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Fairy Tales

Classic Tales · Into the Woods · Selchies · Sir Orfeo

"The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of the traveller who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gate should be shut and the keys be lost."

-- J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories," in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays

"The fairy tale journey may look like an outward trek across plains and mountains, through castles and forests, but the actual movement is inward, into the lands of the soul. The dark path of the fairy tale forest lies in the shadows of our imagination, the depths of our unconscious. To travel to the wood, to face its dangers, is to emerged transformed by this experience. Particularly for children whose world does not resemble the simplified world of television sit-coms ... this ability to travel inward, to face fear and transform it, is a skill they will use all their lives. We do children--and ourselves--a grave disservice by censoring the old tales, glossing over the darker passages and ambiguities..."

-- Terri Windling, "White as Snow: Fairy Tales and Fantasy," in Snow White, Blood Red

Brothers Grimm

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wilhelm (left) et Jacob Grimm (right) from an 1855 painting by Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann

1000 Deutsche Mark (1992)

The Brothers Grimm (German: Die Brüder Grimm or Die Gebrüder Grimm), Jacob (January 4, 1785 - September 20, 1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (February 24, 1786 - December 16, 1859), were German academics who were best known for publishing collections of folk tales and fairy tales[1] and for their work in linguistics, relating to how the sounds in words shift over time (Grimm's law).

They are among the best known story tellers of novellas from Europe, allowing the widespread knowledge of such tales as Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and The Frog Prince.

Graves of the Brothers Grimm in the St Matthaus Kirchhof Cemetery in Schöneberg, Berlin.

Berlin memorial plaque, Brüder Grimm, Alte Potsdamer Straße 5, Berlin-Tiergarten, Germany

Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm (also Carl) and Wilhelm Karl Grimm[a] were born on January 4, 1785, and February 24, 1786, respectively, in Hanau near Frankfurt in Hessen. They were among a family of nine children, six of whom survived infancy.[2] Their early childhood was spent in the countryside in what has been described as an "idyllic" state. The Grimm family lived near the magistrates' house between 1790 and 1796 while the father was employed by the Prince of Hessen.

When the eldest brother Jacob was eleven years old, their father, Philip Wilhelm, died and the family moved into a cramped urban residence.[2] Two years later, the children's grandfather also died, leaving them and their mother to struggle in reduced circumstances. It has been argued[citation needed] that this is the reason behind the Brothers' tendency to idealize and excuse fathers, leaving a predominance of female villains in the tales—the infamous wicked stepmothers, for example, the evil stepmother and stepsisters in “Cinderella”[3] However this opinion ignores the fact that the brothers were collectors of folk tales, not their authors:

"They urged fidelity to the spoken text, without embellishments, and though it has been shown that they did not always practise what they preached, the idealized ‘orality’ of their style was much closer to reality than the literary retellings previously thought necessary."[4]

"Scholars and psychiatrists have thrown a camouflaging net over the stories with their relentless, albeit fascinating, question of 'What does it mean?'"[5]

Another influence is perhaps shown in the brothers' fondness for stories such as The Twelve Brothers, which show one girl and several brothers (their own family structure) overcoming opposition.[6]

The two brothers were educated at the Friedrichs-Gymnasium in Kassel and later both studied law at the University of Marburg. It was the inspiration of Friedrich von Savigny there, who awakened in them an interest in the past. They were in their early twenties when they began the linguistic and philological studies that would culminate in both Grimm's Law and their collected editions of fairy and folk tales. Though their collections of tales became immensely popular, they were essentially a by-product of the linguistic research which was the Brothers' primary goal.

In 1808, Jacob was named court librarian to the King of Westphalia, and in 1812 the Grimm brothers published their first volume of fairy tales, Tales of Children and the Home. They had received their stories from peasants and villagers, and controversially from other sources such as already published works from other cultures and languages (eg. Charles Perrault). In their collaboration, Jacob did more of the research, while Wilhelm, more fragile, put it into literary form and provided the childlike style. They were also interested in folklore and primitive literature. In 1816 Jacob became librarian in Kassel, where Wilhelm was also employed. Between 1816 and 1818 they published two volumes of German legends and also a volume of early literary history.

