January 26, 2011

Lessons from Hansel and Gretel

Over the winter break I came across a little bilingual edition of selected stories from the Brothers Grimm. I've been using it for my subway reading as a way to try to learn to read some German. I started with Hansel and Gretel, as it's a familiar story. Or so I thought. Truth be told, it's a rather macabre and depressing business. Not the least trouble is my nagging suspicion that the stepmother and the witch might be the same person, given that mom is announced to be (conveniently) dead after the children return home from Gretel having cooked up the witch in the oven.

However, certain lessons are to be learned from the glorious maladventure of these poor children. For example:

Grownups are not be trusted.

Even the good ones can be nagged and convinced to do horrible things to you.

It's a good idea to eavesdrop on those who are discussing what to do about you.

Make sure nobody locks you in the house.

Faced with mortal crisis, it is important to encourage one another, pray to God, and not to lose heart.

Sometimes sweet things are a trap.

People don't give you pancakes with milk, sugar, and nuts for no reason.

Witches can be recognized by their red eyes. Remember also that they can't see very far, but have a heightened sense of smell, like an animal.

It's not only acceptable to trick and kill those who enslave and try to kill you, it's a moral imperative.

Passive aggression and playing dumb can be powerful weapons in the hands of oppressed persons.

Don't be afraid to ask for help, even if it seems like an unlikely source. (i.e. the duck at the river)

Money fixes problems.

Deaths in families necessitate the reconfiguration of all other relationships.

5 comments:

Greg said...

My favorite: "It's a good idea to eavesdrop on those who are discussing what to do about you."

Mark in Spokane said...

Two comments: 1) as you continue to read the Brothers Grimm in German, you will come to find that almost all of the stories are considerable more gruesome than the cleaned up English translations would indicate; 2) the stories of the Brothers Grimm were designed in part as cautionary tales to teach children to be careful, very careful, in a time of great social disruption in the German states (with an emphasis on the plural there). While build on a foundation of traditional folk tales and legends, the stories in their current forms very much deal with the social anarchy that afflicted the German states during and after the Napoleonic wars.

Cheers! And good luck with German.

Anonymous said...

"Passive aggression and playing dumb can be powerful weapons in the hands of oppressed persons." Amen. From someone who grew up in a physically and emotionally abusive household, I can attest to its truth. It's the inflection point between survival and insanity.

"Deaths in families necessitate the reconfiguration of all other relationships." And then one day the abuser dies and you realize Plan A doesn't work anymore, and you're getting too old to play it well.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I picked up a number of eerie similarities between that and religious formation...

Brother Charles said...

Eerie indeed, my anonymous sister or brother, eerie indeed.