Hard by a great forest dwelt a
with his wife and his two children.
boy was called Hansel and the
girl Grethel. He had little to bite and to break, and once when great
scarcity fell on the land, he could no longer procure daily bread. Now
when he thought over this by night in his bed, and tossed about in his
anxiety, he groaned and said to his wife, "What is to become of us? How
are we to feed our poor children, when we no longer have anything even
"I'll tell you what, husband," answered the woman,
"Early to-morrow morning we will take the children out into the forest
to where it is the thickest, there we will light a fire for them, and
give each of them one piece of bread more, and then we will go to our
work and leave them alone. They will not find the way home again, and
we shall be rid of them."
"No, wife," said the man, "I will not do
that; how can I bear to leave my children alone in the forest? -- the
wild animals would soon come and tear them to pieces." "O, thou fool!"
said she, "Then we must all four die of hunger, thou mayest as well
plane the planks for our coffins," and she left him no peace until he
consented. "But I feel very sorry for the poor children, all the same,"
said the man.
children had also not been able to sleep
for hunger, and had heard what their step-mother had said to their
Grethel wept bitter tears, and said to Hansel, "Now all is over
with us." "Be quiet, Grethel," said Hansel, "do not distress thyself, I
will soon find a way to help us."
the old folks had fallen
asleep, he got up, put on his little coat, opened the door below, and
shone brightly, and the white pebbles which lay
in front of the house glittered like real silver pennies.
stooped and put as many of them in the little pocket of his coat as he
could possibly get in.
Then he went back and said to Grethel, "Be
comforted, dear little sister, and sleep in peace, God will not forsake
us," and he lay down again in his bed.
dawned, but before the
sun had risen, the woman came and awoke the two children, saying "Get
up, you sluggards! we are going into the forest to fetch
gave each a little piece of bread, and said, "There is something for
your dinner, but do not eat it up before then, for you will get nothing
else." Grethel took the bread under her apron, as Hansel had the stones
in his pocket.
all set out together on the way to the forest.
When they had walked a short time, Hansel stood still and peeped back
at the house, and did so again and again.
what art thou looking at there and staying behind for? Mind what thou
art about, and do not forget how to use thy legs."
"Ah, father," said
Hansel, "I am looking at my little white cat, which is sitting up on
the roof, and wants to say good-bye to me."
said, "Fool, that
is not thy little cat, that is the morning sun which is shining on the
Hansel, however, had not been looking back at the cat, but
had been constantly throwing one of the white pebble-stones out of his
pocket on the road.
had reached the middle of the
forest, the father said, "Now, children, pile up some wood, and I will
light a fire that you may not be cold."
brushwood together, as high as a little hill. The brushwood was
lighted, and when the flames were burning very high, the woman said,
"Now, children, lay yourselves down by the fire and rest, we will go
into the forest and cut some wood.
When we have done, we will come back
and fetch you away."
Grethel sat by the fire, and
when noon came, each ate a little piece of bread, and as they heard the
strokes of the wood-axe they believed that their father was
was not, however, the axe, it was a branch which he had fastened to a
withered tree which the wind was blowing backwards and forwards. And as
they had been sitting such a long time, their eyes shut with fatigue,
and they fell fast asleep.
last they awoke, it was already dark
night. Grethel began to cry and said, "How are we to get out of the
But Hansel comforted her and said, "Just wait a little,
until the moon has risen, and then we will soon find the way."
the full moon had risen, Hansel took his little sister by the hand, and
followed the pebbles which shone like newly-coined silver pieces, and
showed them the way.
the whole night long, and by
break of day came once more to their father's house.
They knocked at
the door, and when the woman opened it and saw that it was Hansel and
Grethel, she said, "You naughty children, why have you slept so long in
the forest? -- we thought you were never coming back at all!"
father, however, rejoiced, for it had cut him to the heart to leave
them behind alone.
afterwards, there was once more
great scarcity in all parts, and the children heard their mother saying
at night to their father, "Everything is eaten again, we have one half
loaf left, and after that there is an end.
The children must go, we
will take them farther into the wood, so that they will not find their
way out again; there is no other means of saving ourselves!"
heart was heavy, and he thought "it would be better for thee to share
the last mouthful with thy children."
