I am delighted to be presented with the opportunity to introduce this rather charismatic musical video, “Cannibal,” which I hope will do its part in drawing a wider audience for the critical subgenre of the study of early-modern European folk erotica, a previously under-researched discipline which has gained traction of late in the field of folklore and sexuality studies, as evidenced by the plethora of superlative candidates with which I was presented when editing the recent volume Grimm and Bareback It: Sexual Heterodoxy in Popular European Folklore 1432-1860 (Bufferidge College Press: Hanover, 2012.) I cannot hope here to offer even an abbreviated history of the variously puerile and sensual variations of Anglo-Saxon tales that, qua Foucault, resistized the anti-erotic folkloric canon. I will instead focus on that long-simmering strain’s virulent resurfacing in the tale of Hansel (Gretel was a later invention of the Protestant revival), which, an archival study shows, was in its most popular variations less carnivorous and more frankly carnal — and which provides the ur-myth of the video that today’s audience will enjoy.
The sharp satire of Mr. Fentress’ account, in which we see barbed allusions to the social mores of his era, is classic Enlightenment commentary, in which ribald eroticism is exaggerated by its situation within the now-familiar folk tale. Those that could paint had long had possessed since the early renaissance in bulbous muscled illustrations an ample canvas to subversively assert their interest in the flesh with the excuse that they were practicing shading, and the Enlightenment interest in anatomy facilitated such flirtation. But in the Enlightenment, it was wit and humor that ruled, and through which underground writers wooed one another; sardonic shorts of this type may as well have served as sexual calling cards for other members of the intelligentsia.
The Baron Oscar de Winter’s telling of Hansel as “Cannibal” may be situated firmly in the homo-romantic reaction to Enlightenment science. To be an anguished body, half-beast, half-bound to the superstitions of the medieval past, half-seduced by civilization and its refinements, and above all, its cakes; and what’s more, to gain pleasure from the predicament, is the woe of the trauerspiel, which has been interpreted by a prevailing stream of German Literature Studies as representative of nascent modern mind: a pre-cursor to Hamlet’s dilemma of existence. Contra this, we present the popular parodies of the serious trauerspiel which spread to England and were nicknamed the Trauer-spill, for the colloquialism “spill one’s soul” or, in more plebian versions, “spill the beans” as to the authors’ sexual proclivities. It is this tradition which de Winter deploys in the Romantic period, though the genuine nostalgia of the genius’ of the time is such that it becomes hard to see whether the parody he inhabits may not be better described as “laughing through tears” – a genuine longing for a carnal, mythic, shape-shifting past.
Once upon a time in the forest there lived an old carpenter and his son, Handels. Throughout the land it was widely agreed by both man and beast that Handels had a great talent for singing, but alas, he was born to the wrong father, as the carpenter was as deaf as an oak (widely agreed to be the deafest of trees).
Entranced by his own voice, Handels grew up idle and indolent. He refused to learn any honest trade—not the life of a carpenter for him, nor that of tinker nor cooper nor miller nor even plumber (which would have been an easy job given that the forest’s plumbing system was rudimentary at best). What Handels wished for was the freedom to sing as he pleased. He was also greedy and wished for the freedom to eat cakes and jellies as he pleased, but he achieved better success with the singing. He’d spend hours traipsing around forest paths, till all the woodland beasts grew to know him and counted him as a friend and they would all gather around to hear him sing (except for Stork, who didn’t like music, and Badger, who did but preferred reggae). His father would admonish him constantly for this lack of a proper work ethic, but if the carpenter was deaf to music, Handels was deaf to all criticism.
When Handels turned fourteen, his father remarried. She was a tanner’s daughter, some twenty years his junior and down on her luck. She was also wanton. No sooner had the carpenter carried her across the threshold than her eyes did alight on sweet Handel’s face and she resolved to seduce him.
From then on, whenever Handels went into the kitchen, he’d find his stepmother wearing nothing but a blue-stripped apron, baking cakes in a most unhygienic fashion. And whenever Handels emerged from the shower (which was more of a bucket than a shower), he’d find his stepmother rushing to rub him down with a fluffy towel. And whenever he went to bed, his stepmother was there to tuck him in and jump on the bed a bit and stroke his belly.
