The Gingerbread Man
The Gingerbread Man (also known as The Gingerbread Boy or The Gingerbread Runner) is a fairy tale about a Gingerbread Man'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. A gingerbread boy as hero is a uniquely American contribution to the tale type. Modern twists on the tale include a gingerbread cowboy in a Wild West.
In the 1875 St. Nicholas tale, a childless old woman bakes a gingerbread man who leaps from her oven and runs away. The woman and her husband give chase but fail to catch him. The gingerbread man 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 man 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.
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 man halts in his flight at a riverbank, and after accepting the fox's offer as a ferry, he finds himself eaten mid-stream.
In some retellings, The Gingerbread man taunts his pursuers with the famous line:
- Run, run, run as fast as you can;
- You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man.
Similar tales, variants, and adaptations
The 1897 St. Nicholas tale is not the first about a runaway food. In Slavic lands, a traditional character known as Kolobok (Russian: Колобок) is a ball of bread dough who avoids being eaten by various animals. These tales are considered Aarne-Thompson type 2025.
"The Pancake" ("Pannekaken") was collected by Peter Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe and published in Norske Folkeeventyr (1842-1844), 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). 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. The Roule Galette story is a similar story from France.
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. 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. Runaway food tales are classified in the Aarne-Thompson classification system as AT 2025: The Fleeing Pancake.
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. 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 Señor 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 Gingerbread 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.
- SurLaLune: "The Annotated Gingerbread Man." Retrieved 1 November 2008.
- D. L. Ashliman, The Runaway Pancake: folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 2025
- Ashliman, D. L., ed. and transl.. "The Runaway Pancake: folktales of Aarne-Thompson type 2025." Retrieved 2 November 2008.
- Jacobs, Joseph; Batten, John D. (1894). "The Wee Bannock". More English Fairy Tales (2nd ed.). London: David Nutt. pp. 66–70 & notes: 227.
- Hanlon, Tina L.. "Runaway Cakes and Gingerbread Boys." Retrieved 1 November 2008.