Television Folklore: Hansel and Gretel

One of the more recent television series to utilize folk tales as a vehicle for the plotline is the ABC series Once Upon a Time that first aired in 2011. It brings in a variety of fairytale and folktale characters in an interesting story where fantasy characters are somehow transported into the real world and how the interact with normal society. Its main characters are often from more recent fairy tales, such as the ones that the Disney corporation has remade, but there are some more obscure and odd characters of folk tales that do find their way into some episodes.

Here, the folktale reference is not from ancient Greek, as the last episode; but rather from German folk stories. It is the tale of the children Hansel and Gretel who end up in the candy house of a witch who tries to eat them. The original folktale is quite grim in that it demonstrates how children’s’ curiosity can be life threatening. The witch lures the children in with her cabin made of candy and then imprisons them. She almost pushes them into her oven, until Gretel pushes her in instead. In the series, Once Upon a Time, the characters of Hansel and Gretel are imprisoned by a blind witch after being lured in by the same candy trick as in the folk tales. The witch is blind in the series and the children go through a number of blunders before they can actually escape, which is not described in the folk tale. It is an interesting episode because Gretel is the one who takes control and helps free them both. This is the same as in the original tale but has strong messages about the ability of women in a patriarchal system.

The episode goes further to portray the children as being in a very poor situation. When they escape, they cannot find their father as he has been banished by the queen. Thus, there are clear pessimistic undertones that represent the children in a much more pathetic light. In the folk tale, the children have a mother and grandmother that care for them, and thus they return to more loving homes. It is interesting for the show to perform the folktale with a father figure instead who then cannot support them after their ordeal. Instead, the children’s father is seemingly abducted by the queen, who takes no pity on them. She tells Gretel, “two helpless children, lost and alone. A family torn asunder, such a sad and moving story,” but then has her guards try to capture them. I believe these changes are meant to use the innocent children as another strategy to show the evil nature of Queen Regina, thus furthering the plot for her storyline rather than being true to the actual folktale of Hansel and Gretel.

Source: “True North.” Once Upon A Time. ABC. 2011.