In time the brothers became interested in older languages and their relation to German. Jacob began to specialize in the history and structure of the German language. The relationships between words became known as Grimm's Law. They gathered immense amounts of data. In 1830, they formed a household in Göttingen with Jacob, where both brothers secured positions at the University of Göttingen.[7] Jacob was named professor and head librarian in 1830, Wilhelm became a professor in 1835.

In 1837, the Brothers Grimm joined five of their colleague professors at the University of Göttingen to protest against the abolition of the liberal constitution of the state of Hanover by King Ernest Augustus I, a reactionary son of King George III. This group came to be known in the German states as Die Göttinger Sieben (The Göttingen Seven). The two, along with the five others, protested against the abrogation. For this, the professors were fired from their university posts and three deported—including Jacob. Jacob settled in Kassel, outside Ernest's realm, and Wilhelm joined him there, both staying with their brother Ludwig. However, the next year, the two were invited to Berlin by the King of Prussia, and both settled there.[8]

Their last years were spent in writing a definitive dictionary, the Deutsches Wörterbuch, the first volume being published in 1854; it was carried on by future generations. Jacob remained a bachelor until his death, but Wilhelm married Henriette Dorothea Wild(Also known as Dortchen), a pharmacist's daughter and a childhood friend from whom the brothers heard the story Little Red Riding Hood, on May 15, 1825. They had four children, of whom three survived infancy, Karl, Jacob, and Agnes. Even after Wilhelm's marriage, the brothers stayed close, and were able to live under one roof with little conflict.

Wilhelm died in Berlin on December 16, 1859, while Jacob continued work on the dictionary and related projects until his death in Berlin on September 20, 1863. The brothers are buried in the St. Matthäus Kirchhof Cemetery in Schöneberg, Berlin. The Grimms helped foment a nationwide democratic public opinion in Germany and are cherished as the progenitors of the German democratic movement,[citation needed] whose revolution of 1848/1849 was crushed by the Kingdom of Prussia, where a constitutional monarchy was established.

The Tales

Main article: Grimm's Fairy Tales

The Brothers Grimm began collecting folk tales[9] around 1807, in response to a wave of awakened interest in German folklore that followed the publication of Ludwig Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano's folksong collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn ("The Youth's Magic Horn"), 1805-8. By 1810 the Grimms produced a manuscript collection of several dozen tales, which they had recorded by inviting storytellers to their home and transcribing what they heard. Although it is often believed that they took their tales from peasants, many of their informants were middle-class or aristocratic, recounting tales they had heard from their servants, and several of the informants were of Huguenot ancestry and told tales French in origin.[10] It is believed that certain elements of the stories were "purified" for the brothers who were Christian. [11] On the other hand, it has recently been claimed that many of these "folk tales" were written in Italy during an early fairy-tale boom, adapted by travelling shows for peasant children who, as adults, passed them on to the middle class families who told them to the Grimms.

In 1812, the Brothers published a collection of 86 German fairy tales in a volume titled Kinder- und Hausmärchen ("Children's and Household Tales"). They published a second volume of 70 fairy tales in 1814 ("1815" on the title page), which together make up the first edition of the collection, containing 156 stories. They wrote a two volume work titled Deutsche Sagen which included 585 German legends which were published in 1816 and 1818.[12] The legends are told in chronological order of which historical events they were related.[13] Then they arranged the regional legends thematically for each folktale creature like dwarfs, giants, monsters, etc. not in any historical order.[13] These legends were not as popular as the fairytales.[12]

A second edition, of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, followed in 1819-22, expanded to 170 tales. Five more editions were issued during the Grimms' lifetimes,[14] in which stories were added or subtracted, until the seventh edition of 1857 contained 211 tales. Many of the changes were made in light of unfavorable reviews, particularly those that objected that not all the tales were suitable for children, despite the title.[15] They were also criticized for being insufficiently German; this not only affected the tales they included, but their language as they changed "Fee" (fairy) to an enchantress or wise woman, every prince to a king's son, every princess to a king's daughter.[16] (It has long been recognized that some of these later-added stories were derived from printed rather than oral sources.) [17] These editions, equipped with scholarly notes, were intended as serious works of folklore. The Brothers also published the Kleine Ausgabe or "small edition," containing a selection of 50 stories expressly designed for children (as opposed to the more formal Große Ausgabe or "large edition"). Ten printings of the "small edition" were issued between 1825 and 1858.

