Thursday’s Tale: Happy Ending for the Lost Children

Illustration by Charles Robinson from The Big Book of Fairy Tales edited by Walter Jerrold, 1911.
Illustration by Charles Robinson from The Big Book of Fairy Tales edited by Walter Jerrold, 1911.

I’ve got another poem today for my Thursday’s Tale. It’s not a funny one, though. It’s a take on Hansel and Gretel. “A Happy Ending for the Lost Children” is from Starting from Sleep: New and Selected Poems by Charles Martin.

A Happy Ending for the Lost Children
by Charles Martin


One of their picture books would no doubt show
The two lost children wandering in a maze
Of anthropomorphic tree limbs: the familiar crow

Swoops down upon the trail they leave of corn,
Tolerant of the error of their ways.
Hand in hand they stumble onto the story,

Brighteyed with beginnings of fever, scared
Half to death, yet never for a moment
Doubting the outcome that had been prepared

Long in advance: Girl saves brother from oven,
Appalling witch dies in appropriate torment;
Her hoarded treasure buys them their parents’ love.


“As happy an ending as any fable
Can provide,” squawks the crow, who had expected more:
Delicate morsels from the witch’s table.

It’s an old story—in the modern version
The random children fall to random terror.
You see it nightly on the television:

The yellow tape that winds its way around
The lop-eared bear, the plastic ukulele, shattered
In a fit of rage—lost children now are found

In the first place where we would think to look:
Under the fallen leaves, under the scattered
Pages of a lost children’s picture book.


But if we leave terror waiting in the rain
For the wrong bus, or if we have terror find,
At the very last moment the right train,

Only to get off at the wrong station—
If we for once imagine a happy ending,
Which is, as always, a continuation,

It’s because the happy ending’s a necessity,
It isn’t just a sentimental ploy—
Without the happy ending there would be

No one to tell the story to but the witch,
And the story is clearly meant for the girl and boy
Just now about to step into her kitchen.


This poem struck me because it reminds us of the timeless nature of fairy tales, that with little twists, today’s headlines are the fairy tales from centuries ago. The things that scared us then are the things that scare/anger us now. Parents who are more concerned about their own comfort than their children’s safety. Children left alone to fend for themselves. Young women locked away from society, whether in towers or a house in Cleveland. The charismatic man leading a town’s children astray, getting them hooked on drugs or luring them into prostitution. We’ve all met wolves and witches, although perhaps there aren’t as many helpers and fairy godmothers as we would wish.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.

Melissa at Mommy Wants to Read is featuring “The Wonderful Birch” today.


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