Fairy Tale Mock Trial

By Derek Newman-Stille

This is an activity I have designed for my Fairy Tale students at Trent University that allows them to explore fairy tale texts in a unique and exciting way, while also developing argumentative skills. The mock trial format allows them to critically interrogate the text and develop arguments from their exploration. I was inspired to develop this activity by watching “How to Get Away With Murder”.

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How to Get Away With Murdering a Fairy Tale Witch: The Trial of Hansel and Gretel

Why a Trial?

It develops several academic skills including:

  • How to create well-structured arguments
  • Augmenting your critical thinking skills
  • How to critically analyze an opposing argument and use evidence to respond to these arguments
  • Oral discussion skills

This type of debate is like scholarship. In academic research, you have to see the points someone else has raised about your topic and create responses to those points that are more persuasive.

The trial will allow you to interact with the text in a unique way, examining it as an evidentiary document. You will find that you remember more about the text.

This is an exploration of active learning since you have to learn on the spot as things are happening around you.

Above all – IT IS FUN!!

 

Instructions:

You will be divided into two groups: the prosecution and defence. It is the job of the prosecution to represent the state and prove that the person or people on trial are guilty. It is the duty of the defence to prove the innocence of the accused person. You will be divided randomly to make this more exciting and to allow you to develop an argument that you may not entirely agree with.

Read through The Grimm Brothers’ “Hansel and Gretel”. Mine this text for evidence of BOTH sides – remember, you will have to think in advance of any arguments the opposing side may come up with and counter them. Ask yourself: What are the details of the case? What could Hansel and Gretel be accused of? Consider what would be compelling arguments to persuade a jury.

Make sure not to speak while the other side is presenting their arguments. Take notes silently and observe so you don’t miss anything.

The Trial

  1. Take 10 minutes to confer with the rest of your legal team and play your case. Each person in the group should contribute. Make sure to take notes while the other side is presenting their case so you can counter them.
  2. Each of you will then have 10 minutes to present their case. Prosecution first, and then defence. Each member of the group should try to make at least one point.
  3. Take 5 minutes to prepare a rebuttal of the opposing team’s statements. Rely on the notes that you took when the opposing team was speaking.
  4. Each of you will then have 10 minutes to present their case. Prosecution first, and then defence. Each member of the group should try to make at least one point.
  5. Your professor will judge the trial and determine the guilt of Hansel and Gretel.

 

 

 

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Harvested

HarvestedA review of Garth Nix’s “Hansel’s Eyes” in A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (Aladdin Paperbacks, New York)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Hansel’s Eyes”, Garth Nix’s re-telling of the Hansel and Gretel tale, the two siblings cope with parents who are constantly trying to get rid of them. Set in a modern urban environment, Hansel and Gretel generally cope with these attempts at abandonment by bringing maps, compasses, water, and food. However, when their ‘hagmother’ decides to use chloroform on them, they wake up in an abandoned part of the city, run down due to economic decay.

Lured into a video game store that is the only thing still functioning in the abandoned parts of the city, Hansel and Gretel are abducted by a witch to be harvested for their organs and sold piece-by-piece to wealthy members of society. 

Nix transforms the original tale of hunger and cannibalism into a modern re-visioning of wealth disparity and the treatment of the poor as disposable commodities. Nix points to the issues with the current economic system in its exploitation of the bodies of the economically oppressed in order to make further wealth for the rich, but rather than exploiting the labour of these bodies, he makes this bodily deprivation literal, illustrating the dangers in de-valuing the lives of people in poverty and elevating the lives of the wealthy. Nix illustrates that we are already living in a cannibalistic society that feeds off of bodies in poverty through exploitation, funnelling the excess of wealth to a smaller and smaller population. 