The Grimms were not the first to publish collections of folktales. There were various others, including a German collection by Johann Karl August Musäus published in 1782-7. The earlier collections, however, made little pretence to strict fidelity to sources. The Brothers Grimm were the first workers in this genre to present their stories as faithful renditions of the kind of direct folkloric materials that underlay the sophistications of an adapter like Perrault. In so doing, the Grimms took a basic and essential step toward modern folklore studies, leading to the work of folklorists like Peter and Iona Opie[18] and others.

It should be noted that the Grimms' method was common in their historical era. Arnim and Brentano edited and adapted the folksongs of Des Knaben Wunderhorn; in the early 1800s Brentano collected folktales in much the same way as the Grimms.[19] The good academic practices violated by these early researchers had not yet been codified in the period in which they worked. The Grimms have been criticized for a basic dishonesty, for making false claims about their fidelity—for saying one thing and doing another;[20] whether and to what degree they were deceitful, or self-deluding, is perhaps an open question.


In the very early 19th century, the time in which the Brothers Grimm lived, the Holy Roman Empire had recently dissolved, and the modern nation of Germany did not exist. In its place was a confederacy of 39 small- to medium-size German states, many of the states newly created by Napoleon when he reorganized Germany. The major unifying factor for the German people of the time was a common language. So part of what motivated the Brothers in their writings and in their lives was the desire to help create a German identity.

Less well known to the general public outside of Germany is the Brothers' work on a German dictionary, the Deutsches Wörterbuch. It was very extensive, having 33 volumes and weighing 84 kg, and is still considered the standard reference for German etymology. Work began in 1838, but by the end of their lifetime, only sections from the letter 'A' as far as part of the letter 'F' were completed. Ultimately, the work was not considered complete until 1960.[21]

Jacob is recognized for enunciating Grimm's law, the Germanic Sound Shift, that was first observed by the Danish philologist Rasmus Christian Rask. Grimm's law was the first non-trivial systematic sound change ever to be discovered.

Books and film

In 1962, the movie The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm was released, with a cast including Barbara Eden, Russ Tamblyn, Yvette Mimieux and other high-profile stars of the time. The movie intertwined a fictionalised version of the Grimm brothers' lives as young men (directed by Henry Levin) with fantastical productions of some of their fairy tales (directed by George Pal). It went on to win the 1963 Oscar for costume design and was given several other nomination nods.

In 1977, a made-for-tv musical called "Once Upon A Brothers Grimm" aired in the United States. It starred Dean Jones as Jakob and Paul Sand as Wilhelm. The basic plot presented the brothers traveling and getting lost in a forest, encountering various characters from the tales that made them famous.

In 1998, in the movie Ever After, the Grimm Brothers visit an elderly woman, the Grande Dame of France, who questions their version of the Cinderella story. The Brothers Grimm reply that there was no way for them to verify the authenticity of their story as there were so many different versions. She proceeds to tell the story of Danielle De Barbarac.

In 2001, a Grimme Prize nominated German TV crime thriller entitled A Murderous Fairytale (Ein Moerderisches Maerchen) used elements of Brothers Grimm fairytales. In the film directed by Manuel Siebenmann and written by Daniel Martin Eckhart, the elderly killer challenges the detectives with a series of Brothers Grimm fairytale riddles.

In 2002, comic book writer Bill Willingham created the comic book Fables, which includes characters from "fables" as the main characters. Many of these characters are characters created by the Grimm brothers.

In 2005, a movie based roughly on the Grimm brothers and their tales was made called The Brothers Grimm, starring Heath Ledger as Jacob Grimm and Matt Damon as Wilhelm Grimm. The film, directed by Terry Gilliam, resembles the contents of the sagas from the real brothers' collections, much more than the scholarly reality of their lives.

In 2006, the crime novel Brother Grimm by author Craig Russell was published. A serial killer stalks Hamburg and uses themes of Brothers Grimm fairytales to pose his victims and to write riddles about the next one. Chief Detective Jan Fabel has to hunt down the Fairytale Killer, as the press soon calls him.

Some of the Grimms' stories (including Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella) were adapted as animated feature films by a film-making company of Walt Disney. Currently two more fairy-tales popularised by the brothers, The Princess and the Frog and Rapunzel, are in production and Snow White is said to be transferred onto the screen by the Walt Disney Animation Studios in yet undefined future.


