Friday Is for . . . Face Offs!
--"Cinderella vs. Cinderella"--
and other posts about the fairy tales we love!
My original plan was to pit one of these stories (Guess which one!) against The Emperor's New Clothes . . . but that didn't really work out. And I'm glad of that now because that meant I got to do two stories I loved as a child and then learned to love again when I got to tell them to my little brothers. They have more in common than the elements I include below . . .
Hansel and Gretel vs. Jack and the Beanstalk
Family: Both stories begin with a family that isn't as happy as it could be. Hansel and Gretel has fairyland's classic dysfunctional family, tyrannised by a wicked stepmother who will take any excuse to get rid of the children. Jack and the Beanstalk has a widowed mother who never remarries--and while that opens a very interesting interpretation of what happens next, on its own it's not very compelling.
Winner: Hansel and Gretel--because one can never go wrong with the classics.
Villains: It is the villains who made me want to do this face off. The real baddie of Hansel and Gretel turns out to be not the wicked stepmother, but the evil witch in the woods. Not that it makes any difference, because the witch is exactly what the stepmother would look like if she stood before the magic mirror of fairyland. The stepmother wants to get rid of the children because she can't feed them any longer; the witch wants to keep them so she can eat them. Reverse yet otherwise identical images! There is a similar trick mirror effect in Jack and the Beanstalk, if we go with the reading of the giant as Jack's missing father. Jack simultaneously wants to grow up to him and to cut him down to size. And in the process, the line between hero and villain is blurred. Yes, the giant is a tyrant--but Jack is also a thief.
Winner: Jack and the Beanstalk--because this was so close that I had to invoke the fairyland law, "When in doubt, go with the giant."
Heroes: Now we come to the young stars of our stories. I've always liked the way the brother and sister of Hansel and Gretel make such a fantastic team. He looks out for her at the beginning; she saves him at the end. They are such a perfect pair that when I tell the story, I make them twins. Jack and the Beanstalk, on the other hand, gives us an only child with a heavy burden on his shoulders. He must learn to be the man of the house and support his mother, and his story is the closest fairy tales have come to the complex Coming of Age story.
Winner: Hansel and Gretel--because Shredded Cheddar is all about girls enhancing adventures.
Handfuls: And here is the cute quirky bit both stories have in common. In Hansel and Gretel, it is that famous fistful of breadcrumbs (commonly known as a loaf--LOL!) that Hansel naively drops behind him to mark the trail home. In Jack and the Beanstalk, it is the magic beans that Jack naively trades his old cow for. And if you think about it, both moves really pay off--though they don't seem to at the beginning.
Winner: Hansel and Gretel--because magic beans will grow into magic beanstalks wherever you live, but where else can you "plant" breadcrumbs and harvest a whole gingerbread house?
Extras: The plots are pure folktale, repeating the same sequences, with slight variations, within the same story. Before the night of the breadcrumbs in Hansel and Gretel, we have the night of the pebbles. It's not really necessary, but it gives us both contrast and foreshadowing. As for Jack and the Beanstalk, it has our hero returning at least twice (sometimes three times) to the giant's home, to steal some more loot. For the chicken that lays the golden eggs isn't enough; he must have the magic harp as well.
Winner: Jack and the Beanstalk--because the theft of the harp really moves the plot into new territory and isn't just Golden Hen, Version 2.0.
Houses: As you already know--if only because I've been saying--Hansel and Gretel features an edible house straight out of a child's fantasies. The giant's house in Jack and the Beanstalk comes from a different part of a child's psyche, letting Jack enter a world in which he is perfectly capable and yet incredibly small.
Winner: Hansel and Gretel--because the gingerbread house, so sweet on the outside and so sinister on the inside, is a cautionary tale in itself.
Loot: The children don't return from their respective adventures empty handed! We have some very literal (ginger) bread winning in Hansel and Gretel--a great ending for a family that was once so hungry. And we have quite a bit of gold in Jack and the Beanstalk, particularly the gift that keeps on giving, the hen that lays golden eggs on command.
Winner: Jack and the Beanstalk--because our new man of the house understands long-term investments.
Kills: We know these are good fairy tales because the villains get to die. In Hansel and Gretel, the witch is burned alive in the oven she was preparing for Hansel--which is very fitting. In Jack and the Beanstalk, the giant falls to his death when Jack chops down the huge beanstalk--so it's more of a contrast.
Winner: Jack and the Beanstalk--because the little guy and his little axe against the big bad villain and the big badass beanstalk is just priceless.
Imagery: Both stories have one really distinctive image one can recognise anywhere. Hansel and Gretel gives us a house both retellers and artists have gone crazy over. (I will never forget the chocolate roof and window panes of spun sugar from one of my old picture books.) Jack and the Beanstalk is more "minimalist" with its small boy on a giant vine. But sometimes simplicity is a good thing.
Winner: Jack and the Beanstalk--because fairy houses come in many forms, but there is only one giant beanstalk.
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Hansel and Gretel vs. Jack and the Beanstalk
Winner: Jack and the Beanstalk
What do you think? =) It was close, but it was good!
Image Sources: a) Hansel and Gretel illustrated by Kay Nielsen, b) Jack and the Beanstalk illustrated by Scott Gustafson