Friday, January 21, 2011


Short Story by Camille Alexa
Read for PseudoPod by Claudia Smith

Hansel and Gretel are drug-addicted teenagers in a rehab clinic. They fall in love over a couple hits of acid, save up pills for a bribe, and make their escape. Of course, then they become lost in the woods and stumble on a strange cottage with an old woman in it. The rest of the story is pretty much the same as you'd expect.

There are two main changes from the fairy tale: Hansel and Gretel as teenagers in love rather than siblings, and the running theme of drug addiction. Other than that, the kids are actually starving, rather than greedy, and the witch is a lot more sinister and obvious, daily eating little strips of skin and body parts, rather than being just implied to want to eat them. I'm not sure that the love adds much, just that Gretel tends to be self-sacrificing to save Hansel because he thinks she is beautiful. The teenage love is intense and irrational and maybe sweet for some readers, but I don't believe it improves the story over the original.

The drug theme, on the other hand, is the only important innovation over the traditional story. It does change things, and as the only change besides description, I think the success of the story hangs on this. Being lost in the woods is a metaphor for addiction, made all the more clear by the witch deliberately getting the kids addicted to a strange, powerful opium-like drug. The orderlies watching TV all day, taking bribes, and tacitly encouraging the kids not to take their medication (so they can sell it back to the orderlies as bribes) is an interesting replacement for the trail of breadcrumbs. What should have been a way out of addiction disappears without the kids even realizing it, by self-interested orderlies rather than forest creatures. The kids are finally able to find their way back to the road when they throw away the witch's opium pipes during their escape, completing the metaphor.

The witch herself is an interesting creation in this version. She apparently feeds on escaped kids from the rehab clinic, but laments how much harder she has it compared to the good old days when it was a hospital for morphine-addicted civil war soldiers. She's definitely a supernatural entity, I suppose the door is left open for most of the witchy details being part of some kind of drug trip, but I prefer a more literal reading. It is surprising that more isn't done with the effects of her magic drug though, and how that alters the perceptions of the kids.

Gretel makes a nice journey, overcoming both her various addictions (better when fighting a witch than with a bunch of uncaring, corrupt orderlies) and her fear and lack of action. She starts off compliantly going along with the witch, then subtly defying her for the sake of Hansel, and eventually taking action to save both of them. A real bit of personal growth there, with self-sacrifice and inner-beauty and all that. I think Hansel might be brain damaged though, he just repeats "You're beautiful," over and over for the whole story.

To summarize: Gretel is a good character who changes over the course of the story, the witch is a terrifying supernatural creature who also facilitates drug addiction to keep her victims in line, and the whole story is one big modern addiction metaphor. Some descriptions are a bit overkill, and I'd like to have seen a bit more than the basic simplicity of the original, but I liked this one well enough. 3.5 opium witches out of 5.

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