Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, interns, or past contributors.
A poor woodcutter and his evil wife. A trail of breadcrumbs. A house built of cakes and sugar. The Grimm Brothers’ classic tale “Hansel and Gretel” has provided literature, television, and film with many fairy-tale motifs, none perhaps more memorable than the cannibalistic witch, this woman who cages young Hansel and fattens him up, planning to cook him in her great big oven. And who can forget the ironic twist? After asking poor Gretel to crawl into the oven to see if it is properly heated, the old crone is tricked into crawling halfway in herself, only to be pushed the rest of the way by Gretel and burnt to a crisp.
Disney’s 1993 cult classic Hocus Pocus incorporated many motifs directly from the Grimm’s original. Three witches, who are accidently resurrected on Halloween night by an unsuspecting teenager, are literally attempting to “suck the life out” of the children of Salem Village. In an effort to send the Sanderson Sisters back to the grave, the protagonist Max Dennison lures them into the high school’s giant kiln with the clever aid of a “learn to speak French” tape. The giant oven fails to do the trick and the Sanderson Sisters survive, but the nod to the Grimm Brothers could not be clearer.
In M. Night Shyamalan’s recently released film The Visit, two young teenagers spend a holiday with their grandparents for the first time. In fact, it is the first time Rebecca and Tyler Jamison have met their Nana and Pop Pop at all. So perhaps this explains why they are so willing to accept some of their grandparents more eccentric behavior. I mean, your grandmother asks you to climb into the oven all the time, right? Shyamalan keys into our cultural familiarity with the request of the Grimms’ witch as a sort of axis upon which The Visit shifts from a comedic thriller to an exploration of childhood fear, generational disconnect, and mental illness.
This edition of Fairy-Tale Files is brought to you by Fairy Tale Review Associate Editor Benjamin Schaefer.