Hansel and Gretel Illustrated by Kang San

Many illustrative examples of Hansel and Gretel (Grimm et al., n.d.) exist, from the modern to the atypical style of a land far, far away. The story is inherently violent and features weak, flawed, abusive, and evil characters. Combined with abandonment and cannibalism, it is one of the most disturbing stories that still exists in mainstream children’s literature today.

There is a grittiness to the story that is often diluted by overly whimsical illustration, too neat and fluffy to truly reflect the peril the children are in, and the fear that is woven into their story.

Whilst it could be argued that illustrations of a darker nature could make this a negative experience for the young readers overall, I can’t help but draw upon the feeling I would get as a child when I would take my sister’s book about mythological creatures from the shelf, and scare myself by looking at the illustration of the Minotaur on the cover. I’d tentatively open it and look at Medusa and Cyclops before putting it down, pulling the duvet over my head and lying awake and wide eyed, for what seemed like hours, before I could go to sleep. Sure enough, I’d repeat this routine at least once a week. Looking at it now, it was the risk factor that drew me in. I wanted to be scared from a safe distance. The chance to look at something curious and frightening close up, with no real threat. Ultimately, it made me curious to actually find out more and read up on the subject, but it was all about the pictures at first, they had me hooked. This was alluded to by Liudmyla Smalko (2014) while researching modern trends and themes in children’s literature. She asserts that “Violence is an important, if unpleasant, aspect of the world that has endured for centuries and continues today, therefore, it is a relevant and worthwhile topic to focus on in children’s literature.” I find myself increasingly agreeing with this idea and believe that rather than finding a way to dampen the interest, we should be looking for ways to present, examine and deal with it.

Looking at these illustrations by Kang San made me think back to my sister’s book. Although the children are drawn in a whimsical and childlike way, this is at odds with the other elements and characters, which adds contrast in an unusual way. The disparity between the look of the characters adds a sense of unease that fits the story that’s unfolding.

1. Kang San, Hansel and Gretel. 2008

In this image (1), the sheer size, use of shadows and sophisticated features of the witch dwarf the children.  The contrast in the character styles is enough for us to decide that the children are in trouble. The textures and movement add an air of uncertainty, while the witch bears the colours of black, white and red – the atypical and highly symbolic colours of females within fairy tales – red as blood, white as snow, black as crow (Luthi, 1982).

2. Kang San, Hansel and Gretel. 2008

The image of the children hiding behind the tree (2) has been given an ethereal atmosphere by the use of imperfect textures and floating ephemera. Purple is usually connected with anything mystical and the grotesque shape of the witch peeping out from behind the tree is compelling and, I would imagine, exciting for a child to see. The witch hasn’t been diluted, or made to look cute, and the children look like innocent dolls, ready to be snatched.

3. Kang San, Hansel and Gretel. 2008

This image (3) shows the impact of lighting particularly well, and it’s an area I would like to bring into my own practice. San’s use of white space in all of these images is definitely something I can learn from, as is the deliberate and symbolic palette. This is an emotive collection that has the ability to heighten your senses due to the careful and considered use of contrast, colour and texture.

GRIMM, J., GRIMM, W., ZIPES, J. and DEZSO, A. (n.d.). The original folk and fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.

LUTHI, M. (1982). The European Folktale: Form and NatureTrans. John D. Niles. Philadelphia:Institute for the Study of Human Issues.

SAN, K. (2017). Kang San. Klimtbalan.blogspot.co.uk. [Online] Available at: http://klimtbalan.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/kang-san.html [Accessed 13 Nov. 2017].

SMALKO, L. (2017). English children’s literature: modern trends in themes and narrative strategies. [Online] Esnuir.eenu.edu.ua. Available at: http://www.esnuir.eenu.edu.ua/handle/123456789/11059 [Accessed 13 Nov. 2017].

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