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hansel-and-gretel"Hansel and Gretel" (German: Hänsel und Gretel, diminutives of Johannes and Margaret) is a well-known fairy tale of German origin, recorded by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812.

Hansel and Gretel are a young brother and sister threatened by a cannibalistic hag living deep in the forest in a house constructed of cake and confectionery. The two children save their lives by outwitting her.

The tale has been adapted to various media, most notably the opera Hänsel und Gretel (1893) by Engelbert Humperdinck and a stop-motion animated feature film made in the 1950s based on the opera. 


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Audio book

Read by: Kim Butler

Original text

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 Gretel. He had little  to bite and to break, and once when  great dearth fell on the land, he  could no longer procure even daily bread. Now when he thought over this by night in his bed, and tossed  about in his anxiety, hegroaned and said to  his wife: «What is to become of us? How are we tofeed our poor children, when we no  longer have  anything even  forourselves?»  «I’ll tell  you  what, husband,» answered the  woman,«early  tomorrow morning we  will take  the children out into the forestto where it is  the thickest; there we  will light a fire for them, andgive each of them one more piece of bread,  and then we will go to ourwork and  leave them alone. They will not find  the way home again, andwe shall be rid of them.» «No, wife,» said the man, «I will not  dothat;  how can  I  bear to  leave my  children alone  in  theforest?—the wild animals would soon come and tear them to pieces.» «O,you fool!» said she, «then  we must all  four die of hunger,  you may aswell plane the planks  for our coffins,»  and she  left him no  peaceuntil  he consented. «But I feel  very sorry for the  poor children, allthe  same,» said the man.

The two children had also not been able to sleep for hunger, and hadheard what their stepmother had said to their father. Gretel wept bittertears, and said to Hansel: «Now  all is over with  us.» «Be quiet,Gretel,»  said Hansel, «do not distress yourself, I will soon find a wayto help us.» And when the old folks had fallen asleep,  he got up, puton his little  coat, opened the door below, and crept outside. The moonshone brightly, and the white pebbles which lay in front  of the houseglittered like real  silver pennies. Hansel stooped and stuffed thelittle pocket of his coat with  as many as  he could  get in.  Then  hewent  back and  said to  Gretel:  «Be comforted, dear little sister,and sleep in peace,  God will not  forsake us,» and he lay down again inhis bed. When day dawned, but before the sun had risen, the woman cameand awoke the two children, saying: «Get up, you sluggards! we are goinginto  the forest to fetch  wood.» She gave each  a little piece ofbread, and said: «There is something for your dinner,  but do not eat itup before then, for you will get nothing else.» Gretel  took the breadunder her apron, as Hansel  had the pebbles in his pocket.  Then theyall set out together on the way to the forest. When they had walked ashort time, Hansel stood still  and peeped back at  the house, and didso again and again. His father said:  «Hansel, what are you looking atthere and staying behind for? Pay attention, and  do not forget how touse  your legs.» «Ah, father,» said  Hansel, «I am looking  at my littlewhite  cat, which is sitting up on the roof, and wants to say goodbye tome.» The wife said: «Fool, that is not your little cat, that is themorning sun which is shining on the chimneys.»  Hansel, however, had not been looking back  at the cat, but had been constantly  throwing one ofthe 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 maynot  be cold.» Hansel and Gretel gathered brushwood together, as high asa  little hill. The brushwood  was lighted, and  when the flames  wereburning  very high, the woman said: «Now, children, lay yourselves downby 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 Gretel sat by the fire,  and when noon came, each ate alittle piece of  bread,  and as  they  heard the  strokes  of thewood-axe  they believed that their father was  near. It was not  theaxe, however, but  a branch which he had fastened to a withered treewhich the wind was blowing backwards and forwards.  And as they  hadbeen sitting  such a long  time, their eyes closed with  fatigue, andthey fell  fast asleep. When at  last they awoke, it was already darknight. Gretel began to cry and said:  «How are we to get out of theforest 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 whenthe full moon had risen, Hansel took his little  sister by the hand, andfollowed the pebbles which shone like newly-coined silver pieces, andshowed them the way.

