Illustration from Hansel and Gretel and Other Stories by the Brothers Grimm. Kay Nielsen, illustrator. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1925.

Hansel and Grethel

I read the version of Hansel and Grethel from Grimm’s Fairy Stories by Jacob Grimm and Willhelm Grimm, available at Project Gutenberg. I knew the basics, but had forgotten some of the details.

There is a poor woodcutter who lives with his wife and two children from a former marriage. The family has next to nothing to eat and the wife’s solution is to leave the kids deep in the woods, alone, and then there will be two less mouths to feed. The father doesn’t want to do it, doesn’t want his children killed by wild animals, but eventually agrees. Can you imagine? The father agrees to leave his kids to die!

Well, the first time, they manage to find their way home thanks to pebbles Hansel left on the path for them to follow back, but then they’re left out in the woods again! Even after the children being saved once, their father lets his wife have her way again!

He who says A must say B too; and he who consents the first time must also the second. (pg.12)

And then we all know what happens. Hansel and Grethel find the witch’s house made of sweets, she traps them and is going to eat them. Grethel is able to trick the witch into sticking her head in the oven, then shoves the witch in and bolts it. The two kids go home to their father having taken some of the witch’s riches, and the three have enough money to live happily ever after. Thankfully, the wife has died in the meantime, because I’m sure she would have found some excuse to get rid of the kids again.

Then all their sorrows were ended, and they lived together in great happiness. (pg. 14)

Isn’t it amazing how so often in fairy tales strong women, those who don’t need a prince or fairy godmother to come to their rescue, are evil witches or evil step-mothers? At least in this story there’s a girl you can really root for. Grethel is the one that ends up coming to Hansel’s rescue. She’s the one who kills the witch, frees her brother from the cage. She’s the one who, singing, asks the white duck to carry them across the water on their way back to their father, a portion I had forgotten altogether by the way. So, wicked old witches out there, make sure you never underestimate the quiet little girls!

On a side note, the witch from this story is also a character in the Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley that I’m reading with Amber (10). Frau  Pfefferkuchenhaus is her name and she is one of three witches who work for Mayor (Prince) Charming, helping make any “problems” disappear and ensuring people of the town continue to be oblivious of their more unusual neighbors. So, now not only is she not the nicest witch, after all who can compete with Glinda the Good Witch of the North, but she’s not even her own boss and eating children is definitely not allowed.  Kinda feel bad for her.

Tif, from Tif Talks Books, is the hostess of this great new feature, Fairy Tale Fridays. Head over there for her take on Hansel and Gretel and to share your own thoughts.