- Hansel and Gretel in 2019A Dialogue Between Lindsey Drager and Anna Maria Hong
Anna Maria Hong
Side Brow Books
59 Pages; Print, $15.00
160 Pages; Print, $16.95
When I first realized Anna Maria Hong had written a fragmentary exploration of gender politics using the framework of Hansel and Gretel, I got nervous—my own forthcoming project, The Archive of Alternate Endings (2019), seemed to be engaged in the very same act. But after reading Anna Maria Hong's H & G (2018) I was reminded of the power of retelling as a rhetorical act, not just as a way of excavating and questioning certain histories but also of offering a new lens through which to see a myriad of presents. As the narrator of H & G tells us, "I would like to tell the tale so that it no longer makes me sad." In what follows, Anna Maria and I tease out what it means to be writing books in the #MeToo era while using as our foundation a fairy tale first put into print over 200 years ago. What might it mean that we both chose to recuperate and renovate this text to work through contemporary issues of race and gender politics? What might these engagements suggest about the elasticity of story? This conversation was conducted via email from January 2019 to March 2019.
Our books H & G and The Archive of Alternate Endings are involved in a similar act—using the story of Hansel and Gretel to work through questions of power related to gender, sexual orientation, and race. I'm curious about why you think this story in particular offers useful fodder for exploring these issues.
Yes, I'm also curious about what drew you to this tale! And thank you for starting off our conversation with this thoughtful question. I'd been working with retellings of old tales for some time in writing my first poetry collection, Age of Glass (2018), which features dramatic monologues from the points of view of female characters from mythology and folktale. "Hansel and Gretel" was a story that resonated with me as a tale of children surviving danger and parental abandonment through their wits and determination and as siblings working together, after all the adults have failed them. I liked that it was Gretel who takes the decisive action that saves them in the end and that the children make different choices to try to save themselves throughout the story, which afforded the opportunity to dramatize how gender affects our decisions even in the face of the same threat. In this tale, the Witch fattens up Hansel, while starving Gretel, so that Gretel had less to lose in dispensing with the Witch, although both faced the prospect of being eaten.
As with many of Grimm's fairy tales, the happy ending also always bothered me, and it seemed especially improbable with Hansel and Gretel who had triumphed against great odds and had been abandoned to their doom twice. I don't think these newly empowered kids would just go home, and the character of Father or the passively "nice" parent always seemed suspect to me with the two adult female characters bearing all the blame for mistreatment of the children. These inconsistencies made me want to rewrite the outcomes and recast the characters in a more feminist and nuanced light. I also love the imagistic richness of the tale—the candy house, the breadcrumbs, the birds, the oven, etc.
I'd love to know what drew you to this tale and to entwining Hansel and Gretel with other real and imagined stories: Edmond Halley and his niece and nephew, the returns of Halley's comet from 1378 into the far future, Johannes Gutenberg and his sister, the brothers Grimm as they collect and publish the tales, the dancer and the scholar of folktales in the 1980s, and the remarkable life of Ruth Coker Burks. How did you decide to weave these lives and...