The inspiration for Gingerbread house

A little over a year ago, I was digging through a bin of used records, when I found a 60's-era box set of Hansel and Gretel the opera. After a brief internal debate, I chose not to buy it -- a decision which now seems regrettable, a missed opportunity with fate, even, given the story's appearance on my writing radar less than six months afterwards.

The desire to re-tell Hansel and Gretel as a dark story of suspense was something we had toyed with as a potential follow-up to First Bite. The dark nature of the story -- cannibalism, abduction, a psychotic child murderer -- seemed ripe for a mature version. The placid innocence of the tale is remarkable, given its core nature; contemporary society would find the subject matter too dark for children's bedtime stories. Leafing through a stack of antique opera books, I discovered that we weren't alone in recognizing this fact -- over one hundred years before, German composer Englebert Humperdinck would face a similar issue when adapting the story for a family opera composed with his sister.

Adelheid Wette, apparently, had the foresight to soften the story, blending it with another popular folk tale known as Little Brother, Little Sister to create a more lighthearted version (no more coldhearted parents flinging their children into the forest, apparently). While pondering what the composer's reaction was to his sister's initial version -- and picturing the family rehearsal at Christmastime -- a new possibility was born for our dark retelling of Hansel and Gretel.

We drafted the original concept without Humperdinck as a character in the novel -- except for the beginning and end; in the original outline, the story of the two children and the fairytale witch was the contemporary version. Our growing interest in the opera, however, and the research of its origins, prompted us to change the story to resemble Adelheid's version more closely.
Alterations have been made by various authors over the years to the tales of Grimm -- the sad consequences of the nationalistic spirit that gave rise to anti-Semitism and anti-Gypsy fervor among the populace and artistic community -- which reduces the qualms of any author when adapting a tale like "Hansel and Gretel". The darkness in its story, on which Humperdinck's audience would have heard in their childhoods, is equal to that of Grimms's darkest (and banned) tales depicting non-Germans in an unflattering light, although it does not recount the type of infamous folklore of atrocities committed against innocents by these supposed villains.

As for the inspiration for the book trailer, for that we thank Kevin MacLeod, whose bare-bones music box track made the theater of Humperdinck's nieces seem almost real in our minds.

The Origins of First Bite

The tale of "Snow White" -- told under more than one name -- remains one of the darkest classics in the Grimm brothers' canon of tales, inspiring film versions and novels both light and dark.

Its villainess remains one of the most diabolical figures in fairytale lore.

Originally, First Bite was intended as a tale of her origins; but the novel took on another form during the outline process. The Wicked Queen's perspective during the tale of Snow White, the scheme behind her cold-blooded attempt at murder -- these were aspects of her story that couldn't be ignored. Rather than write the biography of a wicked witch, it became a present-tense tale with retrospect interwoven. The Queen's servants, her past, the prophecy, the Magic Mirror, all became part of a bigger narrative behind-the-scenes of the original fairytale.

Like all good fairytale retellings, First Bite has a character more sympathetic than the wicked heroine or her too-innocent victim, supplied in the presence of Fortulla. She is goodness permanently linked to wickedness, it seems; a sign of fate as much as the mirror's prophecy or the mark placed on each of the Queen's victims by her servants.

In the midst of reader fascination with vampires and supernatural figures, the Queen's "blood cult" or coven is a contemporary choice; but the "cradle snatching" and black markets for the dark arts are inspired by tradition -- along with the "confessions" of condemned witches and the almost-Samuel Pepys journal references from discreet practitioners of the dark arts.

The Queen's story is built upon references to the Jewish legend of "Lillith", the first wife of Adam; the grim threads of Stoker's sensational Dracula and the unseen places implied in every witch-tale in fantasy lore becomes part of her character as the tale of innocence and red apples unwinds.


Into the Dark Woods

Because all dark stories need a place to call home.
Is there an element of darkness in every tale? We think so, after reading countless volumes of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, of unidentified storytellers whose tales -- sometimes sweet, sometimes gruesome -- are now all but forgotten in our culture.
Retelling these tales as complex, intricate stories is a form of art in itself. From Robin MacKenzie's sentimental Beauty to Maguire's smart rendition Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, unseen possibilities in the original tale rise to the surface.
The common thread remains the darkness, the element of the unexplained or uncommon in every tale. A shadow cast over the innocent setting, the darkest part of the forest where anything can be hidden. Where lost children become the targets of dark creatures, where acts of evil go unnoticed, where encounters with the surreal are made possible if only the trick of a desperate mind.
Can the Dark Woods be comic? We think so; humor can exist in the macabre, in even the Grimmest of Grimm tales. Can it be romantic? Of course -- even to the point of an ending almost-happily-ever-after.
Bringing a touch of the primary world, an element of reality into a fairytale, charges it with new life. The diversity of the characters (this, in a form of storyteller that included every figure from ghosts and genies to God, the Devil, and his grandmother) only expands.
History frees, rather than fetters. The limitations of the real world are undone by the presence of the unexplained.
The shadow of the woods may cast its spell anywhere.