Traditional Literature Essay


Folktale: Hansel and Gretel
Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm is a narrative tale and one can easily read it aloud to children. It is about two siblings whose father is a poor woodcutter and can no longer afford to feed the family. The cruel and selfish mother convinces the woodcutter to abandon the children in the forest, which he sorrowfully does. The children make their way back home the first time because Hansel is clever enough to drop stones as their father takes them into the forest. The stones reflect the moonlight at night and Hansel and his sister follow them home. The mother is furious, however, and so they do it all over again—but this time Hansel uses breadcrumbs, which the animals of the forest eat. So they are left to wander. Eventually they arrive at a witch’s house. She pretends to be friendly but then locks Hansel in a cage and plans to fatten him up to eat him. Gretel tricks the witch into climbing into the oven to see if the fire is hot enough, whereupon the girl slams the door and the witch and she burns up. The siblings raid the witch’s house and carry gold and jewels with them back home. The mother is dead (or gone in some versions) and the father is overjoyed to have his children back.

It is a tale that most people are familiar with because it has been translated and adapted so many times all over the world. It is hard to tell whether the sound or feel of the country of the Grimms is preserved in the tale as it is found in English. The names are certainly German, however. The illustrations match the text and help to tell the story for children, and the style is contemporary so that the pictures are big and colorful. There are no rich flourishes in the telling of the tale—i.e., no epic similes or rhymes—but there is a bit of a stylistic flourish when the two children begin eating the witch’s candy house and she says, “Neeble neeble like a mouse, who is nibbling at my house?” Children do like the dramatic nature of the tale and the vivid ideas in it—such as a witch’s house made of candy.

Myth: Odysseus and the Cyclops

In the story by Homer, the myth of Odysseus and the Cyclops begins with Oedipus arriving at the island where the Cyclops lives with his sheep. Odysseus is there with his men and they hide from the Cyclops in the cave. Since the Cyclops is a man-eater, the men are afraid, but Odysseus blinds the Cyclops with a stick by shoving it in the monster’s...…the corrupt Prince John. All the while Robin Hood wins the love of Maid Marian and has to save the poor townspeople from a corrupt Sheriff. Eventually King Richard returns to put Prince John in his place and allow Robin Hood to marry Maid Marian.

This is a legend that has been told so many times and in so many different ways over the centuries that no two versions are alike. The 20th century version is the one that includes the adventures described above. It is full of colorful characters that children would love, such as Friar Tuck and Little John. The tale does not really reflect a narrative storytelling style in the sense that one would expect to hear it being told out loud—but one could do so.

The tale does preserve something of the sound and feel of the English culture from which it originates. The names and characters and places and actions are all from a medieval time in England and that comes through clearly in the story. Sherwood Forest is a very English sounding location, for instance, as is Nottingham.

The illustrations match the tone of the text and capture the essence of the culture and the story employs a rich literary style, using assonance and consonance to make the language sound melodic. The vocabulary is also colorful thanks to the English…

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