They walked the whole night  long, and by break of  day came once moreto their father’s house. They knocked at the door, and when the womanopened it and saw that it was Hansel and Gretel, she said: «You naughty children, why have you slept so long in the forest?—we thought you werenever coming back at all!» The  father, however, rejoiced,  for it hadcut him to  the heart to leave them behind alone.

Not long afterwards, there was once more great dearth throughout the land, and the  children heard  their mother  saying at  night to  their father: «Everything is eaten again, we  have one half loaf  left, andthat is  the end. The children must  go, we will  take them fartherinto the wood,  so that they will not find  their way out again; thereis no other means  of saving ourselves!» The man’s heart was heavy, andhe thought: «It would be better for you to share the last mouthful withyour children.» The  woman, however, would  listen to  nothing that  hehad  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 asecond time also.

The children, however, were  still awake and  had heard theconversation. When the old folks were asleep, Hansel again got up, andwanted to go  out and pick up pebbles as  he had done before, but  thewoman had locked  the door, and Hansel could not get  out. Neverthelesshe comforted his  little sister, and said: «Do not cry, Gretel,  go tosleep quietly, the good  God will help us.»

Early in the morning came  the woman, and took  the children out oftheir beds. Their piece of  bread was given  to them, but  it was stills maller than the time before. On  the way into the  forest Hanselcrumbled his  in his pocket,  and often  stood still  and  threw amorsel on  the  ground. «Hansel, why do you stop and look round?» said the father, «go on.» «I  am looking back at my little pigeon which  issitting on the roof, and  wants to say goodbye to me,» answered  Hansel.«Fool!» said the woman, «that  is not your little pigeon,  that is themorning sun that  is shining on  the chimney.» Hansel, however littleby little, threw all  the crumbs on  the path.

The woman led the  children still deeper into  the forest, where theyhad never in their lives been  before. Then a great  fire was againmade,  and the mother said: «Just sit there, you children, and when youare tired you may sleep a little; we are going into  the forest to cutwood, and in  the evening when we are done,  we will come and fetch  youaway.» When it  was noon, Gretel shared her piece of bread with Hansel,who had scattered  his by the way. Then they fell asleep  and eveningpassed, but no one came  to the poor children. They did not awake untilit was dark night, and  Hansel comforted his little sister and said:«Just wait, Gretel, until the  moon rises, and then  we shall  see thecrumbs of  bread which  I have  strewn about, they will show us our wayhome 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 andfields had  picked them  all up.  Hansel said  to Gretel: «We shallsoon find  the way,»  but they  did not  find it.  They walked the wholenight and all the next day too from morning till evening, but they didnot 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 theywere so weary that  their legs would carry  them no longer, they  laydown 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  came 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 abough,  which sang so delightfully that  they stood still and  listenedto it. And  when its song was over, it spread its wings and flew awaybefore them, and they followed it until they  reached a little  house,on the  roof of which  it alighted; and when they approached the  littlehouse they saw that it  was built of bread and covered with cakes, butthat 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, andyou Gretel, can eat some of the  window, it will taste sweet.» Hanselreached up  above, and broke off a little  of the roof to try  how ittasted,  and Gretel leant  against the window  and nibbled at the panes.Then a soft voice cried from the parlour:

«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 likedthe taste of the roof, tore  down a great piece of  it, and Gretelpushed  out the whole of one round window-pane, sat down, and enjoyedherself with it. Suddenly the door opened, and a woman  as old as thehills, who  supported herself on crutches, came creeping out. Hansel andGretel were so terribly frightened that they let fall what they had intheir hands. The old woman, however, nodded  her head,  and  said: «Oh, you dear children,  who  has brought you here? do come  in, and staywith 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 prettylittle beds were covered with clean  white linen, and Hansel and Gretellay down in them,  and thought they were  in heaven.

