The Evolution of “Hansel and Gretel” into “All for Beauty and Youth”
by Kelly A. Harmon
(appearing in Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales, funding now http://tiny.cc/GandG)
How can I tell you about the evolution of Hansel and Gretel into my steampunk story All for Beauty and Youth without spoiling it? With difficulty! So I’ll tell you why I chose H&G, and then dance around the spoilers by teasing you with updates I made to bring the story into the Victorian Era.
There were a number of reasons I chose to rewrite Hansel and Gretel. One is because it’s so common, that almost everyone knows the story—you’ll find variations of it in several cultures. I wanted the challenge of taking something achingly familiar and re-imagining it into something much more exciting. I knew modernizing it wouldn’t lose the basic premise: two abandoned children having to make their own way in the world. So, despite my changes, the story would still be recognizable. It was important for me to maintain that.
Hansel and Gretel is not rewritten as often as Cinderella or Rapunzel or others. That gave me some leeway in how I wanted to tell the story, allowing me to create something unique—I hope.
But perhaps the biggest reason I chose to rewrite Hansel and Gretel is because I like the idea that it’s Gretel who saves them both from death (not her older brother), and that she does so using her own wits and skill. (Unlike Cinderella who had a faerie godmother, or Snow White who had seven minions…) It’s fun to write about people who make their own luck—especially when you’re going to do your worst to them!
In rewriting, I began with the setting. Steampunk is often set in Victorian England or the Wild West. But with names like Hansel and Gretel—unless I wanted to transport them elsewhere (and invent a plausible reason for doing so)—the German states seemed best. That’s why, in the first scene, you’ll find a slightly older Hansel and Gretel running away from their heinous stepmother toward the Bahnhof Hamburg—the train station in Hamburg.
Why are they running away? After all, in the original story it’s the stepmother who pushes them out of the home because she’d rather see them starve then face rationing her own chow.
Isn’t she delightful? In my version of the story their stepmother Franziska is still selfish and self-centered. More so, actually—I’ve upped her game, poor Hansel and Gretel—but telling you how she treats them will spoil it, so my lips are sealed.
Since I was re-writing in steampunk, I needed some steam, some pistons and gears, gas lamps and parasols. This story has it, from the steam engine in Hamburg to the automaton in the pharmacy and the clockwork birds at the end….
But I didn’t want to re-write H&G and only have steampunk window dressing. In order for this to be satisfying, at least to me, I needed a steampunk device worthy of attention—and intrinsic to the story. So the old witch in my story is not a purveyor of sweets bent on roasting and eating poor Hansel and Gretel—a steampunk oven was not going to cut it.
The old hag needed a career change, a face lift, and just like the step-mother, a name. So, without giving anything else away to you, I present the beautiful Frau Kleinschmidt and her Youth and Beauty Elixir.
Now, go read the story if you want to know more. 😉