Once upon a time there was a brother and a sister named Hansel and Gretal who lived with their father and stepmother in the middle of a deep and dark forest. This brother and sister absolutely hated each other. And not in that typical way that often happens between siblings, when one or the other reach that ‘difficult’ age. No, these two actually loathed each other. Their screaming fits and epic fights were so legendary that they had been barred from most towns, which was why the family had to live in the middle of this dark forest.
Their father was, unfortunately, a baker, and living in the heart of such a thick forest did not help his business in the slightest. He took to woodcutting, but his naturally weak demeanour prevented him from making a profit in this profession – he could only cut small branches suitable for wood fires – and the family soon fell into poverty.
It was approaching summer, a time when firewood is in not so high demand, when the stepmother had a wicked idea.
‘Lets ditch the kids. We can take them out into the wood where they can easily get lost and then we can come home and live happily whilst they have to fend for themselves!’
In another world, Hansel might have overheard this plan and connived with his sister a way to survive this ordeal. But unfortunately for them, they were otherwise occupied kicking the shit out of each other.
And so, inevitably, Hansel and Gretal found themselves lost in the forest, neither of them remembering the way home.
They walked through the forest for a great length of time, every now and again tripping the other up, or reaching out to savagely pinch an arm, and it soon got dark. The spooky trees caused a shiver to run up their spines despite the summery air, and their stomachs growled menacingly in the empty undergrowth.
‘I’m hungry,’ whined Hansel.
‘What happened to those breadcrumbs that are always littering your pockets?’
‘I ate them.’ He replied solemnly.
Suddenly, as if by magic, a light appeared ahead of them, and they stumbled upon a path that was hidden before, but was now guided by a string of bobbing lanterns. Following this path they came across a clearing, where the trees had parted to allow the moon to shine brightly down on this superb sight. A magnificent gingerbread house stood in front of them, complete with chocolate button slates, iced windows, and frosting flowers in the garden. The siblings instantly rushed over, racing and shoving each other out of the way, and fell heavily onto the delicious-looking building.
After a full minute or two of stuffing their faces with still-warm, freshly baked gingerbread and pink sugary tulips, a shadow fell over their smeared faces.
‘Well well well. Looks like we have visitors.’
An old woman, shrouded in black shawls which emphasised her shrunken black eyes, was looming over them. Hansel stared in horror whilst Gretal fumbled with her sticky fingers and tried to run, but the witch, for she was obviously a witch, snapped her fingers sharply.
Everyone stiffened expectantly, but nothing happened.
‘Oh confound it!’ The witch began clicking her fingers again and again, trying the other hand, and eventually subsiding into stomps and claps. After disintegrating some of the frosting flowers with her jumping and stamping, a click of her fingers finally worked and a large butterfly net appeared out of nowhere and swooped the two bewildered children up and into the house.
And that was how the two children were captured by the Gingerbread witch.
A few months had passed since the baker and his wife had deliberately lost his children in the forest, and he was feeling a great remorse. He had at first been over-joyed at not having the two brats around, free to spend time with his new wife and able to leave his attempts at woodcutting to return to his first love – baking. But now he had regrets, he missed having children. Sure, when they were together, they had been terrible, but alone his son was friendly and fun-loving, and his daughter was skilled and witty.
To counter his feelings of regret and guilt, he decided to bake his children’s favourite treat. The only thing which they could agree on and therefore eat together – gingerbread. He baked a whole tray of assorted shapes of gingerbread using all the cutters he had, stars, squares and circles, before deciding to make a special one to honour his children. A special gingerbread man!
Of course, the baker did not know that he lived fairly close to the Gingerbread witch’s house. And he did not know that the magic which the Gingerbread witch used was particularly specified to gingerbread. So it was a complete shock to the baker when after the gingerbread man had finished baking, and had cooled somewhat on the baking tray, he promptly stood up on his risen gingerbread legs and greeted his creator.
Thus followed a period of self-worship from the baker. He completely believed that he had magical powers and attempted to bake into life an assortment of people, animals and mythical creatures. It was only when his kitchen was completely surrounded by images of shortbread princesses, sponge cake unicorns, and jammy dodger dragons that the baker finally conceded that the gingerbread man was a one-off miracle.
The gingerbread man, unfortunately, suffered an awful lot whilst living in the house with the baker and his wife. His previously beloved creator did not seem interested in him at all, and the wife was resentful that he had taken the attention away from her. He was threatened by the wife, chased by the cat, and poked and inspected by the curious baker. Eventually, the gingerbread man had had enough and decided to brave the outside world.
Perhaps it was by chance, or perhaps it was the magic that drew him, but the gingerbread man followed the same path which the two children before him had taken. This time, however, due to the gingerbread man’s small stature, the journey took two days and it was daytime when he arrived at the gingerbread house. There were no lights to guide him, only the smell, which he recognised so completely to be a part of his being, drove him towards the building.
When he reached the house, he was alarmed! He knew he was different to everyone else around him, but he didn’t know that he was made from the same materials that could be used to build houses. He stood in wonder for a few moments, staring at the front of the house and taking in the similarities. His purple gum-drop buttons were the same as the decorations under the window. His icing smile was the same as the fondant hinging the door. Hesitating only slightly, the gingerbread man raised his gingerbread hand and knocked on the gingerbread door.
The door swung open and revealed to him a horror he had never known before existed! The house was completely eaten away, only the front wall remained. The brother and sister sat in the middle of the empty foundations, groaning and clutching their stomachs, but the gingerbread man watched in horror as a piece of gingerbread was slowly lifted towards a mouth and dropped into the dark abyss.
‘Hey Hansel! Check this out.’ The gingerbread man lurched into the air as a fat hand closed around his legs. ‘The witches magic must have done this.’
‘What magic?’ The gingerbread man squeaked. ‘I was created by a baker who lives just through the forest there.’
The children laughed. ‘Our father! He must be much happier since he got rid of us if he’s baking again. But the witch’s magic definitely did this, we saw her do a great many things.’
‘It’s unfortunate for her that she was exceedingly clumsy. You know she kept us prisoner for months, making us do all her dirty work because whenever she tried to lift a broom, she would knock a dozen pans onto the floor.’
‘Good news for us though, she was so clumsy she fell into the oven one day. Our magical bindings disintegrated before our eyes while she screamed from the confines of the oven.’
‘And then we had the whole of the gingerbread house to enjoy.’
The two children rolled around on the floor, laughing and rubbing their stomachs again.
‘This gingerbread is good, but not as good as our fathers though,’ said Gretal thoughtfully.
‘Oh yes, his gingerbread was so delicious, it would stop us fighting. Remember sis?’
‘I do. And now a piece of his gingerbread has just walked through the door just for us.’
The gingerbread man looked on in horror as the two children stared at him hungrily.
‘Snap him in half, sister. We can share him,’ says Hansel to Gretal.