Apr 24, 2010

Hansel and Gretel

"The True Story of Hansel and Gretel".

"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?
Something ethnic.
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.


  1. Dear Andrew, growing up in Germany, I grew up with the "real" folk tales, not the Disney versions. They were violent, they were brutal and they didn't always end well. Your images are fantastic and so much more closely related to what I remember from my childhood. Your witch is amazingly scary!!

    Daniel is doing well, working on his next drawing as I write this. He gets insanely busy teaching in the Spring and doesn't find much time for anything else...

    Ok, the more I look at the witch, the more I think I might have nightmares tonight... :) Silke

  2. She may give me nightmare too. Yes, folk tales and fairy tales are quite violent in nature. I always hated them when I was a child, but I love them now. I guess we should thank Disney for making them more kid friendly for the wee ones. Saved me from having to get up in the night with my kids for nightmares induced by terrifying bedtime stories. Makes you wonder how kids could sleep after some of these tales.

  3. Hi Silke and Karen.

    Well I had a good night's sleep - but I locked the door :)

    I only had the sterilized versions when I grew up. The violence was always there (and along came a blackbird and 'pecked' off her nose!) But it was fun violence - like watching stormtroopers fall over as they are cut down by the rebel's fire in star wars.

    But I think if someone mean and evil read them to me it would be different.

    Lucky I don't know anyone like that - apart from myself of course ;)

  4. my gosh, this is masterful. So mesmerizing. Tho I have to tell you ... I get even more transfixed every time you bring us closer (I suppose I favor close-ups naturally). I can't wait to see the whole book on this story. Is it done or underway?

    BTW, re: my monsters ... you're not as thick as you think (I had another visitor tell me they thought those teeth were some sort of collar too — and they were only 8 yrs old!). But this guy is kinda fun and I may have to explore some adventures ahead. You in? Passport handy?

    (no passport required)

  5. Hya Justin, close ups? Yes I need more closeups. Thankyou for that tip! I really need to make the knuckles athritic, and add some veins and things - on the witch that is. I've got a few pirate renders in my back pocket. Maybe there's a closup somewhere :)

    Yep, the witch has facial hairs as well, I think they are hard to see. I might give her a goatee later (:) ! Well a small one. Thanks for commenting on the work at illo2. I have chewed off more than I can bit at the moment.

  6. I read this earlier and was about to comment even though I decided I was not blogging this week. However, a certain gentleman who visits me keeps on leaving me rather introspective comments that compel me to respond.

    I need to clear my head here. First your illustrations are superb and I certainly did click for big to notice all the details, not just the warts but the bloody sickle and her skull collection. My goodness, being inside that house is enough to make me wish I were dead.

    These lessons, these Grimm tales and mother goose rhymes - I grew up with them. We always knew they were metaphorical, somehow our teachers taught us that there was a lesson in them so we had to find them. I think I tried, at least be verbose until I met the required number of words. The truth is, we had our own lessons in real life. Real life was tough for children to witness other children drowning or getting hit by moving vehicles and domestic violence from neighbors' houses. We read Fairy Tales to escape, and we most certainly rooted for the hero or heroine.

    These stories offer hope. We need Hope. Sometimes it's the only thing we have left.

    You are a word warrior Mr. Finnie, a superb story teller and one heck of an illustrator. In fact I need not read the words to know these kids are in trouble but having read them, my heart is sinking and clinging to the last thread of hope.

    Your comment, Mr. Andrew Finnie, over at my blog is most appreciated. You echo my eldest sister who once told me that we need to create our own legends. I don't know if I would like to live my life actively pursuing that but I think that is the outcome.

    Thank you for appreciating my art. It's something I love to do. I am glad it makes you happy.

  7. Hya Ces, hmm. Thankyou for being so kind to me. You know, I obviously so far have had a lucky life. In Oz, in the late 20th and early 21 st century life has been good.

