived a King with a garden so rich and so beautiful he could reach out of his window and pluck the Moon right off the flowers.”
“No Grandpa,” I yelled. “I’ve heard that one already. Tell me about the time you met the witch!”
“Another time dear,” he said. Then he went off on this story about a king and the Moon. Something bad happens when the King plucks the Moon out of the sky, then they fix it. The end.
My Grandpa is a good guy, but he doesn’t always listen so well. I tried to get him to tell me about the witch FOREVER, but he wouldn’t do it. I just had figure it out on my own.
The next morning, I woke up my brother Hansi early, before any of the grown-ups were awake. I told him we were going exploring in the woods, but he couldn’t make any noise or our stupid, new stepmother would stop us. Hansi grumbled a bit, but he did what I told him because I’m older and I’m smart and he knew if he didn’t I’d put a snake in his bed. He used to think I wouldn’t, but I did after he broke my wooden horse. I told stupid stepmother it was just a water snake, but she wouldn’t listen and sent me to bed early and gave Hansi ice cream. I swore she was just fattening him up so she could eat him.
We snuck out quietly, and I stole a snack with some bread and carrots in it. We marched through the woods heading east towards the dark part of the forest. I didn’t know where the witch’s house was, but our dad’s a woodcutter and I’d been in every other part of the forest and hadn’t seen it. We only walked for a couple hours before we reached the dark part of the forest. We call it that because no one ever goes in there and the trees grow thick and big and block out the light. There are wolves and bears in the dark part of the forest, and Grandpa used to tell us there were giant spiders as big as your face. I wasn’t scared though. Animals won’t hurt you if you’re brave, and I’m the bravest girl I know.
Hansi isn’t brave. He got scared when we got to the dark part of the forest and complained he was hungry. I handed him the bread, and I ate the carrots. I found a deer path, and we followed it through the big, thick trees until it ended. Hansi said we shouldn’t be there, but I just had to remind him of the snake and he clammed up.
After we left the deer path, I heard a weird scuffling noise following us. I turned around and saw Hansi tearing pieces off the bread and dropping them on the ground.
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“I don’t know where we are, so I’m leaving a trail to find the way home.”
“You idiot,” I said. “It’s going to get eaten by animals. Besides, I know where we are.”
We looked behind us then and sure enough a magpie was hopping along the ground eating the crumbs Hansi dropped.
“See,” I told him.
“I want to go home,” he said.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Don’t be a crybaby.”
Just then the biggest spider you ever saw jumped out from the trees and snatched the magpie, which squawked in surprise just before it was caught. Hansi screamed and ran off crying through the woods. I ran after him and tackled him and put my hand over his mouth.
“Be quiet Hansi. You don’t want to alert the witch!”
His eyes went so wide they looked like they might pop out of his head. He stopped screaming though, and I let him up.
We walked around for a few hours without seeing anything, but then I didn’t know how to get home.
“Way to go chicken baby,” I said to Hansi. “Now we’re actually lost, thanks to you running off earlier.”
Hansi didn’t say anything back. He just sat down and cried.
I walked off on my own for a few minutes, then all of a sudden I spied the witch’s cottage. I ran back and grabbed Hansi and dragged him to where I saw it. It looked like the gingerbread houses we build at Christmas, but as big as a real house. Hansi’s stomach grumbled and he charged ahead up to the house and started eating it.
“Hansi!” I yelled as I ran after him. “What are you doing?”
“Try it,” he said and stuffed some of the wall into his mouth. “Ish demibroush.”
The house did look tasty, and I’d only eaten a few carrots all day. I dug out a fistful of gingerbread wall and tasted it. It was demibroush. We ate gingerbread from the wall and icing from the window sill, gumdrops stuck on the cottage and chocolate flowers growing in the garden. We ate and we ate until suddenly a voice behind us shrieked, “What are you doing to my house?!”
A horribly old, balding crone stood there, wearing black rags and carrying two of the giant spiders from the forest by the legs. They were still wriggling. Hansi started crying.