Now Handels ignored all these advances. Not from any sense of propriety mark you rather, he was just oblivious. Singing and cakes were his only concern. If pressed on the matter, he might respond that his new stepmother had some boundary-issues and apparently didn’t know the meaning of personal-space. But he did appreciate the cakes, even if there was the occasional hair in them.
But the lecherous lady felt her advances spurned and it drove her to a rage. She worried too that the boy might tell his father all, and so she resolved to get rid of him. One night in bed she shouted into her husband’s ear all sorts of poisonous slander. She said Handels was shiftless and greedy and useless—which wasn’t so much slander as bare fact— and what with the price of flour and eggs these days, they really couldn’t afford to feed him anymore. She also unjustly accused him committing unnatural acts with the beasts of the forest.
(A passing bat, nature’s natural gossip, overheard this last remark and immediately went around telling everyone in the forest and the animals, who by in large are a conservative lot, organized a witch-hunt to find out who had committed the deed and eventually accused poor Badger. They promptly ostracized him, despite his vehement protests. He had to leave the forest, his possessions wrapped up in a bindle-staff, all the while murmuring to himself: “But I never even liked his music.”)
“Really,” The wicked stepmother said, “It would just be a kindness to leave that pervert to die of exposure in the forest. At least he’d go with his boyfriends around him.”
The carpenter, who frankly had noticed something fishy going on between his wife and son and didn’t like it one bit, quickly agreed. In fact he even suggested killing him right then and there, or at least selling him off into slavery. But his wife disagreed.
“No, no exposure. It’s what’s proper. I’ll take him tomorrow.”
She and the boy set off the next morning. When they reached the edge of the forest, the carpenter’s wife tied a loose thread from the hem of her dress to a bramble thrown. She told Handels to walk ahead and not to turn around. Slowly, slowly her dress unraveled and after walking all morning, she bade the boy to turn. The last knot of the thread was now undone and she was naked from toe to tit.
Handels really wasn’t prepared for this nor did he know how to react when she leapt upon him. As they lay in the grass, she began gushing out all sorts of wildly inappropriate things, chief among them that the boy should return to the house after dark and slit his father’s throat and steal all his money. They would then elope and he’d be free to sing all he wanted while she would do nothing but bake him cakes.
Now Handels was not particularly moral by any means, but even so, the thought of murdering his father and absconding with his stepmother seemed a bit too Greek for him. He refused and she, angered, turned and ran, taking the thread with her. When she got back to house, she told the carpenter that she had been savaged by a bear and had left Handels behind to enjoy it.
Handels was now alone and lost in the forest. He could not understand where all his woodland friends were. The only one he’d seen was Squirrel, who gave him a dirty look and squeaked “Deviant!” for no apparent cause.
He wandered forlornly for hours, getting hungrier all the while. He sang at first, but then someone threw a pinecone at him and so he stopped. He even began to seriously consider his stepmother’s plan, which, for all its faults, did contain cakes. Soon a great tiredness came over him and he rested against the trunk of a poplar tree.
When he awoke, he found he was lying in a suspiciously well-manicured clearing. He looked up and espied a great black tower rising erect above the trees. It was very shiny and, upon approaching it, he found he could see his reflection in its base. It felt smooth to touch, so very soft and furthermore it emitted out a most curious odor, which he quickly identified as liquorice. Hungry after so many hours, Handels gave the tower a tentative lick. The flavor was scrumptious beyond all measure and when he brushed the tip of his tongue against its side the tower seemed to quiver.
Throwing all questions and caution aside, Handels began to lick and lick and swore that as he did so, the tower seemed to grow in both height and firmness. He became lost in the taste of it, licking and sucking with such vigor that soon his mouth was covered with the black, sticky substance. Finally unable to resist any longer, he gave the tower a massive bite and to his shock, heard a loud cry of pain. The tower seemed to deflate a bit.
Handels pulled away. Out from a door emerged a rather hairy fellow dressed in leather trousers and green shirt. He was wincing as he walked, but when he saw the boy, whose cheeks were puffed up with so much liquorice, he smiled.
“Just who the hell do you think you are?” He said, but not too unkindly, “Going around eating the foundations of people’s houses? Is that considered normal in your parts, or are you afflicted by some form of pica?”
