As a writer, I am always fascinated by the origins of stories. Where did the writer get the inspiration to write that particular tale?
As a child I loved tales by Brothers Grimms, Hansel and Gretel being one of my favourites. Many of our favourite fairy tales have strange origins. Hansel and Gretel is certainly one of the more disturbing.
The story opens with a pair of children bring left by their starving parents in a forest. The children learn of their parent’s plan and follow a trail home, stones dropped by Hansel. The mother then convinces the father to try again and abandon his children.
This time unable to get stones, Hansel drops breadcrumbs, but the birds eat them and the children become lost in the forest.
The starving children find a gingerbread house that they start to eat. The home is a trap to lure children in. The witch enslaves Gretel and forces her to feed Hansel, the premise to make him fat enough to eat.
The pair trick the witch, Hansel presents her with a bone for his finger. She thinks he isn’t putting on weight. When she attacks him they force her in the oven and kill her.
The story itself features child abandonment, cannibalism, murder and enslavement.
The Real Hansel and Gretel
Unfortunately, the origins of the story are just as horrific, if not worse.
The first thing to bear in mind is that Brother Grimm never intended their stories to be for children. Rather their initial idea was to write a German folklore book. The stories were dark and filled with murder and mayhem.
The true story originates in the Baltic regions during the great famine of 1314. Due to an increase in volcanic activity in Asia and New Zealand, there was a large climate change. This led to worldwide crop failure and starvation.
Europe was hit particularly hard as the food supply was already scarce.
During this time the elderly chose to starve, leaving food for the young. Many abandoned their children.
There was also clear evidence of cannibalism. Including digging up the dead to eat.
“mothers were fed their children.” Willian Rosen — The Third Horseman
From this grim chaos, the story of Hansel and Gretel was born.
Although horrific in nature, it is clear to see how this tale led to the skeleton of the story. As a writer, I am fascinated by the seeds that grow an idea. I read somewhere that Stephen King dreams his books. Not sure how true that is?
What story origins have you discovered?