For me, perhaps for everyone, what I find to be the most dreadful part of Hansel and Gretel, the most horrifying bit, where it ultimately turns it into a tale of horror beyond compare, is the happy-ever-after ending.
There is an escalation of horrors throughout the story, of course – their mother’s death; the jealous malevolence of their stepmother; their abandonment in the woods; the pitcher-plant lure of the gingerbread house; the witch; the imprisonment; the slavery; the threatened (but never actualised) death by cannibalism.
But in a way this is all for show, a deft piece of misdirection, obscuring the real horror at the heart of the tale, the monster lurking at the edge of the screen as the credits roll, that final moment of dread as the screen goes black, that gnaws at you all night.
For here is our happy ending: the witch is dead, the stepmother is dead, and Hansel and Gretel return home to their father.
Their father, who took them to the woods and abandoned them, not once but twice.
Their father, who was perfectly willing to let them die, simply to appease his new wife.
Hansel and Gretel escape from the forest, and they escape the witch. But can there be any possible escape for them from their father. From his blankness, from his pliability, his disinterest and neglect. From his next, inevitable, betrayal.
1. Written in 2017 sometime
2. I remember starting it in January 2017
3. While ill
4. At the Eden Project
5. But I have no idea when I finished it