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Whitman Giant Tell-A-Tale edition, 1963

The Gingerbread Boy (also known as The Gingerbread Man) is the anthropomorphic protagonist in a fairy tale about a cookie's escape from various pursuers and his eventual demise between the jaws of a fox. The Gingerbread Boy makes his first print appearance in the May 1875 issue of St. Nicholas Magazine in a cumulative tale which, like "The Little Red Hen", depends on rhythm and repetition for its effect with one event following hard upon another until the climax is reached.[1] A gingerbread boy as hero is a uniquely American contribution to the tale type.[1] Modern twists on the tale include a gingerbread cowboy in a Wild West.

Contents

Plot

In the 1875 St. Nicholas tale, a childless old woman bakes a gingerbread boy who leaps from her oven and runs away. The woman and her husband give chase but fail to catch him. The gingerbread boy then outruns several farm workers and farm animals while taunting them with the phrase:

I've run away from a little old woman,
A little old man,
And I can run away from you, I can!

The tale ends with a fox catching and eating the gingerbread boy who cries as he's devoured, "I'm quarter gone...I'm half gone...I'm three-quarters gone...I'm all gone!" - a detail often omitted in subsequent versions.[1]

Variations on the original tale do occur. In one of these variations, the fox feigns indifference to the edible man. The cookie then relaxes his guard and the fox snatches and devours him. In some versions, The Gingerbread Boy halts in his flight at a riverbank, and after accepting the fox's offer as a ferry, he finds himself eaten mid-stream.[1]

In some retellings, The Gingerbread Boy taunts his pursuers with:

Run, run as fast as you can;
You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man.[1]

Text

"The Gingerbread Man"[2]

Now you shall hear a story that somebody's great-great-grandmother told a little girl ever so many years ago:

There was once a little old man and a little old woman, who lived in a little old house in the edge of a woods. They would have been a very happy old couple but for one thing -- they had no little child, and they wished for one very much. One day, when the little old woman was baking gingerbread, she cut a cake in the shape of a little boy, and put it into the oven.

Presently she went to the oven to see if it was baked. As soon as the oven door was opened, the little gingerbread boy jumped out, and began to run away as fast as he could go.

The little old woman called her husband, and they both ran after him. But they could not catch him. And soon the gingerbread boy came to a barn full of threshers. He called out to them as he went by, saying:

I've run away from a little old woman,
A little old man,
And I can run away from you, I can!

Then the barn full of threshers set out to run after him. But, though they ran fast, they could not catch him. And he ran on till he came to a field full of mowers. He called out to them:

I've run away from a little old woman,
A little old man,
A barn full of threshers,
And I can run away from you, I can!

Then the mowers began to run after him, but they couldn't catch him. And he ran on till he came to a cow. He called out to her:

I've run away from a little old woman,
A little old man,
A barn full of threshers,
A field full of mowers,
And I can run away from you, I can!

But, though the cow started at once, she couldn't catch him. And soon he came to a horse. He called out to the horse:

I've run away from a little old woman,
A little old man,
A barn full of threshers,
A field full of mowers,
A cow,
And I can run away from you, I can!

But the horse ran, and couldn't catch him. And he ran till he came across a fox, and to him he called out:

I've run away from a little old woman,
A little old man,
A barn full of threshers,
A field full of mowers,
A cow and a horse,
And I can run away from you, I can!

Then the fox set out to run. Now foxes can run very fast, and so the fox soon caught the gingerbread boy and began to eat him up.

Presently the gingerbread boy said, "Oh dear! I'm quarter gone!" And then, "Oh, I'm half gone!" And soon, "I'm three-quarters gone!" And at last, "I'm all gone!" and never spoke again.

Analysis

Heidi Anne Heiner views the brief introduction to the 1875 St. Nicholas tale ("Now you shall hear a story that somebody's great-great-grandmother told a little girl ever so many years ago..."), as one that supports women's role in story-telling. She comments,

"It is interesting to note the chain of female storytellers shown in this introduction. A grandmother told a little girl who is apparently now passing along the story as an adult to another generation. While this introduction is primarily a literary device here, it still supports the role of women as storytellers and heads of the kitchen where gingerbread is made."[1]

Similar tales, variants, and adaptations

The 1875 St. Nicholas tale is not the first about a runaway food. In Slavic lands, a traditional character known as Kolobok (Russian: Колобок: from "kolo", around, and "bok", side) is a ball of bread dough who avoids being eaten by various animals.

