Because it is Halloween, and because I love all that is dark sparkle and lore, I settled in last night and read one of the Grimm Brothers' bleaker fairy tales - Hansel and Gretel. It's the last chapter of a collection I've kept since I was a child and I don't think I've opened the book since then either. I recalled a sketch of the story - a brother and sister lost in the woods, trying to find their way home, and a witch who traps them because they are hungry and her house is made of gingerbread and cake.
Well. There's that, but there's also the whole other part I forgot about, such as that the reason they are lost to begin with is because their father and stepmother have deliberately left them to die in the forest. Twice.
The first time, the resourceful Hansel finds the path back because he marks the way with pebbles that shine in the moonlight. The second time he uses bread crumbs to track his trail, but they disappear into the mouths of grackles and rabbits and the like. The witch cages Hansel and fattens him to eat; Gretel is made into her kitchen slave. Eventually the clever girl shoves their captor into an oven, and the two return to their father without grudge. As if it was that easy to forgive betrayal.
I once loved the macabre theatre of these tales. It seemed to me, in my little girlness, that while the world was dangerous, at least it was interesting, a place where spells might explode at any moment or where children could rescue themselves. Last night I thought of H&G, now grown, perhaps choosing to forget the crone with the red eyes and the keen animal nose, the father who abandoned them. Perhaps not.
Here is their future, as seen by Louise Gluck, who authored the line I pinched for the title of this post.
Gretel in Darkness
This is the world we wanted.
All who would have seen us dead
are dead. I hear the witch's cry
break in the moonlight through a sheet
of sugar: God rewards.
Her tongue shrivels into gas...
Now, far from women's arms
and memory of women, in our father's hut
we sleep, are never hungry.
Why do I not forget?
My father bars the door, bars harm
from this house, and it is years.
No one remembers. Even you, my brother,
summer afternoons you look at me as though
you meant to leave,
as though it never happened.
But I killed for you. I see armed firs,
the spires of the gleaming kiln--
Nights I turn to you to hold me
but you are not there.
Am I alone? Spies
hiss in the stillness, Hansel,
we are there still and it is real, real
that black forest and the fire in earnest.