“No sir,” Said Handels swallowing, “the pharmacist gave me a special shampoo for it. I was just hungry, sir, I’ve been lost in these woods for hours.”
“Hours, eh? Your parents must be worried sick. Do you want to come inside and call them?”
Handels considered this.
“No sir, it’s alright. Fact is, things have gotten pretty weird at home lately and maybe it’s for the best that I don’t head back.”
At this, the man’s smile widened considerably.
“Let me guess, they caught you once too often chewing the walls. Probably tried to have you locked up, and right they were. Still, parents don’t understand everything. Why don’t you come in, I’ve made some supper, it’s not much, but you’re welcome to it.”
“Oh sir, I wouldn’t want to deprive you.” Said Handels, happily following the man inside the tower.
“Oh feel free. Fact is I rarely deprive myself of anything, but these days I’ve been on a diet.”
“Really? You hardly seem to need it.” And it was true the man seemed spectacularly built.
“Well sort of diet. It’s more that I only eat my favorite food. That and beets, for digestive purposes.”
Handels sighed happily in agreement. Would that he could only eat cakes and not have people force upon him vegetables or meat or fish or potatoes.
“It seems to do your figure wonders.”
“Well thankfully my favorite food only shows up occasionally on the menu. Otherwise I’d be fat fat fat.” Slapping his exquisite belly with each “fat”.
They had arrived in the man’s extremely large and rather tasteful kitchen. “Here, turn around a second, you’ve got liquorice on your face.” Handels did as he was told, and the man ran his finger around the edge of the boy’s lips, and then dipped it into his own mouth, sucking it beyond all decent measure. “Hmmmm… Salty…”
“Ummm… Say, what is your favorite food?” Said Handels, slightly uncomfortable at this turn of events.
“Idiot children.” Said the man and with that he grabbed the boy by the hair and threw him into the pantry. There was a large cage inside and before Handels could say: “liquorice”, the bars were slammed shut.
The man (or warlock as was written on his business cards) stood before the cage and smacked his lips thoughtfully:
“Yes, salty… A little gamey to tell the truth… really you do need a bit more fat on you, otherwise the skin won’t crisp the way I like it… Oh, that reminds me, I did promise you supper.”
Handels was screaming for his life, but he immediately quieted when he saw the warlock pull out the largest red velvet cake he’d ever seen. Even in his current predicament, he couldn’t resist, and when the cake was put inside the cage by means of a little side door, he began to scarf it down, heedless to all around him.
The warlock walked away whistling.
“Dinner party!” He sang to himself as he walked out the door, “Let’s see… I’ll invite B.B. Wolf, and that wicked witch Matilda, if she promises to return my movies, and I’ll get that Dwarf Rumples-whathisname from next door, and I definitely won’t invite Ogre, not after what he did to the bathroom… why is it so hard to get a decent plumber around here?...”
With that he shut the pantry door.
The dinner party was scheduled for next Thursday. Till then Handels was to eat all he could. He tried to resist, he really did, but the endless parade of cakes—chocolate, cheese, raspberry, Angel, marzipan—it was as if the Warlock did nothing but bake while he was waiting for lost children. Before long Handels could no longer fit in his cage he was so fat.
At night in the dark the Warlock would assess Handel’s weight. He would do this in a very peculiar manner, reaching inside the cage and stroking and feeling whatever parts he could reach. Handels would push himself to the far side of the cage and hold out a bone he’d found, hoping that it would convince the Warlock of his thinness. Amazingly this poorly thought-out plan worked for a while.
“Oh my God you’re so hard! And bony! No that won’t do at all. I’ll have to reschedule dinner.”
This went on for about two weeks until the night came when Warlock started groping about as usual and Handel stuck out his bone. This time, however, he felt a gentle tugging, and heard a deep, deep slurping sound. This went on some ten minutes, before a voice cried out in the dark:
“What the hell?... Is that… Bone marrow?! Ewww…”
After that the game was up.
The night before the big dinner, Handels was swinging forlornly in his cage. He sang to himself and recalled his happier days in the forest. He felt very lonely indeed.
By chance an ant wandering by overheard the soulful song and approached the bars.
“Pssssttt!!!” He said.
Handel looked down.
