Thursday, April 26

Grimmoire 32: Clever Hans

I'm digging "Clever Hans." There's something about the way it reads like bad drama and a repetitive nursery rhyme all at once.

Hans and his mother have a series of conversations. They conversations are identical except for the lesson learned and the way it is applied the next time Hans goes out. Mama asks where Hans is going, he always replies "To Gretel's." She bids him to take care, he says good-bye. At Gretel's, after a cordial greeting she asks if he has anything for her. "Didn't bring anything. Want something from you," he says in his best clipped Bavarian.

And every time Gretel gives him something and sends him on his way.

Whatever Gretel gives him Hans mismanages. She gives him a needle, he stores it in a hay wagon. He tells his Mama and she tells him he's stupid, that he should have stuck it in his sleeve. "I'll do better next time," our Mama's boy says. But the next time Gtetel gives him a knife and he sticks that in his sleeve, like his Mama told him. And it continues, Mama pointing out what he should have done, Clever Hans following his mother's instructions the next visit despite the fact that the item changes and require different care and treatment. Gretel gives him a goat and he stuffs it in his pocket. She gives him bacon and he drags it home on a rope. She gives him a calf he wears it on his head.

Finally Gretel gives herself to bring home to his mother (more on this in a moment) allowing herself to be tied like an animal, taken to the barn and have grass thrown at her. When he reports this to his mother she once again admonishes his behavior, telling him he should thrown friendly looks at her. What does he do? He goes to the barn and cuts out all the eyes of the cows and sheep and throw them at her. Gretel has finally (!) had enough and leaves.

"And that was how Hans lost his bride."

First, I love that this is 99% dialog. The repetition, the constant set-up and pay-off for each of Clever Hans' exchanges with Gretel has a feel of a campfire story, a very contemporary one at that. I also like that Hans (or Hansel) and Gretel seem to be archetypes of German boy and girl pairings, like Jack and Jill or Dick and Jane.

But here's a funny story about a thick-headed boy who is sent by his mother to court this girl and she is going along with it. Is Hans is the village idiot? Is Gretel getting something out of the arrangement far greater than a husband because she seems to put up with this fools behavior all the way to the very end? The girl always asks what he has for her and he's always empty handed, asking for something in return, and she gives him a trifle, a token, something designed to force his mother to send him back.

I really don't want to tread too far out on the ice on this one, but am I reading too much sexual tension in this story of expectation and unfulfilled desire? Everyone seems so keen on getting this dummer Kopf to give something to Gretel until finally, exasperated, she has Hans drag her home so that perhaps she can get some friction with the guidance of his mother. Even that sounds weirder than I'd intended, but there it is.

And then you get the title: Clever Hans. Is it ironic, or is Hans playing the fool, refusing to take part in this arrangement? There's no mention of Gretel being beautiful or to his liking and perhaps Hans has no intention of giving in to the arrangement made between the girl and his mother. It would better explain why Gretel would put up with his foolishness if she was getting the better part of the deal, and why the mother would keep encouraging her boy despite his willful ignorance. Finally, his mother gives him the perfect out, to throw adoring eyes at her, and he performs his gross act in a masterstroke of deal-breaking. Being tied to a stable and having grass thrown at you might be a small price to pay, but then to witness the butchering of livestock and be pelted with their eyes, that'll send anyone running.

Yeah, I could have dug this around the campfire when I was a Boy Scout. I don't know what that says about me, but there it is.
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