The Art of Hansel and Gretel’s Witch

The Art of Hansel and Gretel’s Witch
By Derek Newman-Stille

Hansel and Gretel was a tale published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. Hansel and Gretel is a tale of hunger and candy. It is a tale of the conflict between youth and old age – two children cast out by their family and a witch who wants to consume youth.

 

 

Derek Stratton – Hansel and Gretel

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Derek Stratton uses the body of the witch itself as a framing technique, placing her house and the children within her cloak, affixing the children within the witch’s stomach, which is where her cannibalistic impulse wants to place them. The witch holds a candy dangling from her hand on a line like a fishing line, illustrating the role of her luring the children in.

Stratton situates the house itself in the witch’s belly, situating it as a symbolic representation of hunger. The house itself is relatively simple, with few colours. The candy in this case is gingerbread with few drops of colour on the icing. The house has a candy cane beside it and some lollypops in front. By having a very simple house, the focus is not on the candy itself, which often reads as a symbol of greed. Instead, the focus is on the predatory quality of the witch and on the hunger of the children.

The house itself is surrounded by idyllic, light greenery, however, this idyllic scene is surrounded by dark woods without leaves which morph into the cloak of the witch. This alternation of light and dark, innocence and corruption is played with in the image with the centre of the image being bright and the edges fading away into the frightening dark of the woods. The macabre quality of this image also situates the children standing above a ground filled with the corpses of other children. They walk toward a teddy bear, evoking innocence, while also underlying the idea that this teddy bear, like the house itself, is a lure, meant to corrupt innocence.

Childhood and old age are contrasted in this image with the older woman looking down at the children with hunger, evoking her hunger for youth. The witch’s face is situated at the top of the image, eclipsing everything below and the children are portrayed as innocents, holding hands in her shadow.

Derek Stratton is a concept artist at Telltale Games whose work can be seen at https://www.artstation.com/artist/sarsipious101

 

Ana Juan Gascó – Roundabout The Witch

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Ana Juan Gascó’s witch embodies all of the predatory qualities of the spider. Rather than luring children into her home, Gasco illustrates that the witch’s home, like the spider’s, is the web. Webbing hangs down in front of this witch’s body on webbing, holding candy at its tips. Her hat becomes, itself, a form of house with its peaks representing windows. Witch and house are blended together, and the witch’s body becomes the source of the lure for the children.

The candy hanging from the witch’s hat varies from ginger bread to bonbons to candy canes. Both children reach toward a single candy cane, evoking a dual image of both competition for treats or, potentially, an older brother helping to bring candy to his sister, for whom the candy is out of reach. The expressions of the children are blank, allowing for multiple interpretations of their intentions and distancing the viewer from the emotions of the children. Our entire focus is directed toward the witch and her surplus of expression, illustrating all of its predatory potential. She looks down with patient hunger, entwining her clawed fingers. The witch’s clothing is one solid cloak of black fabric, bringing the viewer’s attention up to the witch’s face and hands to focus the viewer on her gestures.

Rather than emaciated figures, these children are depicted as plump and well-fed, contrasting with the canonical myth of the children as starving and cast out of their home by their parents.

Ana Juan Gasco (born 1961) is a Spanish artist, illustrator, and painter. You can explore her website at www.anajuan.net


Laura Barrett – The Wicked Witch Has Caged Hansel Whilst Gretel Sobs

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Laura Barrett’s illustration of Hansel and Gretel is done entirely in silhouettes, which has the potential to obscure essential features like facial gestures, however, Barrett effectively uses the position of the body to convey emotion and intent. The Witch is portrayed walking with a cane and with her finger cocked in the direction of Hansel with a come with me gesture. The witch’s features are otherwise innocent, with a shawl over her head and a voluminous dress lending a sense of innocence to her. However, her positioning in front of the cage holding Hansel conveys her cruelty.

Hansel is depicted sitting casually and without expression in his cage, hanging from a tree. He is contrasted with his sister Gretel on the other side of the house, who is depicted weeping. This conveys gendered assumptions about masculinity and femininity, with the male child depicted stoically while the female figure is portrayed as emotional. Birds are depicted above Hansel’s cage, further reinforcing his captivity by portraying him in the birdcage while birds are portrayed outside of the cage.

The entire image is surrounded by thick woods, framing the house as a pretended sanctuary amongst the confusion of the woods. The silhouetted quality of the house allows the reader to project their imagined candy upon the house. The only candy-like features of the house are the drippings at the sides of the house that resemble icing on a gingerbread house. The house conveys innocence with large open windows with light shining through them.

