“he left a trail of crumbs behind him to mark the way”
Fairyology Episode 9
It has been a while since we delved into the land of silly science and spoke about fairy tales. For those who are new here, fairyology is all about dissecting fairy tales to find the science and as it is Halloween today our fairy tale is a little bit dark!
The story of Hansel and Gretel is already quite dark, I’m sure you know this particular story but nevertheless here’s a quick recap. A wood cutter lives in the woods with his two children and their evil step mother. Not having enough food to eat the step mother orders the wood cutter to take the children named Hansel and Gretel into the woods and to leave them there. The children over hear the story and Hansel collects some white pebbles. When they leave Hansel drops the pebbles to mark their way home and the plan works! The next day the wood cutter is forced to try again but Hansel only had some old bread. He tries to leaves crumbs behind him but they are eaten by birds. Hansel and Gretel then find a house made of sweets, chocolate and biscuits. As the children were so hungry they start to eat the house. The witch who lives there kidnaps them and makes Gretel do the housework. She fattens the kids up so she can eat them one day. Then as the witch is heating the oven to cook them, Gretel pushes her in and locks the door. She rescues her brother and find the witches money. They find their home and are told by the wood cutter that their step mother has died and they all live happily ever after.
It really is a grizzly fairy tale with the worst part being that the witch wanted to cook them… Why! Well here is one particular theory about the truth of this story.
Hansel and Gretel was written somewhere around the 17th century. However, in the 12th century, England and most of Europe was afflicted by a great famine. Not long after it was followed by the Black Death, which is now known to be a mass outbreak of bubonic plague, it wasn’t a great time to be alive. In this time many parents abandoned children or children became orphans. Leaving many little Hansel and Gretels running around forests by themselves.
Then on to the topic of witches. In this time, if you were a woman, pretty much if you did anything out of the ordinary you could be accused of being a witch. This included if you were pretty, had a lot of money or if you lived alone like the witch in the story. So that solves the truth behind this one, this poor lady could have been completely innocent… apart from the cannibalism part. Now unfortunately due to the famine and general death of the area, cannibalism was more common in the 12th century than you would like to think. Therefore the possibility of someone wanting to eat a child could have been an entirely true story. Or of course it could be a great tale to stop children from roaming to far away!
Not a lot of science in this fairy tale today but it certainly is a spooky tale!