24 September 2010


Friday Is for . . . Face Offs!

Enjoy another unusual face-off
--"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.

* * * * *

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


Paul Stilwell said...

Most of the fairytales you've pitted against each other before I was never familiar with, but these two fairytales were firmly implanted in my mind way back when.

I thought maybe it was going to be a draw. But I think your reasons are good, especially on the Kills - as much as I liked to ponder the witch ending up in her own oven, Jack and the Beanstalk was even more ponderable.

Oh, and the house in Hansel and Gretel, "so sweet on the outside and so sinister on the inside," being "a cautionary tale in itself", yes, it's something you don't forget!

Enbrethiliel said...


I thought it was going to be a draw, too! Hansel and Gretel and Jack and the Beanstalk are two of the best there are. =D

If I had put "Personal Memories" as a category, it would have been a draw. =P I mentioned that I've retold both stories to my brothers. Jack and the Beanstalk made my hands hurt because I had to pound out the sound effects (the giant's foot falls, you know). But Hansel and Gretel . . .

My brothers are only one year apart, and the youngest has always felt the indignity of being the smaller one. He spent most of his toddlerhood asserting his right to be his older brother's "equal" and he resented any hints that other people might not agree.

So whenever anyone would begin, "Once upon a time, there lived a little boy named Hansel and a little girl named Gretel . . ." he would howl to the moon in protest. He refused to listen to any retelling of Hansel and Gretel that didn't begin, "Once upon a time, there lived two little boys named Hansel and Gretel . . ." (ROFLMAO!!!)

Personal Memories Winner: Hansel and Gretel--because Gretel got to be a boy for about five years. =P

paul bowman said...

hahaha! Always pays to read the comments. Hurrah for irrepressible Cue-card Boy. : )

For me, Beanstalk wins for the Bugs & Daffy short. 'I don't remember any rabbit in Jack and the Beanstalk. But there's gonna be one in this one!'

Sullivan McPig said...

Hansel and Gretel wins for me, but that's because I've known that one so much longer. Somehow I managed to avoid (not on purpose) reading Jack and the Beanstalk for years.

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

I totally love your comparisons, I really do! I thought it was going to be a tie between the two, but Jack wins! I actually prefer this story to Hansel and Gretel, although I love both fairy-tales, but I really like Jack and the Beanstalk precisely for the things that made him win in this face off. I lolled at this: "because our new man of the house understands long-term investments." That was just absolutely priceless.:) I love sweets and for the sake of the edible house I should prefer Hansel and Grete, but little Jack is a brave young man and a definite winner for me. Thank you for a wonderful post!

Enbrethiliel said...


Paul: Cue-card Boy had quite the lesson to learn about girls and adventures. He's better now.

Sully: Hansel and Gretel is probably my own personal favourite, too, but I was trying to be objective! ;-)

Irena: Thanks! =) Jack is a great fairy tale hero, and I really love that he's not the typical kind (i.e., a prince).