Fairytale Retellings & Prompts: Gretel & Hansel

This month we’re doing a series called the A-Z blogging challenge where we dive into Fairytale Retellings and provide prompts for writers. Writers are the people making the books, television shows, and movies of tomorrow. For more information on the challenge check out my earlier post here.

Hansel and Gretel by the Grimms is pretty disturbing on its own but the history of the story is just as bad. I’m not going to sugar coat this thing, and that wasn’t a pun.

The true story of Hansel and Gretel goes back to a cohort of tales that originated in the Baltic regions during the Great Famine of 1314 to 1322. Volcanic activity in southeast Asia and New Zealand ushered in a period of prolonged climate change that led to crop failures and massive starvation across the globe.

In Europe, the situation was particularly dire since the food supply was already scarce. When the Great Famine struck, the results were devastating. One scholar estimated that the Great Famine impacted 400,000 square miles of Europe, 30 million people, and may have killed off up to 25 percent of the population in certain areas.

In the process, elderly people chose voluntarily to starve to death to allow the young to live. Others committed infanticide or abandoned their children. There is also evidence of cannibalism. William Rosen in his book, The Third Horseman, cites an Estonian chronicle which states that in 1315 “mothers were fed their children.”

An Irish chronicler also wrote that the famine was so bad people “were so destroyed by hunger that they extracted bodies of the dead from cemeteries and dug out the flesh from the skulls and ate it, and women ate their children out of hunger.”

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters 2013

If the story isn’t familiar to you, then not only do you need to put down the remote and crack a book but you also need to branch out. The Germans have a way of freaking out their children and this one is no exception.

Actually Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm never intended that their stories be for children rather they wanted to preserve some of the Germanic folklore.

When starving parents realize they can’t feed their children they attempt to get them lost in the woods. The children inadvertently stumble upon a house made of sweets and get caged by blind-child-eating-witch inside.

My mother, she killed me, my father, he ate me, what a pretty bird am I

The Juniper Tree

In some versions, the woodcutter’s wife has died leaving him the two children. In others, he marries and it’s his wife’s idea to get rid of the children. In most versions, the kids figure out what’s going to happen and they plan their return by leaving pebbles and then bread crumbs to guide them home.

Then there’s the new 2020 film where a young girl leads her little brother into a dark wood in desperate search of food and work, only to stumble upon a nexus of terrifying evil.

So in light of trying to be more positive in trying times, how would you re-write Hansel & Gretyl? Make it your own and don’t be afraid to hint at it in the comments.

For more blogs participating in A to Z 2020 click the link here.


T.S. Valmond is the science fiction and young adult fantasy author of The Bolaji Kingdoms Series and The Verity Chronicles. As an award-winning poet, world traveler, and sign language interpreter she uses her experiences to fuel her stories. She’s a regular contributor to the website and founder of the Riders & Flyers group.


  1. I read about this. In fact, Neil Gaiman used it in his version of the fairytale and wrote a blurb about it afterwards.

    In the Humperdinck opera, nobody is guilty of anything except the witch. Dad goes out to look for food, the kids, playing, knock over the jug of milk that was going to be supper and Mum, in exasperation, sends them out to pick some strawberries instead. Dad returns with food and, shocked, tells Mum the kids are in danger from the witch. Both go out to look for their children.

    1. This feels more humane to me. Thanks for sharing Gaiman’s thoughts.

  2. I thought the movie with Jeremy Renner was hilarious. 😀
    There are variants of the folktale I like more, like the one where they just go out for firewood and get lost instead of being abandoned. There is also at least one tale where they get adopted by the witch/creature. I like that idea, turning it into an adoption story.

    The Multicolored Diary

    1. Awesome! Thanks for sharing, your ideas. I was wondering about the Renner version. Glad they found a way to add humor to such a dark story.

  3. Looking at the bright side, the one really positive part of the story is how the brother and sister really look out for each other and take care of each other. But I agree that if the children’s own parents are trying to get them killed then it’s a cool twist if they end up living happily ever after with the witch.
    Black and White (Words and Pictures)

    1. I like that point too. I don’t think the brother and sister bond is highlighted enough. They risk their lives for each other and in the end survive. Am I the only person who wonders what happened to them after they grew up?

Comments are closed.