Birthday Reviews: Howard Waldrop’s “Kindermarchen”

Birthday Reviews: Howard Waldrop’s “Kindermarchen”

Cover by Brian Lei
Cover by Brian Lei

Howard Waldrop was born on September 15, 1946.

Waldrop won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette and the World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction for his story “The Ugly Chicken” in 1981. His chapbook A Dozen Tough Jobs won the Readercon Award for Short Work in 1990. Waldrop’s work has also been recognized with nominations for the Hugo Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the British Fantasy Award, British SF Association Award, Philip K. Dick Award, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, Sidewise Award, the Compton Crook Stephen Tall Memorial Award, and the coveted Balrog Award.

Waldrop first published “Kindermarchen” on Lou Antonelli’s website, Sentinel Science Fiction in January 2007. Later that year, Waldrop reprinted the story in his collection Horse of a Different Color: Stories.

“Kindermarchen” is a brief story that is based on the German term for a fairy tale, Märchen. It is also a retelling of the story of Hansel and Gretel. In Waldrop’s version, Hansel and Gretel’s woodchopper father and their stepmother live in a small village in a kingdom ruled by ogres. With a war raging between their kingdom and the neighboring ogrish kingdom, a decision has been made to evacuate children when the war comes too close. The stepmother is on the committee to decide which local children should be evacuated when the time comes.

The explanation for the stepmother’s committee doesn’t quite add up, although the father accepts it and explains it to his children. When his children are selected to evacuate, although it is clear that the decision originated from afar, there is nothing the father or stepmother can do to stop the evacuation. Hansel suggests that they leave a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back to the village without considering what might happen when they return.

Once Hansel and Gretel leave home, the story diverges from the traditional tale. An ogre leads the parade of children (Kinder marchen) to their new home, a village where there are plenty of candies and sweets for the children. As soon as the ogre tells the children about this, the reader knows where the story is going and Waldrop ends his tale. Although he has provided the explanation for what is going on that the reader needs and expects, it still feels like the story is incomplete.

Reprint reviewed in its the collection Horse of a Different Color, by Howard Waldrop, Small Beer Press, 2013.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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