Monday, May 21, 2012

Starring Hansel & Gretel as The Question Why

If ever there were a time for two young children to beg the question why, it would be when Hansel and Gretel, children of a poor woodcutter, were sent to the woods under their stepmother’s sharp-tongued orders.

Today I’m probing this Grimm story from a new angle. What would this children’s fable look like if H & G melded into a question themselves?

What happens when Hansel & Gretel become the question why…

Afraid of starving, H & G’s cruel stepmother persuades her husband to take the children far enough into the woods so they’ll never find their way home.

Why likes to feel safe. Why likes a home base. It likes to be fed, cared for, and tended to.

With a twist of fear in his gut, Hansel assures Gretel they’ll find their way back, and he reveals a fistful of white pebbles in his hand.

Why craves protection, security, a surefire way to get home. Why is always thinking, often planning.

Their woodcutter father leaves them alone in the woods.

Why is given plenty of opportunities to reflect, to wallow in guilt, shame, and doubt—tempted to remain in each of these.

Fear and sadness entangle the siblings in the dark forest.

Why is regularly accompanied by longing and grief.

The tiny white pebbles gleam in the moonlight, guiding their way home.

Why is skilled at creating a shining path, glimmering with hope. Reasons to move on, reasons to inquire more.

The woodcutter, in another moment of cowardly weakness, leads the children to the woods again, obeying the demands of his wife.

As soon as Why gains a flicker of hope it’s dashed. Or tail spun. Unspooled into new threads of anxiety-ridden consequences.

Hansel drops breadcrumbs in hopes to mark another trail.

Why is persistent, intent on finding its way home.

Birds fly behind H & G, eating the path of crumbs.

As Why well knows, infinite outside sources are beyond its control.

H & G are frightened, cold, and hungry.

Why feels things deeply, viscerally, used to this as the most layered of the basic W questions.

They come across a strange cottage in their wanderings.

Why keeps looking, willing to consider all vantage points. A 180 degree scope search. Nothing is ruled out.

H & G delight in the sweet taste of the cottage when a witch opens the door, surprising them.

Once given a taste, it’s difficult for Why to stop. But at some point, a sliver of hesitation will inspire a doubtful pause.

“You’ve nothing to fear,” says the witch, planning to eat the children.

Why is familiar with the head games, the mind tricks, and how sumptuous it might taste to a starving soul.

Hansel is too thin for the witch’s liking. She intends to “fatten him up.”

Why understands upon surveillance, almost everyone decides more is needed. Is necessary.

Made a slave, Gretel seizes an opportunity to shove the witch into the stove in order to free them from her lair.

There appears to be another side of Why. A problem-solver. A way out.

H & G stay and eat more of the house. They stumble across riches in the form of a chocolate egg nesting gold coins.

Why can be resourceful.

H & G return home to learn their stepmother is mysteriously dead. Gretel asks her father to promise them he’ll never desert them again. The chocolate egg provides them with food money to allay their fear of starving.

Why is above all things mysteriously gifted, grateful to be kept from starving, ever-seeking the promise not to be deserted.

Can you identify any additional parallels between Why and Hansel & Gretel and their plight? What kinds of thoughts did reading this stir in you?

“I ended my first book with the words 'no answer.' I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”  C.S. Lewis
*photo by stock.XCHNG
**Next Monday (or perhaps the next b/c of Memorial Day) I’m going to portray Little Red Riding Hood Starring as Who


  1. Love how Why is "ever-seeking the promise not to be deserted." I think we can all relate to that.

    Brilliant post, Wendy. I'm always amazed at the way you think so deeply. Thank you for sharing!

    1. You know what's weird, Heidi, I'm often amazed how some folks can stay on the surface of life--how they seldom go deep. I wonder sometimes how that might feel & then I get a little scared I even entertained the thought.

  2. Wow, way to make me think hard early on a Monday morning! :)

    "As soon as Why gains a flicker of hope it’s dashed. Or tail spun. Unspooled into new threads of anxiety-ridden consequences." I've experienced this more times than I can count, but I'm grateful that Why rallies and finds hope again.

    1. That's what I kept asking myself as I wrote this post (and always why I chose H & G to be Why). I like how more than any of the other W questions, why seems to have a duel purpose. It can both aggravate us to death with doubt, etc., but it can also plant strong seeds of hope in us.

  3. Love this post, especially since my son is in the "why" stage. He asks it ALL the time!

    1. I think in a lot of ways I'm still your son's age.

  4. Very interesting and insightful post. It's been quite some time since I visited Hansel and Gretel. I enjoyed it with your "why" commentary.

    1. A new novel idea had me revisit the two children. Grimm stories are so horrific when you come to think about it. I'm enjoying this play off fables and the questions we ask. Brain game for me.

  5. Love the "Why" perspective. I had a thought when the father left them in the woods. My thought focused on the children's despair and questioning why their father allowed himself to listen to his wife.

    1. That question screamed at me the entire time I prepared this post. And what happened to her? She mysteriously dies. Did the dad off her? But I'm so with you on this one, why would he listen to her????

  6. Very insightful and thought provoking... As I read it, I kept thinking about our desire for home. We're always seeking it, wanting it, striving to create it, restore it or find it. I think this is a deep heart issue for all of us - our desire to have a "home" is linked to an inherent desire for our Heavenly Home - I believe God places it in all our hearts so we seek Him and that resting place that can only be found at home.

    1. I think that's the true heart behind any why question--to locate a home, a safe place in it and through it all. Great observation.

  7. What an interesting new perspective on the H&G story. I love that C.S. Lewis quote!

    1. Love that quote too. It'll be a running theme for these posts. And yeah, I know it was a bit risky to try this, but so much fun. So worth it.

  8. "Why is given plenty of opportunities to reflect, to wallow in guilt, shame, and doubt—tempted to remain in each of these."

    That kind of hit me when I was reading it and I felt extremely empathetic to the woodcutter's plight and how desperate we feel when we don't rely on God and take things into our own hands instead.

    1. Goodnight Batman, that one is good. Your point. I hadn't viewed it quite like that with the woodcutter. The word desperation keeps coming to mind--what folks will do when they're desperate...sad. And relatable.


  9. This is so creative! It's thought-provoking to look at stories and even questions from new perspectives - to find parallels in a place where people don't often think to look for them. Thank you for sharing this and for challenging us to think in new ways! :)



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