The connection between organ harvesting and the Hansel and Gretel tale is made more explicit by portraying the witch as blind and wanting new eyes. Despite the ableist potentials of this tale by presenting a woman with disabilities as the villain (as so many fairy tales do), Nix creates a complex tale of the consumptive narrative of modern capitalism, making Hansel’s eyes just another part of the system that consumes bodies in order to benefit the wealthy and powerful. In this case, the power represented is magic and its seductive quality is illustrated by Nix in his portrayal of the allure of magic for Gretel and the danger of her forgetting where she came from in order to access this new level of influence and potency. 

To discover more about Garth Nix, visit http://www.garthnix.com 

The Sweet Taste of Mortality

The Sweet Taste of Mortality

A review of Jackson Pearce’s Sweetly (Little, Brown and Company, 2011).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Hansel and Gretel is a tale of hunger and displacement. Focussing on the two children losing their home due to hunger and eating of a witch’s house and inspiring her to try to eat them, the tale is one where a loss of home and hunger are intertwined. Jackson Pearce sets her Hansel and Gretel revision in small town America where populations dwindle as people search for homes in areas where they can get work and where the economy is starving. 

Her brother and sister team are re-named Ansel and Gretchen and they end up moving into a small town candy shop owned by a young woman named Sophia. Sophia has been blamed with the loss of young women who leave each year to seek work in larger cities and she is ostracised because she is seen to be responsible. In this blame game, Jackson Pearce points to the other side of the fairy tale, the side of gossip and the tales that spread through small towns as people seek to find people to blame for the social issues that occur in their town. The town is also living its own “once upon a time” by constantly trying to portray itself as the quaint but prosperous community it once was, glorifying its past to hide from the issues in its present.

Where the town is glorifying the past, Ansel, Gretchen, and Sophia are all trying to hide from their pasts, changing themselves from the people they once were to avoid the threat of traumatic memories. They carry traumas of the past with them as they seek to re-make themselves and find new possible ways of interacting with the world, wanting to change themselves. 

Yet, this is not just a tale of economies in small town America. The woods are places full of horrors and places where no one wants to wander off or get lost. Pearce’s tale is filled with magic, but it is also filled with horror and fear. Ansel, Gretchen, and Sophia are all linked by a desire to make things better, but they are also linked by a shared fear, an uncertainty about the future and the threats that proliferate around them.

To discover more about Jackson Pearce, visit her website at http://jackson-pearce.com/sweetly/ 

Ozpressed

Ozpressed
A review of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (ReganBooks, 1995)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Gregory Maguire’s Wicked is a tale of oppression and marginalisation. Maguire centralises his narrative on the life of the Wicked Witch of the West from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, giving readers the opportunity to question the singular portrayal of a narrative and opening up the possibility that any narrative only speaks one truth among many. Maguire explores the Wicked Witch’s life from her own perspective, giving new context to her tale and examining her as a marginalised figure.

Like many figures who have been socially assigned to the category of “problem”, Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, had characteristics that others could point to as “different”. She was the only green skinned person in Oz, making her a target for discrimination, assumptions about her origins, and threats to her safety. Even her own father thought that she was a physical manifestation of his own sin, illustrating the compulsion to moralize difference.

Elphaba’s birth and life come at a time when the social political situation of Oz is already uncertain. The citizens of Oz have sat by while the Wizard of Oz has exploited the existing discriminatory attitudes of the citizens to launch campaigns of rights denial, ghettoisation, and ultimately extermination for Oz’s marginalized populations. Elphaba, a person who has lived her entire life through the lens of discrimination, launches a campaign of freedom fighting against the Wizard, seeking to find a place for herself in the world by getting rid of the horrors of the world.

Steeped in philosophical debate about the nature of evil, battles of political discrimination, and, of course, fairy tale battles against those who inherit the title “witch”, Maguire’s tale is fundamentally one about belonging. It is about the desire for home, and the question of whether a home can be made or something one has to be born into. It is about what constitutes belonging and who doesn’t belong when we create barriers around belonging. And, of course, it is about the horrors visited on those who the people in power decide don’t belong.

To discover more about Gregory Maguire, visit http://gregorymaguire.com