The story of “Hansel and Gretel” really resonated with me as a child

This post does mention my asexuality very briefly, but mainly this post touches on the fandom and family parts of my blog and takes a break from asexuality-related discussions, FYI. The main fandom discussed is an unusual one, one most people wouldn’t call a fandom… lol… but I would like to think it counts. I also bring up Harry Potter at one point. 😉


 I would recommend you read my “The Insidious Nature of Abuse” post first, which I wrote back in April. It deals with many similar topics as what I have just now written about, below. I also discussed some stuff about my family situation in my “Lack of Awareness/Education Leads to False Assumptions… aka It Would’ve Been Great to Have Heard of that Term Sooner!” post and probably in a few other posts too.


So my dad and I went to Kohl’s on the Friday night a little over a week ago to buy some new socks for ourselves and the first thing that caught my eye upon entering the store was a Mercer Mayer collection of newly released children’s books, including an adaptation of Hansel and Gretel. I picked up a copy of the book and began leafing through it curiously, and was quite disappointed to find my favorite part of the story – by far the most memorable part, for me – being entirely skipped over as the story starts with Hansel and Gretel already stumbling upon the witch’s cabin in the woods.

You see, my favorite fairy tale growing up was the tale of Hansel and Gretel, and it wasn’t because of the house made of candy or the cannibalistic witch. Please allow me to quote the first two paragraphs of the “story” section of the Wikipedia article on this fairy tale:

Hansel and Gretel are young children whose father is a woodcutter. When a great famine settles over the land, the woodcutter’s abusive second wife decides to take the children into the woods and leave them there to be by themselves, so that she and her husband will not starve to death because the children eat too much. The woodcutter opposes the plan but finally and reluctantly submits to his wife’s scheme. They are unaware that in the children’s bedroom, Hansel and Gretel have overheard them. After the parents have gone to bed, Hansel sneaks out of the house and gathers as many white pebbles as he can, then returns to his room, reassuring Gretel that God will not forsake them.

The next day, the family walks deep into the woods and Hansel lays a trail of white pebbles. After their parents abandon them, the children wait for the moon to rise and then they follow the pebbles back home. They return home safely, much to their stepmother’s horror. Once again provisions become scarce and the stepmother angrily orders her husband to take the children farther into the woods and leave them there to die. Hansel and Gretel attempt to gather more pebbles, but find the doors locked and find it impossible to escape from their house.

Reading this now, I realize why as a child I would’ve latched onto this fairy tale so strongly. (I also understand why I would be so annoyed that all of this and more was omitted from the shortened children’s book I had my hands on a little over a week ago.)

I relate way too strongly to these kids. I was a girl with a brother, with an abusive mother, and with a father who was constantly being bullied by this scary woman too.

My brother and I kept each other sane growing up. We were closer than many siblings are, probably at least in part because of us sharing this unique experience of our abusive mother… and Hansel & Gretel being so close, working together to survive, protecting each other… I could relate to this stuff on a visceral level.

Many years after I had grown fond of this particular tale, (when we were teenagers,) my brother punched a wall and broke his own hand. He did this because he was so frustrated that he couldn’t stop my mother from screaming at me. That’s how much he cared about me and wanted to help me. My brother is two years younger than me but we were always more of equals in many ways. Our sibling dynamic always remained in a state where even though he’s younger than me he doesn’t feel younger than me, and I think this actually is partially because I am asexual and ever since we entered our teenage years, I have always been less experienced in romance/kissing/sex and I also haven’t been nearly as interested-in or experienced at drinking alcohol and these factors make me seem (and often have made me feel) like a more immature person compared to my allosexual younger brother who loves alcohol. And yes, this is despite the fact that maturity has nothing to do with allosexuality vs. asexuality or how much one drinks alcohol. I understand that on an intellectual level, but emotionally… it can still feel like he’s grown up and I’m still a kid.

There is a common trope in fiction of the “Wicked Stepmother”. Many instances of this trope (Cinderella, Snow White, etc.) do not resonate with me, but Hansel and Gretel‘s version did. That may partially be because in Grimms’ original publishing of the story in 1812, the woman was actually the biological mother, just like the woman in my life who abused me, although I probably only had read/heard the revised Grimms’ version? where she was a stepmother, and if that is the case, and I was only exposed to the stepmother version of the story, then it seems highly unlikely that I’d be relating to it because in the original story it was a biological mother.

The more likely reason that this particular fairy tale resonated with me was because it featured a pair of siblings who remain 100% together for the entire story, just like I spent almost every-waking-moment when not at school with my brother when I was growing up. It featured a pair of male/female type siblings going through a bad situation that included acknowledging that women can be abusive. All of those little details are things that I deeply connected to on a personal level.

