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