“Oh Ant! Surely my friends in the forest sent you! Hurrah! I thought you’d all forgotten about me. Oh, joyous day, thank you oh Lord. Are you to burn this place down? Do you have some means of setting me free?”
The ant looked at him long and hard.
“I just wanted to say,” He shouted in that nasal voice all ants have, “that me and Badger were engaged. Well, engaged to be engaged. He was going to tell his mother and everything. Now, because of you, he’s left the forest and the others have formed a public morality commission to ferret out any other interspecies. Thanks, you’ve set the whole movement back a generation. I hope they deep-fry you alive for what you’ve done. Man stealer. I’ll tell the worms not to bother with your corpse.”
He left Handels very confused and slightly depressed.
The day of the dinner was a beautiful one, so beautiful in fact that the Warlock decided to hold the dinner early and make it more of a late lunch. All the guests arrived in the early afternoon and there was much merriment in the kitchen, with especially B.B. Wolf, noted rascal, taking largge bites out of Handels even though he wasn’t quite ready yet or, for that matter, cooked at all. Matilda did her usual number and just sat at the kitchen table and plowed through the chardonnay and complained about how hard it was to find a man these days, a tirade that the Warlock listened too with no sympathy whatsoever. Rumplestilskin stayed in the bathroom for a suspiciously long time.
With great care, the Warlock trussed Handels up and basted him with rosemary and olive oil and then stuffed him with croutons. Handels kept on complaining, so eventually they shoved an apple in his mouth to shut him up.
Around three pm, just as they carrying poor Handels outside to where the large convection oven stood, a great commotion was heard. With hope in his heart Handels looked up and saw all the beasts of the forest and dale marching with grim determination. He was sure his hour of salvation had arrived. But alas! the marchers seemed less concerned with the dinner party, then with dinner himself. They carried placards with slogans like: “Against Nature!” and “It’s Bullock and Cow! Not Adam and Sow!” At their head marched a large rabbit wearing a pink sash upon which was written “Public Morality Committee Chairman.”
The Warlock set Handels down on the picnic table and approached the crowd.
“What’s this?” He asked, but was swiftly drowned out by cries.
“We won’t have it!” Shouted Duck.
“It’s disgusting!” Cried Bear.
“Think of the little cubs.” Barked Fox
“Think of the little tadpoles!” Croaked Bullfrog.
The rabbit jumped on the table and stood on Handels’ head.
“By order of the Committee of Public Morality, we find this Human guilty of heinous sexual practices and must be summarily executed for the good of the forest community.” And with that he gave Handels’ a kick. “Does the accused have anything to say?”
“Gnmf.” Said Handels, apple in his mouth.
“But we were about to have him for dinner!” Said the Warlock.
There was a pause and then a Stoat raised his claw:
“You mean give him a last meal?”
“No we were going to eat him for dinner.”
“You can’t eat him, we want to execute him!” Said the rabbit sternly.
“And how, pray, are you going to execute him?”
“By eating him!” All the animals roared at once, included ones that were conspicuously vegetarian.
The Warlock drew himself to his full height, he stepped up on the picnic and stood on Handels’ back. With of rhetorical flourish of his hands, he exclaimed:
“Friends, friends, surely we can come to some agreement. You want to eat him for horrendous acts, we want to eat because he looks scrumptious. You may have just cause, but I’ve been marinating him for six hours. Surely you wouldn’t do a poor cook such a disservice as to rob him of sampling his own efforts. Besides I’ve fed him from my own larder, given him cakes prepared with my own hands, surely you wouldn’t deprive my friends and I a nibble? Or a thigh? He’s all ready to go, just stay for dinner all of you, we can gladly accommodate the lot of you (although we’ll have to us paper plates). What do you say?”
“Hurray!” All the animals cried and helped themselves to punch.
Handels looked at the oven door, so shiny and final. He couldn’t believe it was going to end like this all he had ever wanted to do was eat cakes and sing. He didn’t deserve this, no singer did. Surely the universe did not work this way surely he was to be rescued.
Just then a mighty hollering was heard. A cry of “Timber!” resounded throughout the valley. All the animals looked up in panic. The witch Matilda threw up in her hat. B.B. Wolf jumped in fright into the compost heap.