  • a.^  The Neue Deutsche Biographie records their names as "Grimm, Jacob Ludwig Carl"[22] and "Grimm, Wilhelm Carl".[23]

The DbA (Deutsches biographisches Archiv) records Wilhelm's name as "Grimm, Wilhelm Karl".[23]

The 1879 edition of the AdB (Allgemeine deutsche Biographie) gives the names as "Grimm: Jacob (Ludwig Karl)"[24] and "Grimm: Wilhelm (Karl)".[25]

The National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints (NUC) also gives Wilhelm's name as "Grimm, Wilhelm Karl".[23]


  1. ^ Zipes 2002

  2. ^ a b Michaelis-Jena 1970, p. 9

  3. ^ Alister & Hauke 1998, pp. 216-219

  4. ^ Simpson & Roud 2000

  5. ^ National Geographic, December 1999, Thomas O'Neill

  6. ^ Tatar 2004, p. 37

  7. ^ "Jakob Ludwig Karl Grimm." Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, 2nd ed., 8 vols. Gale Group, 2002.

  8. ^ Die Brueder Grimm Timeline at Retrieved February 4, 2007.

  9. ^ James M. McGlathery, ed., The Brothers Grimm and Folktale, Champaigne, University of Illinois Press, 1988.

  10. ^ Zipes 1998, pp. 69-70

  11. ^ Clarissa Pinkola Estes, 'Women Who Run with the Wolves, p 15 ISBN 0-345-40987-6

  12. ^ a b Michaelis-Jena 1970, p. 84

  13. ^ a b Kamenstsky, Christa. The Brothers Grimm & Their Critics: Folktales the Quest for Meaning. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1992.

  14. ^ Two volumes of the second edition were published in 1819, with a third volume in 1822. The third edition appeared in 1837; fourth edition, 1840; fifth edition, 1843; sixth edition, 1850; seventh edition, 1857. All were of two volumes, except for the three-volume second edition. Donald R. Hettinga, The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy, New York, Clarion Books, 2001; p. 154.

  15. ^ Tatar 1987, pp. 15-17

  16. ^ Tatar 1987, p. 31

  17. ^ Kathleen Kuiper, Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature, Springfield, MA, Merriam-Webster, 1995, p. 494; Valerie Paradiz, Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales, New York, Basic Books, 2005, p. xii. One example: the tale "All Fur," Allerleirauh, in the 1857 collection derives from Carl Nehrlich's 1798 novel Schilly. Laura Gonzenbach, Beautiful Angiola: The Great Treasury of Sicilian Folk and Fairy Tales, London, Rootledge, 2003; p. 345.

  18. ^ Peter and Iona Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, London, Oxford University Press, 1974, is the most famous of their many works in the field.

  19. ^ Ellis, One Fairy Story too Many, pp. 2-7.

  20. ^ Ellis, pp. 37 ff.

  21. ^ Grimm Brothers' Home Page at Retrieved February 28, 2007.

  22. ^ Deutsche National Bibliothek, citing NDB (Neue Deutsche Biographie)

  23. ^ a b c Deutsche National Bibliothek, citing NDB (Neue Deutsche Biographie), DbA (Deutsches biographisches Archiv) and NUC (National Union Catalog) pre 1956 records

  24. ^ (in German) Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB), 9, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1879, p. 678,, retrieved 2009-08-14 

  25. ^ (in German) Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB), 9, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1879, p. 690,, retrieved 2009-08-14 


  • Alister, Ian; Hauke, Christopher, eds. (1998), Contemporary Jungian Analysis, London: Routledge, ISBN 0415141664 

  • Michaelis-Jena, Ruth (1970), The Brothers Grimm, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, ISBN 0710064497 

  • Simpson, Jacqueline; Roud, Steve (2000), A Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford University Press, ISBN 019210019X 

  • Tatar, Maria (1987), The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-06722-8 

  • Tatar, Maria (2004), The Annotated Brothers Grimm, W.W. Norton & Co, ISBN 0-393-05848-4 

  • Zipes, Jack (1988), The Brothers Grimm, Routledge Kegan and Paul, ISBN 0416019110 

  • Zipes, Jack (1998), When Dreams Came True: Classical Fairy Tales and Their Tradition, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-92151-1 

