Wednesday January 25, 2012
Hansel and Gretel
TALES OF THE PUN-EXPECTED
By OH TEIK THEAM
THERE once lived a poor woodcutter who loved his children, Hansel and Gretel, very much, for his world didn’t just revolve on his axes.
“We are living in straitened circumstances,” the malicious stepmother of Hansel and Gretel said to their father one evening, “and I want you to take the children to the heart of the forest and leave them there.”
Hansel and Gretel couldn’t help overhearing their stepmother’s evil words from where they were resting behind wretchedly thin walls. “Don’t worry, Gretel,” the brave boy comforted his little sister. “I have a sure-fire plan to find our way home.”
At dawn, the woodcutter, his sun-browned face crumpling in sorrow, gave his children a thin slice of bread each and led them to the forest. He did not see Hansel dropping tiny fragments of the food at regular intervals.
Hansel and Gretel were so exhausted from the long walk that they fell asleep. (A minute earlier, Gretel had joked with her brother, “Sleeping is the easiest thing in the world to do – you can do it with your eyes closed!”) When they awoke, their father had disappeared. They searched in vain for the breadcrumbs that would guide them home. “Crumbs!” cried Hansel, his face destitute of colour. “Some treacherous birds have eaten our signposts.”
A while later, Hansel espied some succulent fruits dangling invitingly on a branch, and he said to Gretel, “Juicy what I saw?”
The two starvelings ate heartily and filled their pockets with the delicious food, which Gretel described as “berry good”.
The children then chanced upon a little cottage that was made of gingerbread, with fruitcake for a roof and brown sugar for windows.
Suddenly, the door opened, and a decrepit old woman hobbled out. “Children, I can see that you like my humble abode. Isn’t that sweet?” she said, garnishing her words with a shrill laugh. “Come in and make yourselves at home.”
Unknown to Hansel and Gretel, the cottage was a trap built by the woman to lure children to her. She was an evil witch who loved to display her warm hospitality by having children for dinner – usually with gravy.
Once the siblings were inside the cottage, the witch locked the boy in a small pen and forced his sister to do the cooking and other chores.
Every morning, the witch would shout at Hansel, “Rise and whine!” and make him stick his finger out of the pen so that she could feel if he was getting any fatter. But the clever boy would poke a chicken bone through the bars, and the witch, who had poor eyesight, would scream, “You are still reed-thin!” And she would make Gretel cook more puncakes and other foods. (The heartless hag didn’t like to put all her eggs in one biscuit.)
Two weeks passed, and the witch couldn’t wait any more. “Today is Fryday,” she screeched like a wildcat, “and I shouldn’t be too chewsy, eh?”
She dragged Gretel into the kitchen to stoke the fire. “Is the oven ready for cooking?” she bellowed.
“I can’t tell,” Gretel lied.
“You stupid girl,” the witch screamed as she twisted Gretel’s ear. “This is how it’s done.” And the evil crone bent over and stuck her head into the oven, whereupon Gretel gave her a good shove, so that she tumbled inside and met a fiery death.
Gretel freed her brother from the pen, and they found a bag of gold coins in the witch’s room.
Hansel and Gretel eventually came to a wide river, where they saw a great white duck paddling furiously towards them. “Good afternoon, children,” the anatine creature greeted them. “Let me ferry you across the waters – safely, with no fowl play.”
“This is an idea that floats my boat!” said Hansel, smiling broadly.
“Good,” said the good-natured bird. “There is no charge – no de-duck-tion from the sum of money in your bag. Another good thing is that I’m not too tall for you to straddle – you see, I grew down as I grew up!”
Hansel and Gretel were soon in familiar surroundings. Even in the duskiness of twilight, they could make out their house. The woodcutter’s reunion with his children was tearful, but nothing could have delighted him half so much. He informed them that their stepmother had died. Hansel and Gretel, seeing their father’s heartache on his face, forgave him.
(Adapted from a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm)