Magickal Arts: Hansel & Gretel, Witch Hunters

This summer, I’m enrolled in a Children’s Literature class and I had to write a comparative analyses of a fairytale from my textbook and either a different version of chosen fairytale or an other fairytale altogether. I chose Hansel and Gretel as an excuse to write about witches. <|:^) I saw the Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters movie when it premiered in January and loved it! When comparing the two versions I focused on how the witches were portrayed. I explored Gretel being a witch and what that says about female perception worldwide.  I got an A! My professor said it was an “interesting analysis” and liked how i “examined the witches”.

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“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is a horror movie expanding upon the fairytale of “Hansel & Gretel”. All of the original elements from the textbook version are there, but taken further by showing Hansel and Gretel as adults, now in the business of witch-hunting. Of course, there are witches and their hunger for children in both stories. However, the movie includes many witches instead of only one. Also, Hansel and Gretel’s roles are somewhat reversed than how they were shaped in the textbook. The movie is much more complex and has more of a bitter tone as opposed to the happily-ever-after in the original story.
As mentioned above, in “Witch Hunters”, there is a society of witches, not just one witch. I suppose that is implied from the title. I use the word society, specifically, because the witches are like a network, or family, helping each other reach the same end goal. The Grand Witch even refers to them as sisters near the finale. “From now on, no sister will burn” (Witch Hunters). It’s almost the reverse of the fairytale. Hansel and Gretel are against one, whereas in the movie, the witches of the world are against Hansel and Gretel. The witches had a much stronger presence in the film than in the text.
Another, less obvious difference from the text and the movie is the emphasis of the brother vs. the sister. In the textbook, Hansel was the main protagonist, always being optimistic and cleverly outsmarting the cruel adults. He comforted his sister and talked her through escaping the cottage. The movie portrayed Hansel as somewhat more desolate and jaded. He didn’t ask questions, he just killed the witches and seemed as though he’d rather forget about the entire ordeal. Gretel, however, is much more inquisitive of the witches’ motivations and more diplomatic to their customers. In the book, Gretel is quite helpless and more accepting of their fate. She isn’t as sharp as Hansel in the text (or Gretel in the movie). It is also revealed in the film that Gretel is a witch inherently through their mother. Perhaps that’s why she took a deeper interest into why the witches were stealing children.
Something that remained the same in both versions, that I find significant, is that the witches were interpreted as animalistic. The exception here is the good witches from the movie. In the fairytale, the witch could barely see, but had great sense of smell, like a bat. The film showed the (bad) witches growling and running on all fours when they needed to travel quickly. One witch even had horns protruding from her neck.
Another similarity between the book and the film is that we weren’t given concrete reasoning to why the witches hunted children. We only have implications. In the fairytale, it is implied that the step-mother may also be the witch, but readers are left to use their imagination. “Witch Hunters” vaguely mentions that children are more vulnerable than people, therefore easier to capture and kill for their potions. Even then, this is only used in the context of Gretel being more vulnerable than her mother, because she was a child.
Obviously, the original fairytale is much more child-friendly than “Witch Hunters”. It’s simpler and “black-and-white”, therefore easier for children to absorb. The film is clearly for mature audiences. Both stories did touch on faith. It seems as though the text was teaching readers via Hansel to have faith in God and He will help you. That is probably an influence of the time the story originated, as emphasis on faith has slowly decreased over the years. The film showed the witches’ victims praying to God but it didn’t do much. “No use praying to your God. Even He knows better than to come here.” (Grand Witch, Witch Hunters) Although the film did not out rightly suggest that God does not exist, it did insinuate that just having faith in Him will not save them. The value of the time conveyed by the movie just reinforced the belief that women are less than men. Upon further investigation of these stories, I found a lot to say about how witches are perceived and women in general. I think, unconsciously, witches represent the earth/forest because that’s where they live. The earth was so much larger during the time these stories take place. Nature was uncharted and people were afraid of it because they did not know it.

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Sometimes, I think of my brother and I as Hansel & Gretel.  😛

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