While Taylor Swift has taken a lot of credit of late for, like, inventing cottagecore with Folklore, others have also reminded that fellow “tastemaker” Marie Antoinette was an original champion of the concept while also only relishing the structure and trappings thereof for their aesthetic value. Not the actual work-related practices behind the upkeep of such a milieu (and why would Taylor or Marie [in her day] be bothered with considering such things when they have a coterie of “helpers” to perform these types of mundane tasks anyway?). So if one wants to turn their attention briefly away from these two pale-skinned blondes to be reminded that there are oh so many reasons why there’s nothing glamorous or “serene” about “the cottagecore life,” look no further than Hansel and Gretel. A classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale (which means it was ripped off from someone else) detailing the two young children getting ensnared in the machinations of a cannibalistic witch with a “totally Insta-worthy” cottage made of candy and other delectable sweets (and even window panes made out of pure sugar a.k.a. children’s crack cocaine), Hansel and Gretel were briefly bamboozled into being charmed by the idyllic setup of life in the woods. Well, they sort of had to tell themselves they were charmed by it, what with being abandoned by their parents and all in that very spot due to the simple non-virtue of the inherent gluttony that comes with youth. In short, amidst a famine, the parents had to choose: us or them.
So sure, there’s nothing more bucolic than a dark, scary forest that your parents decide to abandon you in because they can no longer afford to feed you. And even as clever as Hansel thought he was (he’d be the guy who was sure that his portable charger could last long enough to find reception on his phone to map them out of the hairy situation… though not as hairy as the nostrils of the witch that would soon lure them to her “cozy,” candy-constructed gingerbread abode), the bread crumbs he left behind as a path to navigate their way back were consumed by the birds. Just one of many “iconic” images from the story that do not depict cottagecore existence in a very favorable light. Even if it’s the sun setting kind of light that Bob Ross would try to make the most of.
Like all desperate people wanting to believe in something good because to do otherwise would send them toward the path of suicide rather than simply being murdered, Hansel and Gretel at first thought this scary woman “older than the hills” was a true blessing. That her comfortable beds and array of country-fresh food offerings could at least be a consolation during the rest of their childhood, having known that their father and mother (even if so often portrayed as just another evil stepmother) left them for dead because they viewed them as nothing more than two voracious mouths that could not be fed. Despite the trauma of what their own blood had done to them, they were still somehow too naive to see that there was a very clear ulterior motive behind the “old lady’s” kindness. An old lady who was, in actuality, a cannibalistic sorceress with a ravenous enough appetite to wield her house as bait for children, her specific flavor preference of human (in many ways, one tends to think Albert Fish got a lot of inspiration from her).
Quickly pulling the red carpet treatment out from underneath them, the witch locks Hansel in a cage and instructs Gretel to help her fatten him up. Not exactly in keeping with the “cushy,” “snuggled down” vibes of most people’s Pinterest boards in terms of cottagecore. As the clock keeps ticking on Hansel’s inauguration into the oven, the witch grows increasingly irritated that he remains thin (really just preying on her blindness by presenting to her a bone in the cage as his finger), deciding to say, essentially, “Fuck it, I’ll just have to eat a gamey piece and get it over with.” In the meantime, she tries to lull Gretel into a false sense of security by telling her that she should be the one to open the oven for her brother. Sensing her trickery, Gretel, impish child that she is, feigns not knowing how to open the door so that the witch irritatedly demonstrates it for her, giving Gretel the in to push her through and save the day. And yeah, it was a lot more straightforwardly suave and badass than Hansel’s wannabe “genius” plan with the bread crumb maneuver that only succeeded in marooning them in the witch’s part of the forest.
We can pretend baking your own bread and hiking around a bit in between sitting by the fireplace and knitting sounds romantic… “Arcadian.” But, like those mourning veils that were so popular in the 1800s with the hidden ills of the crape they were made out of (filled with toxic chemicals that could soon kill off the mourner as well), “cottage life” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Especially if one is actually putting in the true work required for the maintenance of such a property instead of merely relishing the photoshoot potential there and then dipping out when they get bored. For those who live a genuine agrarian life often cannot just pick and choose if they want to abandon their “cottage” for a little time among so-called civilization. Not even Hansel and Gretel after robbing the witch of her precious jewels, for their father, in all likelihood, probably started squandering the bounty they brought back to him when he met yet another new wife. So what’s the moral? Parents are often self-serving assholes who shouldn’t have had kids in the first place if they didn’t want to transcend that selfishness and the enjoyment of the cottagecore scene actually requires–gasp!–labor. In these respects, it’s as though Hansel and Gretel was a tale made just to take an undercutting swipe at millennials.