Situating the children on either side of the house conveys a sense of separation between them, pulled apart by the house and by the witch, who similarly stands between them. While Hansel looks directly at the witch, Gretel is portrayed looking away from the house, avoiding the horrors within, and yet Gretel is the saviour of the tale, the person who rescues her brother from the witch.

Laura Barrett is an illustrator from South East London who focuses on silhouette illustrations. You can explore her other fairy tale illustrations at http://laurabarrett.co.uk/The-Guardian-Great-Fairytales

 

Scott Gustafson – Hansel and Gretel and the Witch Rough Drawing

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Scott Gustafson portrays a Hansel and Gretel with tiny eyes and blushed cheeks mirroring those of Precious Moments statues. Although these figures are chubby rather than emaciated, hungry children, their poverty is illustrated by the ragged condition of their clothing, patched together and frayed. The patches of their clothing brings attention to the mirroring features of the witch, particularly her patches of candy. The stripes of Hansel’s patches mirrors the candy cane striping of the Witch’s dress.

Candy is prevalent in this image, so much so that it is beneath the feet of the children and the witch. However, the children still reach for the candy that the witch holds out to them and Gretel’s eyes stare on in wonder at the witch’s armful of candy.

There is no house depicted in this image, so the witch again becomes a figure who occupies the space between person and house by having candy attached to her apron and her hat resembling a pastry covered in icing and candy. This witch doesn’t look predatory as others do. She is a figure of innocence with a kind face surrounded by a bonnet. She holds onto a cupcake lightly, as though it is barely in her grasp, already within reach of the children.

The connection between the children is illustrated by their entwined hands, but they are simultaneously committed to looking after each other and committed to their hunger. Hansel reaches a hand out to the cupcake held by the witch, while Gretel holds her apron up, presumably filled with candy.

Scott Gustafson is an American illustrator who has won the Chelsea Award, an Independent Publisher Book Award, and the 2015 Grand Master Award. Gustafson’s art can be seen at http://www.scottgustafson.com/Gallery_DR_FT_HG5.html where you can also see other views of the witch.

 

 

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Sleep the Sleep of the Aged

Sleep the Sleep of The AgedA review of Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle illustrated by Chris Riddell (Harper Collins Publishers, 2014).

By Derek Newman-Stille


As a sleeping curse spreads across the land, who would be better to awaken the sleeping princess at the centre of the sleeping curse than a queen who was once a princess who slept for a year in a coffin of glass. Neil Gaiman re-imagines the Sleeping Beauty tale by infusing it with a visit from Snow White. His tale is one about age and the fear that has been instilled in ageing women about the transformation into old age and the loss of beauty and youth that are treasured by patriarchy. Like the Snow White tale, Gaiman’s revision is a tale about the theft of youth and the fear of ageing. 

Gaiman links the image of the spindle, the sharp pointed tip and skein of yarn to the things that move while everyone sleeps – the roses with thorns sharp and cruel and the spiders that spin their own yarn over the sleeping populace, entwining them in a tapestry of magic. There is a macabre beauty to Gaiman’s twining of spiders and thorns and the evocation of the image of the spindle whose prick caused this 80 year sleep. 

Gaiman lets readers see the formation of a fairy tale as the people who are encountered in the tale each tell their own version of what has happened to this Sleeping Beauty, revealing the power of tales to shape themselves out of oral narratives and speculations. Gaiman plays with the power of names in fairy tales by bringing into the narrative the power of names, the forbidden quality of unspoken names, and the idea that names can be lost to years of history. 

As Gaiman often does, he misleads the reader, taking him or her down a path of uncertainty for a familiar tale, knowing that Gaiman’s path always diverts from the well-worn ones and into the darker parts of the woods that are strung with vines of potential.

Riddell’s artwork transforms Neil Gaiman’s story into a mixture of a Medieval illuminated manuscript and a grimoire that casts spells of enchantment over the eyes of the reader. Riddell’s art style keeps colour simple, mixing black and white with gold to add that gilded quality of an illuminated manuscript. His style is similar to the pre-Raphaelite painters with a focus on almond eyes and sleepy beauty – a perfect look for a tale about the spell of sleep. Text becomes part of the spell as letters drip into spindles of yarn, fall into spider webs, and form into rose thorns, binding the art to the text of the story. 


The Sleeper and the Spindle is a potion brewed of the distilled essence of Gaiman and Riddell’s styles, combining them into a form of magic that evokes the imagination and transforms fairy tales into tales of change and speculation.

To discover more about Neil Gaiman, visit http://www.neilgaiman.com

To discover more about Chris Riddell, visit http://www.chrisriddell.co.uk

To find out more about The Sleeper and the Spindle, vist http://www.harpercollins.ca/9780062398246/the-sleeper-and-the-spindle