In certain fairy tales, children can be the heroes. This can be inspiring for young children to hear, as they will come to believe that anything is possible. Children are perceived as the symbol of innocence and are often not believed to be dangerous. This can work to their advantage in many cases.
One of the most popular fairy tales with children as heroes is “Hansel and Gretel” by the Brothers Grimm. Although the story has several dark themes, both of the siblings care a lot about each other. Both have roles that determine the final outcome of their situation. Hansel first tries to take care of his sister by preparing to scatter small stones and later bread crumbs so that the two can find their way back home. When this is unsuccessful, he continues to tell Gretel to have faith. After getting caught in the witch’s house, Gretel becomes the one in the position of heroic action since Hansel is barred up while being fattened up to be eaten by the witch. Gretel finally is able to outsmart the witch and push her into the stove before Hansel is to be cooked. The children are then able to escape the gingerbread house and find their way back home. Gretel’s compassion is truly seen when she tells Hansel that they must cross the big water separately as the duck is unable to support them both. According to Bettelheim, the actions of Gretel at the end of tale demonstrate that she has truly matured and overcome the earlier anxieties that both she and Hansel faced.
Here is an image of Hansel and Gretel in the new movie called Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. I think it is interesting that they are much older than children in this movie. Clearly, it is an adaptation and retelling of the original Grimm tale. I suppose the perception nowadays is that children would be unable to take care of themselves in the wild, like the way they were able to in the original story.
Another fairy tale that is similarly categorized with “Hansel and Gretel”, in that there are children acting as heroes is “Molly Whuppie”. In this story, the child hero is a little girl; which when not compared to “Hansel and Gretel” could be considered unusual. She is described as clever and this helps her to succeed in saving her family after being abandoned in the woods. Through trickery, she is able to outsmart the giant they are entrapped by. After escaping, she continues to use her cleverness to return to the giant’s home and steal items that will ensure her sisters’ future safety and economic security. According to Bettelheim, this is done through “comic relief”, which is often less well-received than the drama of “Hansel and Gretel” (183, Bettelheim). Nonetheless, Molly Whuppie is a heroine who relies on unorthodox ways to achieve happiness.
Children as heroes can be exciting to hear in a tale. It helps to further reinforce the ideas of development, maturity, and growth. There will come a time in each child’s life where they must move beyond the help of their parents; and this could involve some heroic efforts.