I’m on a fairy tale kick these days. Call it an occupational hazard – my secret identity is that of a not-so-mild mannered children’s librarian, after all – but lately, a good fairy tale just hits the spot. I’m not talking unicorns barfing rainbows, though – I’m talking proper Grimm Fairy Tales, which is really where horror movies probably began.
Actually, the Grimm Brothers get a lot of credit for freaky-scary fairy tales, but most fairy tales in their original aspects have some gruesome aspects to them – Cinderella’s stepsisters cut off their toes to try to wedge that glass slipper on their feet in the original tale. Puss ‘N Boots used subterfuge and murder to get his pal a castle and lands of his own. Shards from the Snow Queen’s frozen mirror pierced people’s eyes and hearts and froze them from the inside. (Both Cinderella and Puss were written by Charles Perrault, and The Snow Queen was written by Hans Christian Andersen.) Fairy tales were kind of like terrifying Aesop’s Fables back in the day; the Middle Ages parenting way of saying, “If you cross without looking both ways, you’ll get hit by a bus!” but a lot more creative.
But back to Hansel & Gretel. Who would be more fitting but Neil Gaiman to retell a Grimm Brothers tale? Gaiman and Grimm go together like gingerbread houses and ovens, when it comes down to it. Gaiman sets the stage for the tale by lulling us into a lovely story about a woodcutter and his bride, their love bringing two children into the world, and then, famine and war destroying the world around them. They’re starving. The children are starving. The mother comes up with a horrible idea – lose the children in the forest. It’s logical to her – two dead (if they should happen to be eaten by a bear, for instance) are better than four dead. And they can always have more children.
You know the story – the father leads them into the woods, but Hansel is smart – he drops shiny white stones from the river to guide them back. Mother isn’t thrilled, so off into the woods they go again, this time, with the infamous pieces of bread that end up eaten. The tears. The wandering. The house. The old woman. It’s all here, and it’s told with Gaiman’s trademark chill – just so slight, never overwhelming, but enough to send a damp shiver through your bones that no blanket, no cup of tea, is going to put right.
Add to that, Lorenzo Mattotti’s companion art, which keeps pace along with Gaiman’s writing, throughout the book. Created in 2007 for an exhibit celebrating the Metropolitan Opera House’s staging of Hansel & Gretel, the art is amazing – it’s black and white, stark, and dreamlike. Some of the artwork brings woodcuts to mind, with more defined edges; others, have whorls and chaos, each picture matching the story’s pace in mood.
The book includes a great historical background and bibliography that every teacher and librarian will be thrilled to get their hands on. All in all, Hansel & Gretel is a masterful retelling of a timeless fairy tale, and a fantastic resource for all readers.
Now, if only we can convince Neil Gaiman to tell us some more fairy tales…
Neil Gaiman Hansel & Gretel Graphic HC
Writer: Gaiman, Neil
Artist: Mattotti, Lorenzo
Cover Artist: Mattotti, Lorenzo
On Sale October 29, 2014
Publisher Toon Books
Diamond Id: JUL141687
Format: HARD COVER