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I have a four year old and he is an avid story-hearer. He loves when I tell stories “out of [my] own head” so lately I’ve been obliging with retellings of Fairy Tales. Here is what we’ve settled on for Hansel and Gretel.
Once upon a time there was a family that lived at the edge of the woods. There was a mama and a tata and a boy named Hansel and a girl named Gretel. Their papa was a woodcutter, and he cut firewood and sold it, and made charcoal, and he made furniture. In good times, people from the village bought his firewood and charcoal and furniture and they lived a very good life indeed. But times had been hard lately, and the villagers did not have much money to spend on luxuries like firewood cut by somebody else, and new furniture. So the family had been tending their little garden and hunting in the forest, but their food was running out and winter was coming.
Hansel and Gretel had a long talk one night and decided that the next morning they would go into the forest to seek their fortune, or at least have an adventure. Maybe they would find a treasure, or a would rescue a prince, or would find a berry bush ready to be stripped of berries. They set out early the next morning with their pockets full of small white pebbles, and a hard boiled egg and piece of bread each for breakfast. They munched on their egg and bread as they walked, and dropped pebbles behind them to mark their path, so they wouldn’t get lost on their way home. However, before they found their big adventure, they ran out of pebbles. They decided to keep walking, going deeper and further into the woods.
They were hungry and tired and thirsty and very lost when they came upon a small clearing in the forest. In the middle of the clearing, in the thin light of the setting sun, was a small house that looked like it was made entirely of candy and cookies. They were surprised! Was it a real house, or were they imagining it? Was it real candy, or just something that looked like candy? Hansel and Gretel crept close and found that it was a real house. They touched it, and sniffed it, and licked it, and found it was real candy! They were so hungry that they started eating the house, nibbling on chocolate and cookies and gum drops.
Suddenly, they heard a creaky wavery voice calling out “Nibble, nibble little mouse… who’s that nibbling on my house?”
Hansel panicked and called out “It’s ooooonly the wiiiiiiiiind.” Gretel glared at him. “Only the wind?” she hissed at him. He shrugged. They heard a laugh from inside the house, and the front door swung open. A tiny woman with a crooked back tottered out, leaning heavily on her cane. She had long white braids down to her knees, and a long nose that curved down and a long chin that curved up. She squinted at the children and they gathered, ashamed and afraid, in front of her.
“Now, children, why are you eating my poor little house?”
“Oh, grandmother!” they said. She wasn’t really their grandmother, but she was so old they called her grandmother. “Oh, grandmother! We were just so hungry and tired that we couldn’t help it. We didn’t think anyone lived here. We’re so sorry.”
“Ah, now, children, if you are that hungry you are welcome to come in and share my dinner with me. I have more than enough for the three of us. Come in, come in.” And she gathered them into her snug, well-lit house.
Once inside, the children fell on the food she gave them and devoured it all. They hadn’t eaten so well in months! She served them beef stew and fresh made bread with butter and yellow cheese and cherry pie. They ate until they couldn’t eat any more and she showed them a soft feather bed with big fluffy pillows. They fell asleep immediately on lying down and didn’t wake up until morning.
The next morning they woke up feeling very well rested. Hansel helped the old woman cut wood and weed her garden while Gretel helped dust the house and do the other fine chores the old woman couldn’t see to do well. As they were finishing, the old woman finished making breakfast. She put bacon on the table, and eggs, and biscuits, and cold fresh milk, and roasted apples.
“I suppose your parents will be worried about you,” she said as they ate. They used much better manners this time because they weren’t as hungry.
“Yes, we didn’t tell them we were leaving.”
“Oh, they must be very worried indeed!” she said. “I know I would be, if my darling children vanished.”
“We thought we could find treasure for them, or some food. We’ve been so hungry.”
“I have just the solution for that,” the old woman said. “Gretel, go into the pantry and bring me the big iron pot with a lid on the second shelf.”
Gretel did as told and went into the pantry. She pulled the heavy iron pot with the lid off the second shelf and brought it to the table, where the old woman fussed with it and dusted it with the corner of her apron.
“You must take this pot home with you. It is a magic pot. When you are hungry tap it three times and say “Food please, pot!” and when everyone has eaten you must tap on it once and say “stop, pot, stop!” Do this and you will never be hungry.”
The children were amazed and exclaimed over this, and Gretel said “I am sure we can’t accept such a valuable gift, grandmother.”
“Nonsense,” said the old woman. “Take it and use it and think of me when you do. I hate to think of you going hungry when this pot could help you. Now, you must be on your way home. I will call my brother Wolf and he will escort you. It is a long way and you are deep in the forest. He will see you home safe.”
She went to the front door and opened it and howled a long and shivery howl that made the hair on the backs of Hansel and Gretel’s necks stand on end. Soon a wolf, the biggest grey wolf the children had ever seen, padded silently into the kitchen. The old woman stood.
“Brother Wolf, these are my friends Hansel and Gretel. Their father is the wood cutter who lives in the grey house at the edge of the woods. Please help them safely home.”
He dipped his big head to her and she fed him the last of the bacon and he licked his chops and then walked out of the house. The children quickly hugged the old woman and then ran after the wolf. He lead them quietly along a narrow path through dappled sunlight. They walked and walked through sun and shade, beneath whispering leaves, until they caught sight of their home. They smiled when they saw it, and when they looked for the wolf to thank him, he was gone. They ran as quickly as they could to their house, carrying the pot between them. Their parents were so happy to see them, and hugged them and kissed them and scolded them for running away, and then hugged and kissed them again. Gretel put the pot on the shelf and almost forgot about it as she and Hansel helped their parents with chores.
Night soon fell, and it was time for dinner. All they had was a bit of oatmeal and some dried apples. The family was very hungry and sad at how little food there was. then Gretel remembered the magic pot.
“Oh, we have the magic pot!” she said. Her parents asked her what she was talking about. “We met an old woman in the woods who fed us and gave us a safe place to sleep, and then gave us a magic pot. It creates food.”
Her father scoffed.
“There’s no such thing as magic,” he claimed. “That’s just an old iron pot.”
“No, no,” she said. “It’s magic. I’m sure of it. She wouldn’t lie about magic.”
“Old women are frequently confused. She probably just thinks it’s magic.”
“No, no. It’s magic, I’m very sure,” said Gretel. And she took the pot and set it on the table and tapped it three times. “Food please, pot!” she asked. And very soon good smells filled their kitchen. Gretel whisked the lid off the pot, and it was filled with thick beef and barley soup. Her parents exclaimed happily, and they all ate several bowls. The pot filled itself up each time. When they had eaten their fill, Gretel tapped on the pot and said “Stop, pot, stop!” and when she peeked inside the pot it was empty and clean. Hansel cleared the table and washed the dishes, and the family slept well with full bellies that night.
In the morning, the pot produced oatmeal with apples and walnuts and again they ate their fill. And then Gretel thought of the people in the village. If their family was suffering hunger, surely others were as well? She and Hansel had a long talk, and they took the magic pot into town where they fed everyone who came and asked for food.
They did this every day for months, through all of the long cold winter and into the spring. As summer came, the situation of the village changed for the better. As the villagers had more money to spend they remembered the kindness of the wood cutter’s family, and they went back to buying their fire wood and charcoal from them, and getting new furniture from them. Good times returned to the wood cutter’s family and they were comfortable till the end of their days.
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