In 1812, the Grimm brothers wrote and published a little story you may have heard of before: Hansel and Gretel. But how much do you really know about the famous tale?
What It’s About
A woodcutter lives near the woods with his children, Hansel and Gretel, and his second wife, their stepmother. When a famine strikes the land, the parents worry about how to keep their family fed. The stepmother, who is wicked and selfish as many stepmothers in fairy tales are, convinces her husband to lead the two kids into the woods and abandon them. That way, she and her husband will have more food and won’t have to worry about the kids. He is eventually convinced and leads the children out into the woods one morning.
However, Hansel and Gretel had overheard the adults’ conversation and were prepared with pockets full of white pebbles. As they walk into the woods, they drop pebbles along the path. After their parents leave them, the two children are able to follow the trial of pebbles home, much to their stepmother’s frustration. After some time passes and the famine worsens, the stepmother again convinces the woodcutter to abandon Hansel and Gretel in the woods.
The children again overhear the idea and try to leave the house to collect more pebbles. Unfortunately, the house is locked up and they’re stuck inside. They try to recreate the pebble trick with bread crumbs, but find that the tasty treats have been eaten when they try to follow them home.
Hansel and Gretel wander around the woods for a while. They eventually stumble upon a house made of sweets. They help themselves to the goodies and meet the owner of the house, an old, half-blind woman who offers to take them in. Unfortunately, she’s a witch in disguise and before they know it, Hansel is locked in a cage and Gretel is forced to slave away for the witch.
The witch has made a habit of eating children and Hansel is her next inteded victim. She forces him to eat and eat and eat, checking his finger everyday to see if he’s been fattened enough to eat. Hansel cleverly saves a bone from one of his meals and has her feel that instead. After a few weeks, however, the witch is tired of waiting and decides to go ahead and cook him.
The witch has Gretel prepare the stove, hoping to push her in and have a two-for-one meal. Gretel figures out her plan and, under the guise of needing detailed instruction, manages to push the witch in the oven instead.
Hansel and Gretel discover the witch’s treasure and find their way home, where their father tells them that their stepmother has died. The three live happily and, thanks to the witch’s treasure, wealthily every after.
Fun Fact #1
The Grimm Brothers didn’t actually call this story Hansel and Gretel. Their original title was Roland and May-Bird and the story that they called Hansel and Gretel had a different plot, where Hansel was turned into a deer and Gretel eventually married the prince who saved them.
Fun Fact #2
The original story also had the stepmother as the children’s real mother. As often happens with fairy tales like this, translators and collectors of the stories decided that it was both unbelievable and awful that a mother would do such terrible things to her own children and so they were made jealous stepmothers instead.
Sadly, I’ve never seen any adaptations of this story, aside from the occasional cartoon or movie, which stick pretty close to the original story. So if you know of any good retellings of Hansel and Gretel, let me know!
Until next time, word nerds!
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