In a red-checkered shirt that barely covered his brawny chest the Woodsman came. He had tight jeans and great beard. In one hand he bore a large, large axe and in the other, a brown paper bag. He looked sheepish.
“I’m sorry I forgot it was Sunday, the liquor store was closed, I had to run to the Deli instead. I bought some beer, hope that’s alright.”
“Oh Arnold, you’re hopeless.” Said the Warlock happily, kissing the Woodsman on the lips. He threw Handels into the oven.
“Hurray!” Shouted the animals, drunk off the punch, and they all had an orgy after dinner.
—Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot
Your Illustrious Highness, my Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen of the Court.
Within the sun dappled theatre of the forest, only the coloratura of the songbird is heard in recital. Only the songbird and the rustling of the leaves in harmony with one another. I walked through that enchanted forest on that early autumn day, the crisp air heavy with moisture, the morning’s dew still clinging to the boughs; the smell of fresh organic rot beneath me, the hint of wood smoke in the distance. Flown away here, at last! in this ancient woodland; far from cities, from royal courts, from all sense of duty.
Your humble escaped royal troubadour, you see, was trained only to recognise romantic value to the extent that it could alight his creative soul, and in turn alight an audience. His worth in society had been made painstakingly clear: he was a vessel for humanity, and it was his job to be filled with it, alchemise the contents, and pour the brew back to the source — but never to hoard. Can a bird sing only the song it knows, or can it learn a new song? From this question I found myself there, in that primeval forest, anonymous, stripped of pretence, and in search of new energy, as the cold, deathly chill of night rolled in. But what energy I found! for I could hardly believe my luck; a man, quite alone, like I, just when I needed him.
It was the encroaching storm that forced me to his door, though perhaps I was always bound for that isolated cottage; the wood smoke from the chimney drawing me closer, from inside the familiar smell of meat and pastry slowly baking. The house was ancient; rough hewn stone, surrounded by the now seemingly impenetrable amnion of black pine, sweet chestnut, and heady lindenbaum.
He smiled a crooked smile and put on my shoulder one huge paw, as I was greeted with warm Ausbruchwein to drink, sweet and the colour of newly spilled blood; enormous, freshly baked Buchteln served on a wooden platter; the smell of logs roaring in the hearth, as the door shut behind me, keeping me from the approaching squall. The room was decorated with the trappings of what appeared to be his trade; huge, gleaming rows of copper saucepans and dark cast-iron skillets lined the walls, row after row of keenly whetted knifes; cleavers for hacking through bone, all glimmering in the dancing firelight. On crude, dark hooks hung braces of black grouse, brown hare, red-legged partridge, impaled like the shrike’s bounty.
Dominating the room was a gargantuan wooden table, dark and heavy, upon which lay the detritus of his cooking. Chopping boards, pestle and mortar, huge mixing bowls, dark rust-red stains seeped into the grain of the wood. A mezzaluna rested upon the table; finely chopped plants picked fresh from the forest lay on the table, and he taught me their names: catsfoot, lamb’s quarters, horehound, spotted deadnettle. Above the great hearth hung, bound up, further herbs, mushrooms, bunches of drying flowers gathered from those eldritch woods, the aromatic flora slowly desiccating above the bittersweet smoke of the crackling, radiant fire. Glimmering gently in the gloom, cages filled the recesses of the vast room; some empty, some housing the flittering, chirruping shadows of birds.
Never had I seen a man of such vastness as my captor, my gourmand. A marvel that such finesse, such delicate culinary preparations in store for me could come from a man of such ungainly proportions! Potter’s hands, fit for clay, not the meticulous piping presented to me in all the sticky treats I would consume. His was the brawn suited to the abattoir, not the quaint kitchen he dominated with his broadness and mirth. Eyes a vivid amber, the colour of the Tokay he served me, the colour of the flames in his fire; but within those eyes lay a curious restraint, as if he fought an unending conflict with himself, a lycanthropic hunger in the iris, an inescapable black hole within.
I found my bed inside a gilded cage, more sumptuous than I could have expected even at the grand court of the Countess von Buhler. A lavish divan, in faded striped silks from the Orient - as if plucked from the the Seraglio itself – was furnished with plump pillows, patterned with fine damasks. He had hung a small birdcage within my boudoir; a tiny bird to sing my lullaby.