The woman, however, would listen
to nothing that he had to say, but scolded and reproached him.
says A must say B, likewise, and as he had yielded the first time, he
had to do so a second time also.
children were, however, still awake
and had heard the conversation.
When the old folks were asleep, Hansel
again got up, and wanted to go out and pick up pebbles as he had done
before, but the woman had locked the door, and Hansel could not get
Nevertheless he comforted his little sister, and said, "Do not
cry, Grethel, go to sleep quietly, the good God will help us."
the morning came the woman, and
took the children out of their beds.
Their bit of bread was given to
them, but it was still smaller than the time before.
On the way into
the forest Hansel crumbled his in his pocket, and often stood still and
threw a morsel on the ground. "Hansel, why dost thou stop and look
round?" said the father, "go on."
"I am looking back at my little
pigeon which is sitting on the roof, and wants to say good-bye to me,"
"Simpleton!" said the woman, "that is not thy little
pigeon, that is the morning sun that is shining on the
Hansel, however, little by little, threw all the crumbs on the path.
led the children still deeper
into the forest, where they had never in their lives been
a great fire was again made, and the mother said, "Just sit there, you
children, and when you are tired you may sleep a little; we are going
into the forest to cut wood, and in the evening when we are done, we
will come and fetch you away."
When it was
noon, Grethel shared her
piece of bread with Hansel, who had scattered his by the way.
fell asleep and evening came and went, but no one came to the poor
They did not awake until it was dark night, and Hansel
comforted his little sister and said, "Just wait, Grethel, until the
moon rises, and then we shall see the crumbs of bread which I have
strewn about, they will show us our way home again."
they set out, but they found no crumbs, for the many thousands of birds
which fly about in the woods and fields had picked them all
said to Grethel, "We shall soon find the way," but they did not find
They walked the whole night and all the next day too from morning
till evening, but they did not get out of the forest, and were very
hungry, for they had nothing to eat but two or three berries, which
grew on the ground.
And as they were so weary that their legs would
carry them no longer, they lay down beneath a tree and fell asleep.
It was now
three mornings since they had
left their father's house.
They began to walk again, but they always
got deeper into the forest, and if help did not come soon, they must
die of hunger and weariness.
was mid-day, they saw a beautiful
snow-white bird sitting on a bough, which sang so delightfully that
they stood still and listened to it.
And when it had finished its song,
it spread its wings and flew away before them, and they followed it
until they reached a little house, on the roof of which it alighted;
and when they came quite up to little house they saw that it was built
of bread and covered with cakes, but that the windows were of clear
"We will set to work on that," said Hansel, "and have a good
meal. I will eat a bit of the roof, and thou, Grethel, canst eat some
of the window, it will taste sweet."
Hansel reached up above, and broke
off a little of the roof to try how it tasted, and Grethel leant
against the window and nibbled at the panes.
Then a soft
from the room,
nibbling at my little house?"
wind, the wind,
went on eating without disturbing themselves.
Hansel, who thought the
roof tasted very nice, tore down a great piece of it, and Grethel
pushed out the whole of one round window-pane, sat down, and enjoyed
herself with it.
Suddenly the door opened, and a very, very old woman,
who supported herself on crutches, came creeping out. Hansel and
Grethel were so terribly frightened that they let fall what they had in
The old woman, however, nodded her head, and said, "Oh,
you dear children, who has brought you here?
Do come in, and stay with
me. No harm shall happen to you."
She took them both by the hand, and
led them into her little house.
Then good food was set before them,
milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples, and nuts.
Afterwards two pretty
little beds were covered with clean white linen, and Hansel and Grethel
lay down in them, and thought they were in heaven.
woman had only pretended to be
so kind; she was in reality a wicked witch, who lay in wait for
children, and had only built the little house of bread in order to
entice them there.
When a child fell into her power, she killed it,
cooked and ate it, and that was a feast day with her.
Witches have red
eyes, and cannot see far, but they have a keen scent like the beasts,
and are aware when human beings draw near. When Hansel and Grethel came
into her neighborhood, she laughed maliciously, and said mockingly, "I
have them, they shall not escape me again!"
the morning before
the children were awake, she was already up, and when she saw both of
them sleeping and looking so pretty, with their plump red cheeks, she
muttered to herself, "That will be a dainty mouthful!"
