Do you think you know Hansel and Gretel? They’re just the kids who drop the bread crumbs and then go to that candy house and eat a lot of food and get fat and almost get eaten by that witch, right? WRONG! Adam Gidwitz has just taken the Hansel and Gretel we know and bathed it in blood-soaked darkness that would make Goosebumps and Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark seem like nursery rhymes. This is definitely not your average fairy tale, and you can tell from the amounts of times Gidwitz jumps into the story to warn you about the most violent pieces of the puzzle, recommending to keep all small children at bay. This story doesn’t just include the candy house witch–it seamlessly intertwines that tale with seven others to create different chapters of the duo’s perilous life:
Faithful Johannes: This beginning chapter serves as a prequel to the rest of the story, revolving around a young prince that is promoted to king after his dad bites the dust, and Faithful Johannes–the late king’s most loyal servant–is tasked to show the new king his entire inheritance save for one room. Johannes was told that if he showed the king this room, it may cost the king his life. Oh, and ravens show up. If you believe in the omen you know something sinister will occur–but these ravens can talk.
Hansel and Gretel: This is where the story of the brother and the sister begins. In context (or if you read chapter one), this would make more sense. After feeling betrayed by their own mom and dad (aka the young king) after a big debacle, they run away into the forest where they come across a candy house. Starving, they proceed to help themselves to the treat, but are caught by the house’s owner, who warmly welcomes them in. She feeds them food to the point where they become fat and lazy, and although this looks like a dream come true, she has plans to make it a nightmare.
The Seven Swallows: You may better recognize this part of the story as The Seven Ravens, a fairy tale of its own. After Hansel and Gretel flee for the second time, they come across a husband and wife with seven sons and a longing wish for a daughter. The father sends his kids off to fetch water, but when his sons do not return, their father curses them so they transform into ravens and fly off. Hansel and Gretel embark on a journey to find the seven sons in a world where the moon craves human flesh, and the results of their adventure will shock you!
Brother and Sister: Picking up where 7 Swallows left off, this chapter follows Hansel and Gretel as they make shelter in Lebenwald (LAY-ben-vault), the wood of life. As Gretel befriends a talking tree whom is practically Lebenwald’s landlord, Hansel realizes he has an animal bloodlust, and he keeps on bringing an offering to the fire no matter how much Gretel tries to stop him. But when Hansel’s murderous mania gets the best of him, his altered beast is revealed.
A Smile Red As Blood: Gretel decides to hit the road alone, shaken and saddened by the events of the last chapter. She stumbles across Schwarzwald (SHVATS-vault), the wood of darkness, but visits the village right by it. When she is rejected by most of the village people (joke not intended), she sits down and mopes. Luckily, an old woman accepts her. Weeks later, Gretel becomes smitten with a dashing young man with red lips. Even if he’s a bit aggressive. One night, Gretel manages to flee from her home and follows the young man’s path into Schwarzwald. The following events are nothing less than grisly, and you’ll probably never look at doves the same way again.
The 3 Golden Hairs: This is probably the most horrifying, dreadful, and macabre chapter in the entire book. You have been warned. When a pair of huntsmen bring an ugly beast home from a hunt, the monster is skinned to reveal something other than flesh, blood, and bone (no Potter reference intended)–a boy. Not just any boy–Hansel! He decides to stay under the watch of the Lord and the Lady, but it turns out that the Lord is an addicted gambler. When he loses to an elusive stranger, he discovers he’s made a deal with the Devil and, to counter it, Hansel must travel to the place Down Under. No, it’s not Australia…
Hansel and Gretel and the Broken Kingdom: In all honesty, all they do is return to their home kingdom to their parents, tell them about their perilous journey, and discover that their home is in ruins due to a great beast. It’s reptilian, it’s fire-breathing, and it rhymes with “flaggin”.
Hansel and Gretel and the Dragon: Almost there. All that happens is Hansel and Gretel manage to start an army to face the dragon and then take it on, but it turns out they were a little unprepared and the results are actually more gruesome than you’d probably like. This is the one chapter all squeamish readers should skip.
Hansel and Gretel and Their Parents: This is it. The very last chapter. After their brawl with the dragon, despite the results not being too successful, Hans and G are still hailed by the kingdom as true heroes. We also see the true identity of the dragon, and then Hans and G become king and queen. Just thought you’d want to know.
Yes, A Tale Dark and Grimm may be very dark, gory, and quite disturbing, but when you peel that layer of the story away it’s an exciting, enthralling, and surprisingly touching fantasy adventure that tells important truths wrapped inside the premises. The messages the story offers are mainly the virtues of forgiveness, love, and trust and how they’re worth all the work. Gidwitz’ dark but droll storytelling skills make Hans and G characters we can empathize for, and we can ultimately comprehend why they came home even after abandonment from their parents.
FINAL SCORE: ★★★★★
RECOMMENDATION: For anyone who loves fractured fairy tales or modern spins on old classics, but is willing to read through a couple of grisly moments.
IF YOU LIKED THAT, CHECK OUT:
(click on the images to teleport to their Amazon pages!)
You know my algorithm: tune in next Friday at 1:00 EST for more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak!
VIDEO OF THE WEEK: “Harlem Shake” by VideoGameDunkey. Trust me, it’s not what it looks like, but it’s totally worth it.