Now, I think I need to take a break for a brief aside – I need to acknowledge that for some people in real life, it may unfortunately be the case that their stepmother is cruel to them.

(I’ve mainly only heard of stepfathers (men) being scary and abusive. However, I am well aware that me having not heard of stepmothers being horrible to their stepchildren means very little, as I myself was abused by my biological mother yet still grew up having never heard of mothers being potentially abusive too – growing up, I had only ever heard of fathers being abusers as a possibility. This made me doubt what my mother was doing could even count as abuse – and tales like Hansel and Gretel provided some small validation that yes, sometimes women are the people who are dangerous to children’s well-being. (Both the witch and the (step)mother in the story arguably represent, metaphorically, the same woman in this particular tale.))

But for me, I’ve never actually had a step parent. My parents separated when I was 3 years old and I cannot recall a time when they lived together, yet my parents mainly seemed to live nonamorous lives for many, many years.

And I think for me, it was almost like a fantasy wish-fulfillment that the horrible mother is “not really” your mother, but rather is your stepmother. In stories, they seem to use that as an excuse for a lack of love from child toward parent. And I needed this narrative.

The same thing is evident in the Harry Potter series from the very beginning, actually. Harry is horribly abused by his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, the Dursleys… and they are NOT his “real parents”. It’s such a wonderful fantasy story, not only because of the literal magic and school of witchcraft and wizardry, but also because even in a situation like horrific child abuse, there something to soften the blow, to explain the unexplainable, to distance the kid from the abusers. These people aren’t special and magical like Harry is. Harry did have wonderful, loving biological parents that every kid should have, parents who were so selfless that they ended up dying while protecting him. He got the validating experience of not actually needing to call his abusive parents who raised him “Mom” or “Dad” because they WEREN’T what mothers or fathers should be, and… and it’s every abused kid’s fantasy to be rescued in the way that Harry was in the first book. To be able to live full time in an abuse-free place, even when your abusive parents (or guardians) are doing everything in their power to prevent you from escaping, to have someone like Hagrid show up and save you. The Dursleys’ abuse was also mainly psychological, controlling, etc and again is something I can relate to on some level. I can also relate to the fact that Harry was a very well-adjusted survivor, considering. That is how I have felt pretty much my whole life. Despite whatever child abuse I had to endure, I was… I was fine. I was not really all that scarred. I was lucky.

Back to Hansel and Gretel…

The fictional stepmother in this story is… the epitome of selfish. I saw so much of my own mother’s personality in this character’s actions and callousness. She is manipulative and not violently abusive – she simply locks the door to prevent the kids from being able to lay out the pebbles. She could have murdered them herself with an axe or something, but no, she isn’t directly physically hurting them. She wants them to starve to death, or get eaten in the woods at night by wild animals or something; she indirectly is trying to kill them, very indirectly. Since my mother was emotionally abusive, and not really physically so, I related strongly to this story.

Of course, another point is that this story has a wonderfully happy ending too, which helps explain why it’s a favorite of mine and is a story I’ve always enjoyed. And by having a happy ending, I do not mean that the stepmother learns the error of her ways. You know? 😛 I am really glad that doesn’t ALWAYS have to be the ending, since that was never the case in my own life. I’m glad that this old fairy tale takes a more extreme approach where the abuser remains “evil” the whole time. I suggest you read or revisit the tale if you do not know or recall what the happy ending is. I don’t want to completely spoil it for the one person who may have never come across this fairy tale before.

By the way, the father throughout the tale is also presented as a good guy, which is another relevant plot point for me, and I see a ton of my own father in this man, up through the happy ending.

I just felt like writing this post today. I hope someone got something out of reading it. 😉 Thanks, and please “like” or leave me a comment to let me know I am not just talking to myself here. 😉

Advertisements

18 thoughts on “The story of “Hansel and Gretel” really resonated with me as a child

