Hansel and Gretel

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Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1909

"Hansel and Gretel" (/ˈhænsəl/ or /ˈhɑːnsəl/ and /ˈɡrɛtəl/; German: Hänsel und Gretel[1]) is a well-known fairy tale of German origin, recorded by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. Hansel and Gretel are a young brother and sister threatened by a cannibalistic witch living deep in the forest in a house constructed of cake and confectionery. The two children save their lives by outwitting her. The tale has been adapted to various media, most notably the opera Hänsel und Gretel (1893) by Engelbert Humperdinck and a stop-motion animated feature film made in the 1950s based on the opera. Under the Aarne–Thompson classification system, "Hansel and Gretel" is classified under Class 327.


(The following summary is based on an 1853 version, discussed by Iona and Peter Opie in 1972.)

Hansel and Gretel are young children whose father is a woodcutter. When a great famine settles over the land, the woodcutter's abusive second wife decides to take the children into the woods and leave them there to be by themselves, so that she and her husband will not starve to death because the children eat too much. The woodcutter opposes the plan but finally and reluctantly submits to his wife's scheme. They are unaware that in the children's bedroom, Hansel and Gretel have overheard them. After the parents have gone to bed, Hansel sneaks out of the house and gathers as many white pebbles as he can, then returns to his room, reassuring Gretel that God will not forsake them.

The next day, the family walks deep into the woods and Hansel lays a trail of white pebbles. After their parents abandon them, the children wait for the moon to rise and then they follow the pebbles back home. They return home safely, much to their stepmother's horror. Once again provisions become scarce and the stepmother angrily orders her husband to take the children farther into the woods and leave them there to die. Hansel and Gretel attempt to gather more pebbles, but find the doors locked and find it impossible to escape from their house.

Illustration by Ludwig Richter, 1842

The following morning, the family treks into the woods. Hansel takes a slice of bread and leaves a trail of bread crumbs to follow home. However, after they are once again abandoned, the children find that birds have eaten the crumbs and they are lost in the woods. After days of wandering, they follow a beautiful white bird to a clearing in the woods and discover a large cottage built of gingerbread and cakes, with window panes of clear sugar. Hungry and tired, the children begin to eat the rooftop of the candy house, when the door opens and a "very old woman" emerges and lures them inside, with the promise of soft beds and delicious food. They comply, unaware that their hostess is a wicked witch who waylays children to cook and eat them.

The next morning, the witch locks Hansel in an iron cage in the garden and forces Gretel into becoming a slave. The witch feeds Hansel regularly to fatten him up, but Hansel cleverly offers a bone he found in the cage (presumably a bone from the witch's previous captive) and the witch feels it, thinking it is his finger. Due to her blindness, she is fooled into thinking Hansel is still too thin to eat. After weeks of this, the witch grows impatient and decides to eat Hansel even if he is not fat.

The witch prepares the oven for Hansel, but decides she is hungry enough to eat Gretel, too. She coaxes Gretel to open the oven and prods her to lean over in front of it to see if the fire is hot enough. Gretel, sensing the witch's intent, pretends she does not understand what she means. Infuriated, the witch demonstrates and Gretel instantly shoves the witch into the oven and slams and bolts the door shut, leaving "The ungodly witch to be burned to ashes", with the witch screaming in pain until she dies. Gretel frees Hansel from the cage and the pair discover a vase full of treasure and precious stones. Putting the jewels into their clothing, the children set off for home. Some swan ferries them across an expanse of water and at home they find only their father; his wife died from unknown causes. Their father had spent all his days lamenting the loss of his children and is delighted to see them safe and sound. With the witch's wealth that they found, they all live happily ever after.

History and analysis[edit]

Illustration by Theodor Hosemann

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm heard "Hansel and Gretel" from Wilhelm's friend (and future wife) Dortchen Wild[2] and published it in Kinder - und Hausmärchen in 1812.[3] In the Grimm tale, the woodcutter and his wife are the children's biological parents and share the blame for abandoning them. In later editions, some slight revisions were made: the wife is the children's stepmother, the woodcutter opposes his wife's scheme to abandon the children and religious references are made.[4]

The fairy tale may have originated in the medieval period of the Great Famine (1315–1321),[5] which caused people to do some desperate deeds like abandoning young children to fend for themselves, or even resorting to cannibalism.

Folklorists Iona and Peter Opie indicate in The Classic Fairy Tales (1974) that "Hansel and Gretel" belongs to a group of European tales especially popular in the Baltic regions, about children outwitting ogres into whose hands they have involuntarily fallen. The tale bears resemblances to the first half of Charles Perrault's "Hop-o'-My-Thumb" (1697) and Madame d'Aulnoy's "Finette Cendron" (1721). In both tales, the Opies note, abandoned children find their way home by following a trail. In "Clever Cinders", the Opies observe that the heroine incinerates a giant by shoving him into an oven in a manner similar to Gretel's dispatch of the witch and they point out that a ruse involving a twig in a Swedish tale resembles Hansel's trick of the dry bone. Linguist and folklorist Edward Vajda has proposed that these stories represent the remnant of a coming-of-age rite-of-passage tale extant in Proto-Indo-European society.[6][7] A house made of confectionery is found in a 14th-century manuscript about the Land of Cockayne.[2]