For days I was given the finest, sweetest delicacies to devour inside that cage; crumbling, sugary Punschkrapfen laden with apricot jam and moist with dark rum; delicate Vanillekipferl flavoured with almond and dusted white with powdery sugar; a towering Gugelhupf rich with Kirschwasser; rustic, buttery Linzertorte, latticed and the very image of a fairy tale, filled with the redcurrants of the forest. Too good to be true! But slowly the sweetness in my mouth turned sour, for an insidious anxiety crept into me; unsure of my host’s identity or intentions. Therewith I did not fall in love with that unbodied hope, but found no substance in what was only shadow. Is this exchange going to turn into a lifelong burden? Is this man going to be reasonable? The pastries I began eating with relish became devoured more out of habit, for I had nothing else to do there in that cage. Nothing to do but wait. Aware, deep in the back of my head of my purpose, I worried the fear I felt would foul my flesh. Such madness! Masochistic as it was, this desire to be desired was all that mattered; no use longing to be held tenderly, for that was not what I asked for in coming there, and in life are we not all doomed to get just what we ask for? And yet death is never a wholly welcome guest.
On the fourth evening, I awoke to a huge copper bathing tub placed by the great fire, steaming with hot water. So inviting it was that I it took my wakening state some time to realise that on the table lay a feast. In delicate array was a cornucopia of tantalising pastries; rich gingerbread diamonds of Haddekuche; sweet, sticky, vanilla Schnecken; armies of Stutenkerl gingerbread men in orgiastic piles; pumpkin-filled turnovers. Rich, dark fruits and berries peppered the banquet; bilberries, damsons, elderberries, blue-black sloes, and ripe, engorged peaches. Funereal candles in shades of forest green dripped pearls of shiny wax upon brightly coloured macarons, bottles of wine, dried figs.
My captor came from the shadows, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed, and beckoned me to climb inside the inviting water. My clothes were dispersed with, skinned rabbit that I am, and I was dressed instead with the cream from his badger hair brush and the warm embrace of the bath. I couldn’t help but look at the tub and draw such macabre parallels with the gleaming copper pots and pans that surrounded my ritualistic ablutions, but what ultimate joy in the careful ministrations delivered unto me! The tender caresses of the silvery blade, the closeness of my companion, the scent of warm sandalwood from the foam. Could this skin-on-skin contact be parlayed into a sexual truce with my host, this bird catcher? Would this extinguish the flame I left court to seek in the first place? All thoughts of possible flight soon slipped away, and a willing acknowledgement of my fate washed over me like the glimmering waters.
Verweile doch, du bist so schön.
You may forge your chains to bind me. Once dried, upon the table I was lain. Cords of rough hemp circled my arms and legs. And in that strange necromantic light, I caught myself in a dark mirror; I looked in wonder, charmed by myself, spell-bound, and no more moving than any marble statue. Lying prone I saw my eyes, twin stars, and locks as comely as those of Bacchus or the god Apollo, smooth cheeks, and ivory neck, and the bright beauty of countenance, and a flush of colour rising in the fair whiteness. I, the centrepiece. Bound, the sharp citrus tang of a lemon gagging me. Lost screams caressed the fruit in my mouth, but quickly began to reverberate at a more delicate frequency as my flesh was massaged and oiled with marinade and herbs.
Only when carried, stomach-down, ever closer to those literal flames I so metaphorically sought, limbs bound, flickering fire- spittle tickling his nostrils, did I spit out the fruit to cry out but three words. Three words, my noble listeners! The fortuitous entrance of Her Illustriousness the Countess von Buhler at the precise moment of my imminent immolation may appear to some to be the true sweet angel of deliverance, but I beseech you now, pray listen — and allow me this small indulgence — for I proffer an alternative view on this magnanimous extrication! My Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen, it was those three words — that new song — that saved me from the hellfire, from those Plutonian flames. Would you have me write novelles like the Countess of D’Anois? And is it not better to tell a plain truth? There is no plainer truth, noble listeners, than such a declaration: “I love you.”
(My tale is done. There runs a mouse; whosoever catches him may make a great, great fur cap out of it.)
This site is hand-coded by Beccatron Studios.