  1. I don’t know much about abusive relationships, let alone abuse from parents towards their children, so after reading both your posts where you talk about your experiences, I’ll definitely take this as an opportunity to learn more about it and go and find other people’s experiences as well.
    I’ll also look up the story of Hansel and Gretel too, since it’s been years since I heard it and hardly remember any details. My favourite fairytale was Peter Pan 😛 , but the Disney version is very glossed over. In the real story, Peter was also physiologically abusive towards Wendy and her brothers, as well as towards all of the lost boys. Everything was a game to him; he doesn’t difference between life and death, and anything bad that could happen to those he is supposed to be looking after was nothing but “interesting”. He drops Wendy many times, forgetting that she can’t fly, and even abandons her on a rock in the middle of the sea, if I remember correctly. Though in the Disney version he is portrayed as immature and cheeky, he isn’t exactly cruel; the real Peter Pan is one of the scariest characters I’ve ever read about though. A twisted and cynical being.
    I think it’s important that situations like these are represented in media, especially in movies/books that kids can have access to. A child growing up in an abusive household needs to know that they need help, that these situations can exist and they are living one. They need to know that they aren’t making things up and that other people have been through what they are living. Media, especially fairytales, offers an opportunity for them to know all of this.
    Thank you for sharing this .

    Like

    1. I knew some stuff about the original Peter Pan but I never have actually read it, and I didn’t realize Peter was abusive. I knew Peter treated Wendy in some… sexist ways, though, and it probably would be interesting to see the story analyzed from various feminist and anti-abuse perspectives. Disney films are geared toward children in a more modern world, just like this “Little Critters” Mercer Mayer children’s book version of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale is, and I think it is somewhat unfortunate that “Geared toward children” nowadays means glossing over many of the scary parts, the unsettling parts, or even just “complicated and hard to explain” parts. Often children’s things are made shorter nowadays because children supposedly don’t have long enough attention spans, etc. And this is a shame because they usually remove the best and/or most unique portions of the story.

      Interestingly, the TV series Once Upon a Time had a very unusual interpretation of Peter Pan. On OUaT, he is a character whose story deviates wildly from the original J. M. Barrie tale. OUaT decided to create their version of the character as a villain and (spoiler alert) an abusive father who decided to use magic to become a boy again (even though he had already grown up and become a man) and now this specific Peter Pan character wanted to remain a boy forever, which included abandoning the responsibilities of parenthood, which hurt his child severely. OUaT made him an abuser in a unique way, but maybe their interpretation was more based on the real story than I realized! I am not sure.

      Interestingly, J. M. Barrie (the original creator/author) based Peter Pan on Michael Llewelyn Davies and his brothers. So maybe the real person/people who provided inspiration for the character actually acted in a somewhat abusive way in real life.

      Like

      1. I’ve read quite a bit about the Davies brothers that inspired Peter Pan, but I haven’t heard that they might’ve been abusive. Actually I’ve always read that the author and the boys had a very good relationship, but maybe there was some sort of abuse between brothers. I don’t think the author created Peter Pan having in mind that he’d be an abusive character, simply that he had no responsability whatsoever and did whatever he pleased, independently of whether it would hurt other characters or not. So eventually he turned out to be abusive.

        Like

    1. I have always really loved strong sibling bonds in fiction, ever since I was quite little. 😉 That is definitely the heart of this story, the sibling dynamic. The title of it, after all, is simply the two siblings’ names. Thanks for the comment. 😀

      Like

    1. Aw, wow, thank you so much. 😀 I’m glad you were nominated too. I’ve been enjoying every post of your blog ever since I discovered it. And I think I may have backtracked and read all of your past posts too. You provide a really interesting perspective on issues, in my opinion. I’ll have to carefully think about who to nominate, myself… 😉 I’m a bit busy today but sometime soon I’ll post the 7 facts about myself and who I’m nominating.

      Like

  2. My best friend’s abusive stepmother: would take away shower privileges for a week for offenses like forgetting to take out the trash,mold her she’d end up an alcoholic like her biological mother, beat her for applying to the wrong colleges.

    Like

    1. That’s awful. Thank you for the anecdotal evidence that stepmothers can do that kind of thing. I could see my mother potentially doing those things to me if I had been forced to keep living with her for a few more years. Like instead of “like your biological mother” she’d do “like your father” and whatever fault she deemed him to have, real or exaggerated/imagined. She was getting gradually more abusive all the time and while my mother never did anything that seemed quite that extreme, to me, she had her own brand of similar things. You have no idea how grateful I was to have escaped at age 17 right at the end of my Junior year of high school, so that when I started 12th grade and needed to apply to colleges my mother wasn’t in my life. I was SO grateful. I have no clue how exactly she would have made that process torture for me, but I think she would have almost definitely made my life a living hell.

