"The girl came into the kitchen carrying more timber for the oven fire. "
The girl stumbled on the straw. She dropped the wood.
The wood rolled across the floor and banged against the base of the oven.
"Stupid brat!" the witch said and kicked the whimpering girl in the leg.
That made the boy in the cage jump up and down. Then the raven pecked his hand.
The boy squealed. He let go the cage. He sank back and cowered into the shadows.
The witch cackled. She cackled and cackled.
And cackled once more.
She liked cackling. It terrified the brats.
They deserved to be terrified.
They'd been destroying her house.
The boy had broken off part of the eaves over the front door.
The girl had smashed one of the window panes.
They weren't innocent children. They were vandals.
And now the boy was almost fat enough.
What did he call himself.... Handsome? Hensall?
She should find out. She liked to know their names.
She cackled again, and, with great delight, held up her scythe
and rubbed her hand along the edge, feeling the lumps made
by the old, dried blood.
The children, watching her, began to whimper.
Huh? Well, where did this come from?
A few weeks ago I picked up an old book of Mother Goose Fairy Tales that had once belonged to my grandmother. I was looking for inspiration.
And the thing that struck me as I read the book, more than anything else (apart from the fact that most nursery rhymes had more verses than I remembered), was how sweet and innocent this book was, especially the illustrations. Yet it was obvious that the stories this book contained were made in an age of violence, that they were crafted, not only to entertain children, but to warn them of the real dangers of the outside world.
Oddly enough, I'd always called the stories in this book fairy tales.
But they were, in fact, 'folk tales'- made by generations of people who lived off the land.
A quick glance through the book reminded me of several things. It reminded me that in "Red Riding Hood", Grandma is eaten by the wolf; that, in the "Girl with Red Dancing Shoes", the woodsman solves her problem (she is unable to stop dancing) by cutting of her feet. And in the pre-Disney version of "Snow White, Rose Red" the stepmother tries to kill Snow White three times - yet is eventually herself put to death by Snow White's new and avenging husband, the prince.
And, finally, we have "The Tale of Hansell and Gretel". As you probably know (or once knew), Hansell and his sister are abandonned, not once, but twice by their father and their stepmother in the deep dark woods. The first time Hansell cunningly leaves a trail of stones to follow back home. But the second time his deceit is foiled, because the birds eat the bread crumbs he has laid as a trail.
Though they are painted as innocent victims, Hansell and Gretal are, in fact, vandals. There are no two ways about it. Not only do they drive their young stepmother to an early grave, but, when they find the old lady's Ginger Bread house in the woods, they start to break off parts and eat them.
Now, I don't know about you, but if someone did that to my house I'd be upset, to say the least.
So the old witch, quite rightly, detains them. And who can blame her if she tries to fatten them up so she can eat them? After all, it's a witch eat child world in our fairy tale books.
And the end result?
Seizing her chance, Grettel pushes the witch into the oven fire and slams the door on her. She watches as the old lady burns to death. Satisfied that the witch is roasting (imagine the smell of burnt hair and old lady underpants) Gretel releases Hansell, and with no sign at all of post-traumatic stress, they return to their father's house - and find that their evil stepmother is dead..... and they all live happily after all.
Now.... I ask you. Happily ever after?
So with those old original folk tales in mind, today I illustrated part of: "The True Story of Hansell and Gretel".
An do you know what the worst thing is?
Though I made her myself, the witch scares the be-creepers out of me. (I'm going to lock my bedroom door tonight.)
By the way, if you click the images for 'big' you will get, amongst other things, warts. You may also get a slightly revolting skin rash that can only be cured with an ointment made with a certain kind of fat.