Page 45 Review by Stephen
The drawings came first.
They are eerie, awful things, crawling with shadows, swirling in darkness, with the thickest of tree-trunks blotting out the sky.
Stark, dark and black with just a glimpse of white light, they are cold and claustrophobic, evoking all the bleakness of a land ravaged by soldiers to the point of being all but barren, bringing those few inhabitants left to the brink of starvation.
That is why the mother persuades the father to drag their children the ancient forest to be left to fend for themselves. Yes, "drag", the second time; just look at the angle of Mattotti's three figures!
"Nobody said anything about killing anybody. We'll take them deep into the forest, and lose them."
"We" won't do anything. She will make him do that.
"They will be fine. Perhaps a kind person will take them in, and feed them. And we can always have more children," she added, practically.
"A bear might eat them," said the woodcutter, dejectedly. "We cannot do this thing."
"If you do not eat," said the wife, "then you will not be able to swing an axe. And if you cannot cut down a tree, or haul wood into the town, then we all starve and die. Two dead are better than four dead. That is mathematics, and it is logic."
Terribly, Hansel's stomach is so cramped with hunger he cannot sleep and overhears that entire conversation.
I've read many versions of this tale which the Brothers Grimm themselves tinkered with in different editions; none evoked quite this same sense of physical starvation or moral malnutrition. I've found almost all illustrations running contrary to the contents with their colour and candysticks. Here the old woman's domestic lure looks more like some occidental pagoda, its furnace primed for human flesh raging in the darkness.
Not an ideal Christmas present, I grant you, but highly recommended all the same.
Illustrated prose BTW.