Then she seized
Hansel with her shrivelled hand, carried him into a little stable, and
shut him in with a grated door. He might scream as he liked, that was
of no use.
Then she went to Grethel, shook her till she awoke, and
cried, "Get up, lazy thing, fetch some water, and cook something good
for thy brother, he is in the stable outside, and is to be made
When he is fat, I will eat him." Grethel began to weep bitterly, but it
was all in vain, she was forced to do what the wicked witch ordered her.
And now the
best food was cooked for
poor Hansel, but Grethel got nothing but crab-shells.
Every morning the
woman crept to the little stable, and cried, "Hansel, stretch out thy
finger that I may feel if thou wilt soon be fat." Hansel, however,
stretched out a little bone to her, and the old woman, who had dim
eyes, could not see it, and thought it was Hansel's finger, and was
astonished that there was no way of fattening him.
gone by, and Hansel still continued thin, she was seized with
impatience and would not wait any longer.
"Hola, Grethel," she cried to
the girl, "be active, and bring some water.
Let Hansel be fat or lean,
to-morrow I will kill him, and cook him."
Ah, how the poor little
sister did lament when she had to fetch the water, and how her tears
did flow down over her cheeks!
"Dear God, do help us," she cried.
the wild beasts in the forest had but devoured us, we should at any
rate have died together."
"Just keep thy noise to thyself," said the
old woman, "all that won't help thee at all."
the morning, Grethel had to go
out and hang up the cauldron with the water, and light the
will bake first," said the old woman, "I have already heated the oven,
and kneaded the dough."
She pushed poor Grethel out to the oven, from
which flames of fire were already darting.
"Creep in," said the witch,
"and see if it is properly heated, so that we can shut the bread
And when once Grethel was inside, she intended to shut the oven and let
her bake in it, and then she would eat her, too.
But Grethel saw what
she had in her mind, and said, "I do not know how I am to do it; how do
you get in?"
"Silly goose," said the old woman, "The door is big
enough; just look, I can get in myself!" and she crept up and thrust
her head into the oven.
Then Grethel gave her a push that drove her far
into it, and shut the iron door, and fastened the bolt. Oh! then she
began to howl quite horribly, but Grethel ran away, and the godless
witch was miserably burnt to death.
however, ran like lightning to
Hansel, opened his little stable, and cried, "Hansel, we are
old witch is dead!"
Then Hansel sprang out like a bird from its cage
when the door is opened for it.
How they did rejoice and embrace each
other, and dance about and kiss each other!
And as they had no longer
any need to fear her, they went into the witch's house, and in every
corner there stood chests full of pearls and jewels.
"These are far
better than pebbles!" said Hansel, and thrust into his pockets whatever
could be got in, and Grethel said, "I, too, will take something home
with me," and filled her pinafore full.
"But now we will go away." said
Hansel, "that we may get out of the witch's forest."
had walked for two hours, they
came to a great piece of water. "We cannot get over," said Hansel, "I
see no foot-plank, and no bridge."
"And no boat crosses either,"
answered Grethel, "but a white duck is swimming there; if I ask her,
she will help us over."
duck, little duck, dost thou see,
duck came to them, and Hansel seated himself on its back, and told his
sister to sit by him.
Grethel are waiting for thee?
never a plank, or bridge in sight,
across on thy back so white."
"No," replied Grethel, "that will be too heavy
for the little duck; she shall take us across, one after the other."
The good little duck did so, and when they were once safely across and
had walked for a short time, the forest seemed to be more and more
familiar to them, and at length they saw from afar their father's
Then they began to run, rushed into the parlour, and threw
themselves into their father's arms.
The man had not known one happy
hour since he had left the children in the forest; the woman, however,
Grethel emptied her pinafore until pearls and precious stones
ran about the room, and Hansel threw one handful after another out of
his pocket to add to them.
Then all anxiety was at an end, and they
lived together in perfect happiness.
My tale is done, there runs a
mouse, whosoever catches it, may make himself a big fur cap out of it.
and Wilhelm Grimm, Household
Tales, trans. Margaret Hunt
(London: George Bell, 1884),