“I’m sorry,” I told her. “We were lost and we saw your house and we were so hungry . . .” Then I started crying too.
“Well there, that’s no trouble,” said the witch. “But houses aren’t good food, you know. Don’t sit well in the belly. Here, come inside and let me cook you up a real supper.”
She opened the front door, and we followed her in.
Inside the house a fire burned on a rock candy hearth with a black cauldron over it. The witch tossed the two spiders into a bubbling stew in the cauldron.
“Um miss?” said Hansi. “Aren’t you afraid of the spiders biting you?”
“No no,” said the witch. “You just have to show them who’s boss.” I nodded my approval, and she grabbed a big, wooden spoon and stirred the cauldron.
“So,” she said, “where do you two belong?”
“Our dad’s the woodcutter,” said Hansi proudly. “One day, I’m going to be his apprentice.”
“Hmm. Is that so?” she said, more to herself than to us.
Hansi chattered away at her, telling her all about axes and which type of wood to burn and what to save. I decided to look around the cottage.
It was a pretty weird place, but nothing you wouldn’t expect at a witch’s house. There was a broom cupboard with about fifty brooms, though the dust over everything said they weren’t being used to clean. There were shelves on the walls with jars of eyeballs and lizard tails and dried up spiders (regular sized, not the huge ones) and snake fangs. I found a big, leather bound book on the shelf, and I started to flip through it. It had spells and recipes and pictures and advice for what to do on Halloween and the Walpurgisnacht. Then, I turned the page and saw this:
Children Pot Pie
1 or 2 Children
20 gallons water
Onions (as many as you can)
1 stock broccoli
3 frog eyes
Fresh Hexenspiders (1 for each child)
In a large cauldron mix in water, broccoli, frog eyes and onions (don’t skimp on these). Bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Find fresh Hexenspiders (any witch worth her salt lives in a place crawling with the things.) Throw spiders in fresh (alive if possible) and stir for 20 minutes. Add children. Boil for 1 hour. Season as needed.
I walked over to Hansi, took his arm, and pulled him toward the door. “We have to leave,” I whispered to him. The witch moved to block our way though.
“Don’t leave,” she said. “Supper’s almost ready. It just needs one more ingredient.” Then she grabbed for us.
“Run!” I yelled, and I pushed Hansi away.
The witch chased after us around the house. It was hard to keep away from her in such a small place. Eventually, she snagged a hold of my collar. I screamed and kicked and scratched at her while she dragged me toward the cauldron, but no matter how hard I fought, I couldn’t break away.
She was about to throw me in when I heard Hansi say, “Ooh. Brooms.”
The witch stopped dragging me and snarled at him, “Get away from that!”
Hansi grabbed one of the brooms and climbed onto it. He started zipping around the room shouting, “Wheee! Yippee! Gretel, do you see my flying?”
“Go Hansi!” I shouted.
The witch was shrieking, and Hansi was wrecking the entire house, turning over chairs and breaking shelves, spilling frog eyes and lizard tails and knocking over a barrel full of onions. The witch let me go and chased Hansi around. I ran to the door and opened it.
“Over here Hansi! Fly out the door!” I yelled.
He flew past me and out the door as fast a diving hawk. The witch tripped on the onions rolling across the floor and her whole top half tumbled into the cauldron. She pulled herself out shrieking and howling. I ran out the door and shut it behind me. Hansi was zipping around the cottage on the broom still. He stopped in front of me, and I climbed on.
We flew up over the trees. It was dark now, but the moon was bright and as we left the dark part of the forest behind us, we could see the light shining in the windows or our own cottage. We flew down and ran inside.
Stepmother ran to us when we burst through the door. She hugged us both to her tight and told us how worried she had been. Then she scooped up a bowl of stew for us—rabbit stew, with no onions in it at all—and gave us each a big bowl of ice cream for dessert.
After we were tucked in, Grandpa came to tell us our bedtime story.
“Which one would you like to hear?” he asked.
“Tell us about the King and his Moongarden,” I said.