The fact that the mother or stepmother dies when the children have killed the witch has suggested to many commentators that the mother or stepmother and the witch are metaphorically the same woman.[8] A Russian folk tale exists in which the evil stepmother (also the wife of a poor woodcutter) asks her hated stepdaughter to go into the forest to borrow a light from her sister, who turns out to be Baba Yaga, who is also a cannibalistic witch. Besides highlighting the endangerment of children (as well as their own cleverness), the tales have in common a preoccupation with food and with hurting children: the mother or stepmother wants to avoid hunger, while the witch lures children to eat her house of candy so that she can then eat them.[9] Another tale of this type is the French fairy tale The Lost Children.[10] The Brothers Grimm also identified the French Finette Cendron and Hop o' My Thumb as parallel stories.[11]


  • It was adapted to an opera Hänsel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck, first performed in Weimar on December 23, 1893.
  • "Hansel and Gretel" was first adapted for television by the BBC, who broadcast it on December 23, 1937.
  • In 1982, Hansel and Gretel was a TV special directed by Tim Burton for The Disney Channel with Andy Lee and Alison Hong as the title characters, Jim Ishida and Michael Yama as the Wicked Witch.
  • In 1987 movie adaptation of Hansel and Gretel featured Hugh Pollard and Nicola Stapleton as the title characters, with David Warner, Emily Richard and Cloris Leachman as the Witch.
  • In 2002 there was a movie adaptation of the classic story. There were a few new characters such as the fairy sandman.
  • Hansel and Gretel is featured in Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics under its Grimm Masterpiece Theater season.
  • Hansel and Gretel appeared in Sesame Street with Hansel performed by Peter Linz in Season 36, Heather Asch in Season 37 and Matt Vogel in recent episodes while Gretel was performed by Noel MacNeal in Season 36, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph in Season 37 and Stephanie D'Abruzzo in recent episodes.
  • In the 2011 animated film Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil, Hansel and Gretel, voiced by Bill Hader and Amy Poehler respectively, are portrayed as two fat German children who have been kidnapped by an evil witch, thought to be the main antagonist.
  • Mickey and Minnie starred as Hansel and Gretel in a cartoon shown in Disney's House of Mouse.
  • Hansel and Gretel appear in the TV series Once Upon A Time played by Quinn Lord and Karley Scott Collins. Hansel and Gretel are gathering kindling as their father cuts wood, but the father disappears. The Evil Queen captures the children and, in return for their being returned to their father, orders them to visit the Blind Witch (who lives in a gingerbread house) and retrieve a satchel. The witch is thrown in the oven and the children return with the satchel, containing a poisoned apple. The children are offered a home but would rather be with their father, so the Queen throws them out. The Queen has their father but refuses to release him. In Storybrooke, the children Nicholas and Ava Zimmer are homeless after their mother's death while their biological father is a mechanic named Michael Tillman in Storybrooke and reluctant to be a parent. Later, when Emma was taking them to Social Services in Boston, she pretends that her car breaks down and calls him. When he arrives to tow her car, she tells him to at least see them before making a decision. He takes them in after all.
  • In 2013, Paramount Pictures released the movie Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters with Hansel played by Jeremy Renner and Gretel played by Gemma Arterton. It finds the brother and sister team all grown up and after witches that prey on young children using steampunk-esque weaponry. During the movie, they learn that their mother was a Grand White Witch and Gretel is therefore a witch herself with their immunity to the powers of Evil Witches being a hex cast by their mother.
  • Hansel & Gretel, a 2013 direct-to-DVD mockbuster produced by The Asylum and directed by Anthony Ferrante, starred by Dee Wallace, Brent Lydic and Stephanie Greco.
  • Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft, a 2013 version distributed by Lionsgate and directed by David DeCoteau, starred by Eric Roberts, Vanessa Angel, Booboo Stewart and Fivel Stewart.
  • Howard Waldrop adapted the story for "Kindermarchen," (2007) a story which institutionalized the children's departure from home in a horrific way.
  • Henjel Gwa Geuretel, a 2007 South Korean horror film directed by Pil-Sung Yim.
  • In 2009 Lazy Bee Scripts came out with Hansel and Gretel, a short musical. http://www.lazybeescripts.co.uk/Scripts/script.aspx?iSS=928
  • The 1954 cartoon Bewitched Bunny featured Bugs Bunny saving Hansel and Gretel from the Wicked Witch by pretending to be a truant officer.
  • 2013 ballet for the Royal Ballet updates the story to the 1950s America, and draws on contemporary reports of children imprisoned for years, such as Austria's Fritzl case. The ballet premiered in the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio in Covent Garden, London, with a site-specific set designed by Jon Bausor. The dark, adult-orientated production opened to mixed reviews.[12][13][14][15]
  • The season 10 episode About a Boy of the TV show Supernatural featured Hansel and the witch from the tale in the present day. Unable to eat children anymore without drawing attention, the witch has Hansel use a transfiguration spell to turn adults into teenagers so that she can eat them instead. Hansel claims to Sam and Dean Winchester that the fairy tale was true just with a happy ending written in while in fact he was forced to help the witch and eat Gretel's heart after they tried to escape. It is revealed that Hansel is in fact evil and working for the witch, but Dean manages to reverse the witch's spell and kill Hansel with a butcher knife. Dean then kills the witch by cooking her in her own oven.
  • In the computer game series Dark Parables, game three, Rise of the Snow Queen Collectors Edition, the bonus game is based on Hansel and Gretel.
  • In 2015, black metal band Carach Angren released a concept album entitled This Is No Fairytale, which tells an altered, darker version of the story. In this version, Hansel is murdered in front of Gretel, it is implied that Hansel unknowingly consumes Gretel's heart in a dinner fed to her, and Hansel begins to escape before being captured again by the witch, but wakes up to realize that the events were a dream and her abusive father is coming toward her as the album ends.

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