Hansel And Grethel
Household Tales Index
Previous: The Three Spinners
Next: The Fisherman And His Wife
Hansel And Grethel
Hard by a great forest dwelt a poor wood-cutter with his wife and his
two children. The 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 for ourselves?" "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.
The two children had also not been able to sleep for hunger, and had
heard what their step-mother had said to their father. 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." And
when the old folks had fallen asleep, he got up, put on his little coat,
opened the door below, and crept outside. The moon shone brightly, and the
white pebbles which lay in front of the house glittered like real silver
pennies. Hansel 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. When day 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 wood." She 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. Then they 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. His
father said, "Hansel, 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." The wife said, "Fool, that
is not thy little cat, that is the morning sun which is shining on the
chimneys." 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
When they 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." Hansel and Grethel gathered 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."
Hansel and Grethel sat by the fire, and when noon came, each ate a little
piece of bread, and as they heard the strokes of the woodaxe they believed
that their father was near. It was, however, not 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. When at last they awoke, it was
already dark night. Grethel began to cry and said, "How are we to get out of
the forest now?" But Hansel comforted her and said, "Just wait a little, until
the moon has risen, and then we will soon find the way." And when the full
moon had risen, Hansel took his little sister by the hand, and followed the
pebbles which shone like newlycoined silver pieces, and showed them the way.
They walked 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!" The father, however, rejoiced, for it had cut him to the heart to
leave them behind alone.
Not long 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!" The man's 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. He who
says A must say B, likewise, and as he had yielded the first time, he had to
do so second time also.
The 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, but the woman had locked the door, and Hansel could not get
out. Nevertheless he comforted his little sister, and said, "Do not cry,
Grethel, go to sleep quietly, the good God will help us."
Early in 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 around?" 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," answered Hansel. "Simpleton!" said the woman, "that is not thy little
pigeon, that is the morning sun that is shining on the chimney." Hansel,
however, little by little, threw all the crumbs on the path.
The woman led the children still deeper into the forest, where they had
never in their lives been before. Then 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. Then
they fell asleep and evening came and went, but no one came to the poor
children. 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." When the moon came 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 up. Hansel said to Grethel, "We shall soon find the way," but
they did not find it. 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. When it 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 the little house they saw that it was
built of bread and covered with cakes, but that the windows were of clear
sugar. "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 voice cried from the room,
"Nibble, nibble, gnaw,
Who is nibbling at my little house?"
The children answered,
"The wind, the wind,
the heaven-born wind,"
and 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 their hands. 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.
The old 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
bread house 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 neighbourhood, she laughed maliciously, and said mockingly, "I have them,
they shall not escape me again!" Early in 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 fat. 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. When four weeks had
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, tomorrow 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. "If 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."
Early in the morning, Grethel had to go out and hang up the cauldron with
the water, and light the fire. "We 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 in." 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.
Grethel, however, ran as quick as lightning to Hansel, opened his little
stable, and cried, "Hansel, we are saved! The 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."
When they had walked for two hours, they come 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." Then she cried,
"Little duck, little duck, dost thou see,
Hansel and Grethel are waiting for thee?
There's never a plank, or bridge in sight,
Take us across on thy back so white."
The duck came to them, and Hansel seated himself on its back, and told
his sister to sit by him. "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 house. 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, was dead. 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.