Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm [Old Review]
Hansel and Gretel was first published in the two volume set of Fairy Tales Kinder- und Hausmarchen, composed by Jacob and Wilheim Grimm, in 1812. The Grimm brothers heard of the tale of Hansel and Gretel from a family friend but it’s certainly not an original tale. It possibly could have originated during the Great Famine in 1315 as there were reports of parents abandoning their children because they couldn’t afford to feed them and people resorting to cannibalism. Since then the familiar tale of Hansel and Gretel has appeared across different cultures and times. Tales by Charles Perrault and Madame d’ Aulnoy bear striking resemblances to Hansel and Gretel. The Grimm brothers themselves identified these two stories as being parallel stories to Hansel and Gretel. Hansel and Gretel was revised multiple times over the course of 40 years and the original story that appeared in 1812 is quite different from the final version published in the 1850s. Hansel and Gretel is one of the most recognisable tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm and has been adapted countless times for film, opera, plays, etc.
Hansel and Gretel opens with a description of a poor woodcutter who lived with his wife and children. They have always had little to eat and when a Great Famine strikes the land the woodcutter is unable to even supply their bread. The woodcutter’s wife, a selfish and horrible woman, comes up with the idea of giving Hansel and Gretel a small piece of bread each and leaving them in the woods to be devoured by animals. The father is extremely weak and agrees, although he’s not very happy about it. Unbeknownst to them Hansel and Gretel overheard the plan and Hansel quickly went outside and gathered pebbles so they could find their way home once they were left in the woods. When daybreak hits the family go out into the woods and the parents leave Hansel and Gretel next to a fire. They ate the bread quickly and fell asleep. When they awoke it was dark but the moon shone brightly in the night sky and they were able to follow the pebble track Hansel had left behind them. They eventually returned home safely much to the mothers chagrin.
A few days or weeks later (its not specified) they run out of food again and the mother decides they have to try and leave Hansel and Gretel in the woods once more. Hansel and Gretel overhear this plan again and Hansel decides to grab some more petals but the door is locked and he can’t get out. Hansel then decides to use the bread to leave crumbs behind. The next day the mother and father leave them in the woods again but when Hansel and Gretel woke up from their nap they discovered the bread crumbs were eaten by birds. They wander around the woods for three days until they come to a house made of sweets. Hansel decides that he will eat the roof made of cake and Gretel will eat the sugar windows. Suddenly they hear a voice from inside:
“Nibble, nibble, little mouse,
Who is nibbling at my house?”
Hansel and Gretel answer:
“The wind, the wind,
The heavenly child”
A while afterwards an old woman appears, who is described to be as old as the hills themselves. Hansel and Gretel are frightened but the woman invites them inside and gives them a good meal and a place to sleep. Hansel and Gretel are immediately content and their worries disappear. However, the next morning the old woman (who is actually an evil witch) locks Hansel in a cage and makes Gretel become her slave. The witch had designed her sweet house to lure children so she could eat them. She feeds Hansel every day to fatten him up and only gives Gretel claw fish. Hansel realises what the witch is doing and sticks out a chicken bone every morning so the witch will think he hasn’t gained any weight. Eventually the witch grows impatient and decides she will eat Hansel anyway. She makes Gretel boil water so she can cook him the next day. When the day arrives the witch asks Gretel to test the oven out and see if it’s hot enough. Seeing what the witch has planned Gretel pushes the witch in the oven, lets Hansel out and they escape from the house just as the witch is being burned to death. But not before they take jewels so they’ll never be hungry again. Eventually they find their way home, with the aid of a swan, are reunited with their father and discover their mother had died. All’s well that ends well, right?
Hansel and Gretel was much darker than I remember. Cannibal witches, selfish parents who leave their children to be eaten by wild animals, etc. I absolutely love Hansel and Gretel and being older than when I read it the first and second times I can appreciate it for what it is. A story about two incredibly brave and smart children who outwit those who would wish them harm. They deserve the world and they eventually got it. A truly wonderful story that is quite inspiring.