Friday, October 31, 2014

The Case for Retellings

Neil Gaiman
Photo: Kimberly Butler
Why retell a fairy tale? If you have something new to say. And Neil Gaiman retells Hansel & Gretel in a truly haunting, original way. Lorenzo Mattotti's illustrations picture not a house brightly accented with rainbow-colored candy, but rather a dark wood where shadow prevails.

Here, Gaiman focuses on the ravages of war, and turning out the children as a means of survival for the parents. It's as grim as a fairy tale gets. Unless you read Adam Gidwitz's A Tale Dark and Grimm, in which the parents try to decapitate Hansel and Gretel (they get their heads back). Yet Gaiman also conveys the father's conflict--he doesn't want to "lose" his children in the woods, and delights in their return.

Lorenzo Mattotti
Gaiman also characterizes the candy-covered home's owner as an "old woman," never a witch. Having painted these as destitute times, the author gives readers some empathy for the old woman and what drives her to desperate measures. Another of my favorite riffs on Hansel & Gretel is Donna Jo Napoli's novel The Magic Circle, which provides a history for "the Ugly One," as the witch in her retelling is called, and adds a layer of complexity as well.

Mattotti's artwork is stunning in its relentless swirls of dark shadows, which make manifest the darkness of the woods, yes, but also the dark side of the parents, which dominates their psyches enough to turn out their own children. The father here shares much in common with the father in Gaiman's recent adult book The Ocean at the End of the Lane, as if the man, overtaken by his obsession with a woman, is unable to stay true to his role as protector of his children. (Though Gaiman disagrees with my interpretation of the father's motives in Ocean in a very thought-provoking way.)

No comments:

Post a Comment