The old woman  had only  pretended to  be so kind;  she was  in realitya wicked witch, who lay in wait for children, and had only built thelittle house of bread in order to entice  them there. When a child fellinto  her power, she killed it,  cooked and ate  it, and that was  afeast day  with her. Witches have red eyes, and cannot see far, but theyhave a keen scent like the beasts, and  are aware when human  beingsdraw near. When  Hansel and Gretel came into her neighbourhood, shelaughed with malice, and  said mockingly: «I have  them, they shall  notescape me  again!» Early in  the morning before the children were awake,she was already up, and when  she saw both of them sleeping and lookingso pretty, with their plump and rosy cheeks she muttered to herself:«That will be a dainty mouthful!» Then she seized Hansel with hershrivelled hand, carried him into a little  stable, and locked him inbehind a grated  door. Scream as he might, it would  not help him. Thenshe went  to Gretel, shook her  till she awoke, and  cried: «Get up,lazy thing,  fetch some water, and  cook something good for  yourbrother, he is in the  stable outside, and is to  be made fat. When heis fat, I will eat  him.» Gretel began  to weep bitterly, but  it wasall  in vain, for she was forced to do what the wicked witch commanded.

And now the best food was cooked  for poor Hansel, but Gretel got nothing but crab-shells. Every morning the woman  crept to the littlestable, and cried: «Hansel, stretch out your finger that  I may feel ifyou will  soon be fat.» Hansel, however, stretched out a little bone toher, and the  old woman, who had dim  eyes, could not  see it, andthought it was  Hansel’s finger, and was astonished  that there was noway of fattening him.  When four weeks had  gone by, and  Hansel stillremained  thin, she was  seized with impatience and would  not wait anylonger.  «Now, then, Gretel,»  she cried to the girl, «stir yourself,and bring some water. Let Hansel be fat or lean, tomorrow I will killhim, and cook him.» Ah, how the poor  little sister did lament when shehad to  fetch the water, and how her tears  did flow down her  cheeks!«Dear God,  do help  us,» she cried.  «If the  wild beasts in the foresthad but devoured us, we should at any rate have  died together.» «Justkeep  your noise to  yourself,» said the  old woman,  «it won’t help youat all.»

Early in the morning, Gretel had to  go out and hang up the cauldronwith the water, and light the fire. «We  will bake first,» said the oldwoman, «I have already heated the oven,  and kneaded the dough.» Shepushed  poor Gretel out to the  oven, from which flames  of fire werealready  darting. «Creep in,» said the witch, «and see if it is properlyheated, so that  we can put the bread in.»  And once Gretel was  inside,she intended to  shut the oven and  let her bake  in it, and  then shewould  eat her, too.  But Gretel saw what she had in mind, and said:  «Ido not know how I am to  do it; how do I get in?» «Silly goose,» saidthe old woman. «The door is  big enough; just look, I can get inmyself!» and she crept up and thrust  her head into the oven. ThenGretel gave her a push  that drove her far  into it, and shut the irondoor, and  fastened the bolt. Oh! then she began  to howl quitehorribly,  but Gretel  ran  away  and the  godless  witch  was miserablyburnt to death.

Gretel, however, ran like lightning  to Hansel, opened his littlestable, and cried: «Hansel,  we are  saved! The old  witch is  dead!’Then  Hansel sprang like a bird  from its cage  when the door isopened. How they  did rejoice and embrace each other, and  dance aboutand 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  stoodchests full of pearls and  jewels. «These are far  better thanpebbles!» said  Hansel, and  thrust into  his pockets whatever could  begot  in, and Gretel  said: «I,  too, will  take something home with me,’and filled her pinafore full. «But now we must be off,» said Hansel,«that we may get out of the witch’s forest.»

When they had walked for two hours, they came to a great stretch ofwater. «We cannot cross,» said Hansel, «I see no foot-plank, and nobridge.» «And there is also no  ferry,» answered Gretel, «but  a whiteduck is  swimming there: if I ask her, she will help us over.» Then shecried:

«Little duck, little duck, dost thou see,    Hansel and Gretel 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 toldhis sister to sit by him.  «No,» replied Gretel, «that  will be tooheavy  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 round their  father’s neck. The man had not known one happy hour since he had left the children in the forest; the woman,however,  was dead. Gretel 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; who so ever catches it, may make himself a big fur cap out of it.