"The Pancake" ("Pannekaken") was collected by Peter Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe and published in Norske Folkeeventyr (1842-1844),[3] and, ten years later, the German brothers Carl and Theodor Colshorn collected "The Big, Fat Pancake" ("Vom dicken fetten Pfannekuchen") from the Salzdahlum region and published the tale in Märchen und Sagen, no. 57, (1854).[3] In 1894, Karl Gander collected "The Runaway Pancake" ("Der fortgelaufene Eierkuchen") from an Ögeln cottager and peddler and published the tale in Niederlausitzer Volkssagen, vornehmlich aus dem Stadt- und Landkreise Guben, no. 319.[3]

Joseph Jacobs published "Johnny-Cake" in his English Fairy Tales (1890), basing his tale on a version found in the American Journal of Folk-Lore.[1] Jacobs' johnny-cake rolls rather than runs, and the fox tricks him by pretending to be deaf and unable to hear his taunting verse. In "The Wee Bannock" from More English Fairy Tales (1894), Jacobs records a Scottish tale with a bannock as hero.[1] Runaway food tales are classified in the Aarne-Thompson classification system as AT 2025: The Fleeing Pancake.[1]

About 1900 in America, a gingerbread man was generically known as John Dough. He took the stage as a character who has no qualms about being eaten in A. Baldwin Sloane's musical, The Gingerbread Man (1906). L. Frank Baum's John Dough of John Dough and the Cherub (1906) and The Road to Oz (1909) is life-sized creation and scared of being eaten, but ultimately sacrifices his hand to save a child's life.

Modern literary runaway food tales include Ruth Sawyer's Journey Cake, Ho! (1953), a tale about an old couple and their "bound-out boy", Johnny, whose journey-cake is chased by the boy and a variety of animals.[4] Some tales have ethnic settings such as Eric Kimmel's The Runaway Tortilla (2000) about a desert-roving tortilla who avoids donkeys, rattlesnakes, and buckaroos only to be defeated by crafty Sẽnor Coyote; the Hannukah version called The Runaway Latkes (2000) by Leslie Kimmelman; and Ying Chang Compestine's Chinese New Year tale, The Runaway Rice Cake (2001). Peter Armour's Stop That Pickle! (2005) is a tale about a runaway deli pickle. His pursuers include a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Modern twists on the tale that retain a gingerbread cookie as protagonist include Janet Squires' The Gingerbread Cowboy; The Gingerbread Kid Goes to School (2002) by Joan Holub; and Lisa Campbell's The Gingerbread Girl (2006). In Campbell's tale, The Gingerbread Man's parents mourn his death and then bake a gingerbread daughter. In keeping with the author's disappointment at the original tale's sad ending and The Gingerbread Boy's gullibility, Campbell's Gingerbread Girl outwits the fox that ate her brother and lives happily ever after.

In 1992 Jon Sciezka published "The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales". "The Stinky Cheese Man" is a rendition of "The Gingerread Man" where the cheese man runs away from everyone fearing they will eat him, when really everyone just wants to get away from his smell.

Allusions in popular culture

  • The novella, The Gingerbread Girl by Stephen King was published in Esquire Magazine, July 2007.[5]
  • In the mixed martial arts event UFC 83 (April 2008), a bout between Kalib Starnes and Nate Quarry gained Starnes the nickname 'The Gingerbread Man' after he fled from his opponent for fifteen minutes.
  • In the Terry Gilliam film, The Brothers Grimm, a girl becomes covered in enchanted mud, which hardens, and seemingly transforms her into a black gingerbread "man". As it runs away, it yells "You'll never catch me! I'm the Gingerbread Man!
  • In the Bill Willingham comic book Fables, the Gingerbread Man is seen at the Farm (the home to non-human fables) and later in a bonus story.
  • On the baby show Teletubbies on an episode and the tape Teletubbies Nursery Rhymes the Teletubbies watch a boy read his little brother the fairy tale The Gingerbread Boy and on the episode a Voice Trumpet pretends to be the gingerbread boy.
  • Skepta's 2009 Album 'Microphone Champion' also has a track entitled 'The Gingerbread man', which was written followomg Skepta's keen passion for pastry and baking. A reference to this through the song is 'They said i've got a basic flow, no, i've got an amazing show, Halifax know im making dough'

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i SurLaLune: "The Annotated Gingerbread Man." Retrieved 1 November 2008.
  2. ^ St. Nicholas Magazine (May 1875), pp. 448-449.
  3. ^ a b c Ashliman, D. L., ed. and transl.. "The Runaway Pancake: folktales of Aarne-Thompson type 2025." Retrieved 2 November 2008.
  4. ^ Hanlon, Tina L.. "Runaway Cakes and Gingerbread Boys." Retrieved 1 November 2008.
  5. ^ Stephen King (2007-06-27). "The Gingerbread Girl: An Excerpt". http://www.esquire.com/fiction/fiction/gingerbread0707. Retrieved 2008-12-07. 
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