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Hansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman

November 20, 2014

hanselFirst of all, I know, I missed yesterday. I’m sorry, but I got struck down by a terrible cold. I just couldn’t get my brain together enough to come up with something coherent for you all. So, I took the day off from writing and tried to drink all the tea in my house. I did not succeed (I have a disturbing amount of tea), but I did put a large dent into my cinnamon tea supplies. I am still ill, but doing much better today, hence the present though somewhat late and brief review.

I picked up Neil Gaiman’s new Hansel & Gretel from Little Professor the day it came out, but then I set it down on my desk and sort of forgot about it. I occasionally rested a mug of tea on it or another book. But I didn’t pick it up. It’s just one of those things I ought to own, but I’ve read Hansel & Gretel. I’ve read it repeatedly. What can Neil Gaiman really give me that ‘s new?

The answer to that is complicated. It is both, “nothing much” and “everything.”
The story has not changed much from the one you are used to.
There is a father and a mother. (Not a step-mother, by the way.) There are two children. There is a house of gingerbread, and a cage, and a bone. There is a tearful reunion of the children and their father.
There are differences.
The old woman is not necessarily a witch. Oh, she is old. She is crazy. She somehow made a house out of gingerbread in the middle of a famine. But she never uses magic that we see. She drugs the children. She locks up the children. But she doesn’t curse them or enspell them.
The mother is cold and bitter and the father isn’t perfect. He stays away more than he has to, maybe to escape his wife. And she only has to work on him for one night to get him to take the children out the first time. One night isn’t such a very long time to decide to lose your children.
The difference I found most striking was that the old woman offers to teach Gretel everything she knows about trapping visitors. I don’t think I’ve ever read a version where Gretel is to become her apprentice. I like it and it simultaneously adds to the creep-factor immeasurably.

The true standouts of the book are, of course, the illustrations by Lorenzo Mattotti. These illustrations change this from what would be, on the whole, a moderately entertaining, but ultimately forgettable retelling of Hansel and Gretel and make it something dark and creepy that will crop up in your dreams. The illustrations are not facing the text pages. You read two pages of text and then, you flip to the next page and get this:
woodsThe art seems almost violent. Everything is black or white. There are no muted greys, no bright reds. It is stark, but also rich in a strange way. There are the carefully rendered figures and then huge sweeping shapes around them. There is delicacy combined with boldness. It’s beautiful. There is no doubt about that. The illustrations are beautiful. But they are also as haunting as Gaiman’s descriptions of war. And they are what make this book stand out as something you will want to keep on your shelf rather than just reading and passing along.


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