      Like

      1. That’s really good you got out. I had to apply to college with my mother around being actively abusive. Probably the worst thing about it was I applied to colleges that didn’t suit me at all because I thought that I needed a new personality (what she always told me) so I should just pick up one at whatever school I went to. But when I did my visits I realized I would be absolutely miserable at the schools I applied to so I’m having to do it again. I also got rejected from one school and she told my sister she wasn’t surprised because my essay was “too weird” (which she would only have known if she’d spent hours searching for it and which also wasn’t true because the colleges I was accepted to wrote me about how much they loved my essay…) Anyway, I don’t live with her anymore, she’s a whole continent and ocean away so things are much better now. Thank you for sharing your story!

        Like

        1. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I know you’re not the only person to believe the horrible things your mother instills in you by repeating them over and over – that you need a new personality, etc. I’ve read a lot of accounts of this kind of internalizing of the hurtful messages abusive parents can impart over on the Out of the Fog forums, actually. http://outofthefog.net/forum/index.php Good luck re-applying now? is it now? You said “so I’m having to do it again”, present tense. And I’m so glad you now live a whole continent and ocean away from her and that things are much better for you. 😉 You’re welcome, and thank you for sharing yours! I hope to share more of mine sometime.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh my gosh! That website is amazing. My mum has BPD and the information on it describes her absolutely perfectly. Thank you so much. It’s so reassuring to see that all the stuff she’s done really is a result of sickness and is not in anyway based in fact.

            Like

          2. My mother has BPD too. And I agree so much that it’s SO reassuring to see that there is something out there to explain her behavior, that her abusive behaviors are actually well documented and that I’m not the only person to grow up with this kind of mother. I discussed that in depth over on this blog post of mine: https://luvtheheaven.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/lack-of-awarenesseducation-leads-to-false-assumptions-aka-it-wouldve-been-great-to-have-heard-of-that-term-sooner/

            And, well… to clarify, my mom might not have BPD exactly, but… one social worker suspected she did after interviewing our family (when I was 17 years old) and recommended that book “Walking on Eggshells” to my dad (her husband – who was more like her ex-husband at that time as they’d been “separated” for about 13 to 14 years at that point) and my grandmother (her mother). And then the courts also mandated a psychological evaluation before they could determine custody, and at that point she was diagnosed as having a Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_disorder_not_otherwise_specified with Borderline, Dependent, Histrionic, and Obsessive-Compulsive traits. I can see that my mom definitely has some Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsessive%E2%80%93compulsive_personality_disorder (OCPD is different than OCD) to her personality too, but um yeah BPD is what fits my mom best, I’m pretty sure. 😉 My mom has never seen a mental health professional of her own free will, and never has really been properly diagnosed by anyone who got to spend a significant about of time with her, but that one court-mandated Psychological Evaluation was good enough for me to feel validated that she almost definitely had BPD.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. It’s so great to have sort of met you! I’ve never known anyone with a mother with BPD before.
            My experience has been pretty different because she’s always hid it so well that no one even suspected things were wrong at home until my senior year when my history teacher noticed that some days I had a really hard time. He didn’t do anything about it and seemed unhappy when he found out that things were actually really bad (he thought I was just sad my parents were divorcing) but I still think it’s amazing he noticed since no one else did. But now I’m just away from her because I live with my dad and sister and I never have to visit because I’m technically an adult. Oh, and I wrote a post about it just now because I was so excited about the website you showed me. Thank you so much. It’s way better than the other stuff I’ve found because it’s all been a lot more general but having the specifics like belief in magic etc. really explains EVERYTHING so thank you so much!

            Like

  3. It does seem to be pretty different for everyone, but we with BPD moms have enough in common that it’s validating and always very nice to “meet” each other.

    I wished someone would have noticed something was wrong at home for me, and kind of begged my teachers and classmates to notice by mumbling upset explanations about why I had a scratch on my hand (no, the reason I need a band-aid for this is not my cat; I don’t own a cat, it’s my mom) or why I was late to school that day (my mom was busy screaming at me for hours that morning when I missed the bus instead of just driving me to school which would’ve been not that much effort for her), but instead my brother and I had to decide we couldn’t take it anymore and pack our bags and beg our dad to take us away and keep us away, that was essentially how we decided to stop living with her. We were really unique and lucky with the situation we had with our dad, with the way we were sure he would help us despite being aware of her abuse for our whole lives and never doing anything on his own to help us… But yeah, we only stopped living with her after the catalyst of my brother punching a wall, breaking his own hand, and my mother thinking it wasn’t “that bad” so just NOT taking him to a doctor for over 24 hours. If my brother hadn’t actually needed medical attention, I bet there is a good chance we would’ve suffered till we were both adults and into our adult lives too, and had no idea BPD was a thing.

    And I’m so thrilled to have been able to introduce you to the Out of the Fog site. That site gave me the same reaction when I found it too. 😉

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s