  • Zipes, Jack (2002), The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World, Palgrave MacMillan, ISBN 978-0312293802 

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Brothers Grimm

Wikisource has original works written by or about: Brothers Grimm

  • Media related to Brothers Grimm at Wikimedia Commons

  • The Museum of the Brothers Grimm in Kassel, Germany

  • Grimm's Märchen tiefenpsychologisch gedeutet by Dr. Eugen Drewermann (in German)

  • Jacob Grimm at the Internet Movie Database

  • Wilhelm Grimm at the Internet Movie Database

  • Short Stories by Brothers Grimm

  • Grimm Brother's Home Page

  • 40 Grimm's Fairy Tales available freely in English, German, Spanish, French, Dutch, Italian, and Danish.

Texts and recordings

  • Grimm's fairy tales The complete collection of Grimm's Household Tales along with alternative translations.

  • The Fairy Tale Archive A large collection of fairy tales as text, downloadable books and audiobooks

  • Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm, translated by Margaret Hunt (This site is the only one to feature all of the Grimms' notes translated into English along with the tales from Hunt's original edition. Andrew Lang's introduction is also included.)

  • Grimm's Fairy Tales at Project Gutenberg

  • Grimm's household tales at Project Gutenberg . Translated by Margaret Hunt.

  • Brothers Grimm - Fairy Tales Audiobooks

  • Recording of 63 Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm at

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Hansel and Grethel

Fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm

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 road.

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 wood-axe 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 newly-coined 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 a 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 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," 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 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, 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. "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 like 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 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." 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.

From Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Household Tales, trans. Margaret Hunt (London: George Bell, 1884)



The tale from the Brothers Grimm was meant to be a pleasant fable for middle-class consumers of the 19th century; the original however was probably an admonishment of the hardships of medieval life.[3] Abandoning children in the woods to die or fend for themselves because of famine, war, plague or other reasons, was not unknown, in particular during the crisis of the Late Middle Ages. Many critics have posited that the tale likely stemmed from historical instances of abandonment caused by famine; see the works of Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar for example,[4] with the obvious message of not accepting the seeming generosity of strangers, and the harder to hear message of parents' thoughtless or intentional cruelty to their own children.

In the first editions of the Grimms' collection, there was no stepmother; the mother persuaded the father to abandon her own children. This change, as in Snow White, appears to be a deliberate toning down of the unpleasantness for society in general who can't bear to think of mothers trying to hurt and kill their own children.[5]

That the mother or stepmother happens to die when the children have killed the witch has suggested to many commentators that the mother or stepmother and the witch are, in fact, the same woman, or at least that an identity between them is strongly hinted at.[6] Indeed, 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), they both 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.[5]

The tale is Aarne-Thompson type 327A.[7] Another tale of this type is The Lost Children.[8] Although they are not classified under this type, the Brothers Grimm identified the French Finette Cendron and Hop o' My Thumb as parallels to the story.[9]

The original story of Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel is often told as two fun-loving kids who, while exploring a forest, find a gingerbread house. They eat some of it, and the owner of the house invites them in and gives them dinner. Then the owner, revealed as an evil witch, tries to eat the children. They escape.

The original Hansel and Gretel spends as much time on getting to the house as on the events in the house itself. You see Hansel and Gretel are siblings, and their parents are very poor. So poor, their mother realizes she has no food for the children. So she conspires with the father to kick Hansel and Gretel out of their house. The kids leave the house to look for food on their own. In order to find their way back, Hansel leaves a trail of white pebbles, then another trail of breadcrumbs. But birds eat the breadcrumbs and the kids get lost, only then to find the gingerbread house.

The witch invites in Hansel and Gretel and gives them good food and comfy beds. Four weeks later, the witch reveals her true self: she’s been fattening up the kids so she can eat them. She has an oven all prepared, and has tied up Hansel, preventing his escape. But quick-thinking Gretel pushes the witch into the oven. The children then ransack the witch’s home for valuables and find their way home with the help of a white duck. Upon returning, they find their mother has died. They present the valuables to their father where, the story says, “they lived together in perfect joy”.

The morals of the original Hansel and Gretel: You must be able to survive on your own without the help of your parents. If you must depend on someone, depend on people your own age. The material world is tempting and spiritually dangerous.

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