Arts + Design

Neil Gaiman’s Hansel & Gretel has an unexpected inspiration

Oct 28, 2014 /

Neil Gaiman writes stunningly original stories that can make the skin crawl and the teeth chatter. But his latest work might sound familiar: it’s an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm breadcrumb dropper, Hansel & Gretel.

Hansel & Gretel by Neil GaimanA collaboration between author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti for Toon Books, Hansel & Gretel is a swirl of inky lines with our hero and heroine always at a distance, as lost in the chaos of the images as they are in the forest. The setting here is no fairy tale — Gaiman sets his retelling of the story in a war zone. This decision was inspired after visits to two refugee camps in Jordan where Syrian refugees are building their lives as their country continues to fall apart. (Watch: Melissa Fleming: Let’s help refugees thrive, not just survive.)

“In the early Grimms versions, there was famine in the land,” Gaiman told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last month. “Talking to some of the Syrian refugees who ran out of food, telling me about getting permission from their imam to eat cats and dogs because all the other animals had gone — about eating grass, drinking swamp water — I thought, ‘This is Hansel & Gretel now.’”

Gaiman wrote much more in The Guardian about what he saw on the trip. “Everyone I talk to in the camps has a nightmare story,” he writes. And to him, the connection to the Grimms’ story is clear. “It’s about hunger, and about families,” he tells Variety. “It reminds us of how paper-thin civilization really is.”

Gaiman says he has been waiting all his life to adapt Hansel & Gretel. Below, some sample pages from the dark reimagining of this fairy tale:

Gaiman visited refugee camps in Jordan with the UNHCR. Melissa Fleming, the head of communications for the agency, recently gave a TED Talk. Watch it below:

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Related articles:

Read what Gaiman had to say about the social function of ghost stories at TED2014 »

Another take on the Syrian refugee experience »

Bonus: This book is headed to the big screen. TED’s own Juliet Blake is developing a live-action version. Read more via Variety »