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Literature: Hansel and Gretel
Hansel and Gretel meet the Wicked Witch

A fairy tale originally recorded by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. It's in the Public Domain, so here goes:

Once upon a time, there was a brother and sister named Hansel and Gretel. Their father was a widower who had remarried, and the family was having hard times. The stepmother insists they abandon the children in the woods and their father is spineless enough to go along with it. Hansel overhears the plan and comes up with the idea of leaving a Trail of Bread Crumbs from the bread that was supposed to be their lunch, so they can come back; unfortunately, the birds eat all the crumbs, so by the time they decide to follow the trail home, there isn't one.

They wander around for a while, and then they find a Gingerbread House. They are very hungry, so they eat from it. The owner of the house, a Wicked Witch, calls out that she knows someone is eating her house; Hansel and Gretel don't reply. The third time, the witch goes out to meet them. She seems surprisingly friendly, and gives them a huge feast.

The next day, Hansel is in a fattening pen, and Gretel is a servant. It seems that the witch eats children, once they are properly prepared. There is a Happy Ending for Hansel and Gretel, of course... the witch asks Gretel to light the oven and Gretel pretends she can't. When the witch bends over to do it, Gretel kicks her into her own oven.

There are television versions of this tale, but few film versions for reasons that should be clear.

The 19th century composer Engelbert Humperdinck adapted the fairy tale into an opera (premiered 1893). The opera in turn was adapted into a 1954 stop-motion animation film.

Garrison Keillor deconstructs this one, as well as "Snow White" and "Cinderella", in his short story "My Stepmother, Myself" in his book Happy To Be Here.

The tale may have originated during the medieval period of the Great Famine when people were driven to desperate measures. Children were abandoned to fend for themselves, and there were many reported incidents of cannibalism. Subsequent revisions of the story (such as changing the children's mother into their evil stepmother, and making the father more sympathetic) may have resulted from folk wanting to distance themselves from the true horror of that time.


"Hansel and Gretel" contains the following tropes:


The Goose GirlGerman LiteratureHeidi
Big Labyrinthine BuildingImageSource/LiteratureTrail of Bread Crumbs
The Goose Girl 19 th Century LiteratureIron Hans
The Grateful BeastsFairy TaleHop-o'-My-Thumb

alternative title(s): Hansel And Gretel; Hansel Und Gretel; Haensel Und Gretel; Hansel And Gretel
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