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Literature / The Gingerbread Man

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"You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man!"

"The Gingerbread Man" (or "Gingerbread Boy") is the anthropomorphic protagonist of the Fairy Tale of the same name. The Gingerbread Boy makes his first print appearance in the May 1875 issue of St. Nicholas Magazine.

In the original tale, a childless old woman bakes a gingerbread boy who runs away upon creation. 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 when a crafty fox tricks the Gingerbread Boy and eats him.

The story and character make several appearances in popular culture such as Shrek and its sequels, the novella The Gingerbread Girl by Stephen King, Good Eats, or Skepta's 2009 Album Microphone Champion with the track "The Gingerbread man". He's also recast as a mass murdering villain in Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear.

In various versions, the Gingerbread Man is replaced by a rolling pancake or another regional delicacy.

This story provides examples of:

  • Anthropomorphic Food: The Gingerbread Man himself is a sentient cookie.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Played with. The fox wins, because he eats the gingerbread man, but the rest of the antagonists lose, because they don't get to eat him.
  • Catchphrase: The Gingerbread Man taunts everyone with a specific line that is usually something like "Run, run, run as fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man!"
  • Cunning Like a Fox: The fox is the only one who succeeds in eating the Gingerbread Man because he tricked him into climbing onto his back.
  • Downer Ending: The Gingerbread Man is eaten by a fox, also making the others' chase for nothing.
  • Foul Fox: The fox kills another sapient being for sustenance.
  • Fragile Speedster: The little cookie can outrun grown humans, but is eventually killed with a single bite from a fox.
  • The Hero Dies: The story ends with the Gingerbread Man getting eaten.
  • I Taste Delicious: The Gingerbread Man is quite aware how much everyone wants to eat him. He doesn't try any part of himself, but most versions of the story end with him being devoured.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: In some versions, the old woman deliberately created the Gingerbread Man because she couldn't have real children. Which probably makes her the fairy-tale equivalent of a Motherly Mad Scientist...
  • Let's Meet the Meat: The title character is a sentient, ambient confection, and all the other characters want to eat him.
  • Public Domain Character: The story and character have long fallen into the public domain, hence why Gingerbread Man is such a staple character in fairy tale parodies.
  • Sapient Eat Sapient: The Gingerbread Man has human-level intelligence, but that doesn't stop other humans and sapient animals from wanting to eat him.
  • Super-Speed: Implied. The Gingerbread Man is at least fast enough to easily outrun grown humans!
  • Swallowed Whole: In some versions, the fox eats the Gingerbread Man in one bite; in other versions, a few bites.
  • Talking Animal: The fox and the farm animals are not anthropomorphic, but they can all speak.
  • Wonder Child: Subverted. The Gingerbread Man comes to life but doesn't want to stay with his "parents," and it's implied that they would happily eat him.