    We certainly are blessed. Trouble is we don't realise it. Ever. You wouldn't believe what I see when I look out the window - but I never look. Well, I do when I get up to make the coffee.... but that's just so I don't trip over :)

    Blogland is strange, you know. It's a balance between making our art and getting it out there -and making less art - because we are screwing round on the net.

    Or making our art and sticking it in the cupboard for the mice to eat when we are dust. We make more art, but have less fun.

    And then there is real life. I'll make some real life up one time one time, and stick it up with some illustrations.

    Did you ever see an old movie about Hans Christian Anderson (?) I saw it when In was a kid - it was a feel good kids movie.

    In the movie, as he lay dying in his bed, all the characters he had ever written about came to visit him. They stood round his bed and said goodbye.

    In wasn't the screaming neighbours, the stench in the street, the lack of food on the table that were his real life.

    It was the people who were gathered around his bed that were, in fact, his real life.

    We live in our heads, don't we?

  8. ACK! Yes and No. I would want real people, those I love to surround me when I die. Even If I died somewhere, I want another human being to hold me and comfort me. Yes, Those I love who are far will always be on my mind but. I create things from my mind but there is a connection to the real life I live. I can say that when I draw about my experiences I lived them, maybe the trees look different, maybe there was only one or two butterflies but mostly it was the opposite. I cannot begin to illustrate the environment I had. It was teeming with live and energy and hope, most of all, I remember being happy. I remember myself a little kid or a young woman smiling and happy. Even the sad events, they stop short at the moment before the tragedy occurs or after we have recovered. I think I want to bury the sadness in it's proper place, the chambers of my heart where they dissolve and circulate as HOPE.

  9. Once again, Andrew, your work is exquisite! From the look of her skin-condition, she might need a bit more than a little boy-fat to recover, though...
    I really like the un-edited tales too. Especially now that I´m all grown up and not afraid of anything!! Ha! But seriously. I have a couple of great books: "Politically correct fairy-tales" and "What ever happened after ever-after?". Both very well suited for reading aloud to others, as they are are funny. And actually adults should read more for each other. I used to have "the-fairy-tale-hour-for not-kids-anymore" at my school, where I´d read books to them (18-20 year olds) on Saturday evenings, and a surprisingly large crowd would gather. Ah, the good old days! (A couple of years ago)
    And talking of folk-tales, the Norwegians have a couple of in-your-face-tales too.

  10. Hya Ces, sorry, I was just being poetic - and badly too. Sure when I die I want the same thing.

    Will I get it? Probably not. I'll be at the wrong end of the beach, a long way from town, lying in the sand, looking up at the clear sky, feeling the sun on my face, wishing I'd listened to the doctor when he said "Mr Finnie, you are 98 years old! Isn't it time that you stpped running three quarter marathons?"

    well, I wish :)

  11. Hi Janne, nice to see you sticking up so much diversified work. I admire your work as much as the fact you earn a living from it - and quite rightly too.

    Maybe the 18-20 years olds were there for more than one reason? Maybe you added a bit of life to the old stories with your reading?

    I saw Pan's labyrinthe a few years ago. It opend my shut eyes I think.

    cheers :)

  12. Hello Mita,

    Thankkkkkkkkkyou :) There is a bird.

  13. actually i forgot about this story...

  14. Oh, heavens. This is nightmarish! Particularly that bloody scythe. *shudder* Incredible work. And you know what's even scarier? How prolific you are.

    I remember coming across a book of German nursery rhymes. They were quite violent. I remember there was some little boy, like Tom Thumb, except after he stuck his thumb in a pie or something, both his arms fell off.

    I enjoyed reading the witch's take on the vandals. Thought you might enjoy this. I did:


  15. You are too much fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I keep coming back and looking again and again and re-reading your posts and comments. It is hard to let you know what a fun time I have on your blog. :)


Hya! Thank you so much for leaving a comment. I appreciate your time and thoughts.