Hansel and Gretel
"Hansel and Gretel" (/ - ... /,; also known as "Hansel and Grettel", "Hansel and Grethel", or "Little Brother and Little Sister"; German: Hänsel und Gret(h)el[a] [ˈhɛnzl̩ ʔʊnt ˈɡʁeːtl̩]) is a well-known German fairy tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. Hansel and Gretel are a young brother and sister kidnapped by a cannibalistic witch living in a forest in a house constructed of cake, confectionery, candy, and many more treats. The two children escape with their lives by outwitting her. The tale has been adapted to various media, most notably the opera Hänsel und Gretel (1893) by Engelbert Humperdinck. "Hansel and Gretel" is classified under Class 327А of the Aarne–Thompson classification system.
The story is set in medieval Germany. Hansel and Gretel are the children of a poor woodcutter. When a famine settles over the land, the woodcutter's wife (stepmother to Hansel and Gretel) decides to take the children into the woods and leave them there to fend for themselves so she and her husband will not starve to death. The woodcutter opposes the plan but finally reluctantly submits to his wife's scheme, unaware that Hansel and Gretel have overheard them. After the parents have gone to bed, Hansel sneaks out of the house and gathers as many white pebbles as he can, then returns to his room, reassuring Gretel that God will not forsake them.
The next day, the family walk deep into the woods and Hansel lays a trail of white pebbles. After their parents abandon them, Hansel and Gretel follow the trail back home. When their stepmother sees them, she is furious and locks them in the house. Hansel and Gretel are unable to escape to collect pebbles.
The following morning, the family treks deeper into the woods. Hansel takes a slice of bread and leaves a trail of bread crumbs for them to follow home. However, after they are once again abandoned, they find that birds have eaten the crumbs, leaving them lost in the woods. After days of wandering, they follow a beautiful white bird to a clearing in the woods, and discover a large cottage built of gingerbread, cakes, and candy, with window panes of clear sugar. Hungry and tired, the children begin to eat the roof, when the door opens and a hideous old woman emerges and lures the children inside, with the promise of soft beds, delicious food, and a hot bath. They do this unaware that their hostess is a bloodthirsty witch who built the gingerbread house to waylay children to cook and eat them.
The next morning, the witch throws Hansel into a cage and enslaves Gretel, forcing her to work from dawn till dusk. The witch force-feeds Hansel regularly to fatten him up. Hansel realizes this and uses the witch's tendency to his advantage. Every time the witch checks how fat Hansel is, by way of seeing Hansel's finger, he sticks out a bone in the cage, either a chicken bone or a bone from the witch's previous victim. Because of the witch's blindness, she is fooled into thinking Hansel is too thin to eat. After weeks of the same result, the witch grows impatient and decides to eat Hansel anyway.
The next day, the witch prepares the oven for Hansel, but decides she is hungry enough to eat Gretel too. She coaxes Gretel to open the oven and prods her to lean over in front of it to see if the fire is hot enough. Gretel, sensing the witch's intent, pretends she does not understand what she means. Infuriated, the witch demonstrates, and Gretel pushes her into the oven, leaving "the ungodly creature to be burned to ashes". Gretel frees Hansel from the cage and the pair discovers a vase full of treasure and precious stones. Putting the jewels into their clothing, the children set off for home. They arrive home to hear that their stepmother had since died from unknown causes and their father had not had a happy day since they were gone. They live happily ever after with the witch's wealth they brought home.
History and analysisEdit
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm heard "Hansel and Gretel" from Wilhelm's friend and future wife Dortchen Wild and published it in Kinder- und Hausmärchen in 1812. In the Grimms' version of the tale, the woodcutter's wife is the children's biological mother and the blame for abandoning them is shared between both her and the woodcutter. In later editions, some slight revisions were made: the wife became the children's stepmother, the woodcutter opposes her scheme to abandon the children, and religious references are made. The sequence where the swan helps them across the river is also an addition to later editions. Another revision was that some versions claimed the mother died from unknown causes, left the family, or remained with the husband at the end of the story.
The fairy tale may have originated in the medieval period of the Great Famine (1315–1317), which caused desperate people to abandon young children to fend for themselves or even resort to cannibalism.
Folklorists Iona and Peter Opie indicate in The Classic Fairy Tales (1974) that "Hansel and Gretel" belongs to a group of European tales especially popular in the Baltic regions, about children outwitting ogres into whose hands they have involuntarily fallen. The tale bears resemblances to the first half of Charles Perrault's "Hop-o'-My-Thumb" (1697) and Madame d'Aulnoy's "Finette Cendron" (1721). In both tales, abandoned children find their way home by following a trail. In "Clever Cinders", the heroine incinerates a giant by shoving him into an oven in a manner similar to Gretel's dispatch of the witch, and a ruse involving a twig in a Swedish tale resembles Hansel's trick of the dry bone. Linguist and folklorist Edward Vajda has proposed that these stories represent the remnant of a coming-of-age rite-of-passage tale extant in Proto-Indo-European society. A house made of confectionery is found in a 14th-century manuscript about the Land of Cockayne.
The fact that the mother or stepmother dies after the children kill the witch has suggested to many commentators that the mother or stepmother and the witch are metaphorically the same woman.
In the Russian Vasilisa the Beautiful, the stepmother likewise sends her hated stepdaughter 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), the tales 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. Another tale of this type is the French fairy tale The Lost Children. The Brothers Grimm also identified the French Finette Cendron and Hop o' My Thumb as parallel stories.
The fairytale enjoyed a multitude of adaptations for the stage, among them the opera Hänsel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck — one of today's most performed operas. A contemporary reimagining of the story, Matti Kovler's musical fairytale Ami & Tami, was produced in Israel and the United States and subsequently released as a symphonic album. Elements from the story were used in the 1994 horror film Wes Craven's New Nightmare for its climax. Hansel and Gretel's trail of breadcrumbs has also inspired the name of the navigation element "breadcrumbs" that allows users to keep track of their locations within programs or documents.
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- Project Gutenberg e-text
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