You may be unfamiliar with Hansel and Gretel, unless your mother also read you weird old charity shop fairy tales, because it is simply too creepy to have ever survived the great Disney de-Grimm-ification machine.
|Where the wilderness is.|
But the siblings get the upper hand through deception, and they burn the witch alive. Reckoning they are now confined to a life of crime, they steal her life savings before fleeing the scene. Upon locating their father and presenting him with the plundered witch loot, they find he is suddenly filled with an unprecedented bout of paternal affection.
My children love this story. They ask for it every night, then hover at my elbows, enraptured. Their favourite bit is when the witch pops out of the cottage and says, and I quote: "Gotcha, nasty nippers!"
Now in the hours leading up to bedtime, they assume the identities of Hansel and Gretel. They dig out an old witch hat from last Halloween, and shove it in my direction, their eyes lit with excitement. "Say it Mama," they whisper, "say nasty nippers!"
I say the magic phrase in my best witch voice, which sounds about like Lauren Bacall spliced with Alvin the chipmunk. Then I stoke the fire in my oven (their play tent) and wait for the inevitable.
Boy, am I tired of being shoved head-first into that play tent by Hansel, while
Although it's hardly surprising for London children to be worried about kid-phobic adults on weird diets, I was initially baffled by their love of peril. However, after reading about a little boy lost over continents, time and transport, I changed my mind.
Children not turnips. Before they can run or speak their angst, they know an ancient truth: the world is a dangerous place full of child-sized traps.
Scary stories, and struggles against nightmare monsters, are just practice for the world. Fluffy stories about bears and disembodied solar baby heads (actually, that one scares me) are by contrast pretty pointless.
This afternoon I assumed my witch alter ego and I locked my youngest nasty nipper in her crib at her request. A shadow shot past me and slunk towards the crib.
"Don't worry sis" said my elder nipper, "I will save you."