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Hansel and Gretel
Artwork by Arthur Rackham, 1909
Folk tale
Name: Hansel and Gretel
Aarne-Thompson Grouping: 327A
Country: Germany
Region: Kassel
Published in: Grimm's Fairy Tales
Related: The Lost Children

Hansel and Gretel (German: Hänsel und Gretel) is a fairy tale of Germanic origin, recorded by the Brothers Grimm. The story follows a young brother and sister who discover a house of candy and cake in the forest and a child-devouring witch. 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 based on the opera.



Hansel and Gretel are the young children of a poor woodcutter. They have an evil step-mother who convinces the father to abandon the children in the woods as there is not enough food to feed the whole family. Hansel, aware of the plan, leaves a trail of pebbles back to the house so he and his sister find their way back home. The step-mother is angry and locks the two children up for the night with only a loaf of bread and water. The next night, the woodcutter attempts the same plan again; this time Hansel leaves a trail of bread-crumbs but they get eaten by hungry birds and the two children get lost in the woods.[1]

After wandering around, Hansel and Gretel stumble across a house made of gingerbread and other confectionery. They are very hungry and begin to eat it. It is owned by an evil old witch who lures them inside. She traps Hansel in a cage and forces Gretel to do the housework, continually sweeping the house. She feeds Hansel lots of food with the intention of eating him. Her eyesight is very bad so every day she feels his finger to see if he is fat enough, but he holds out a chicken bone instead of his real finger. Eventually the witch decides to eat him anyway and turns on the oven. Gretel comes up behind her and kicks her into it, shuts the door firmly and padlocks it. They hang around in the house for a couple of days eating the sweets and they find some valuable gold coins. Once they are convinced that the witch is completely burnt they successfully find their way home and are met by their ecstatic father. He tells them that his evil wife is dead and they are now rich because of the gold coins' value. They all live happily ever after.

The original German version is almost exactly the same except that the mother is not evil and she sends the children into the wood to pick strawberries after they accidentally smash the pot holding the milk that shall be used to cook the bread for their dinner. After they have gone out into the woods their father comes home and speaks of a witch that lives in the forest and eats children, the mother realizes what she has done and they go out to look for the kids. The witch lures the children into her gingerbread house and she threatens to eat Gretel if she doesn't do as she is told while putting Hansel in a cage. The witch fires up the oven and force feeds Hansel sweets and chocolate to make him fat. While the witch isn't looking Gretel unties Hansel. While the witch is bending down they push her into the oven and cook her. They then find that their mother and father are right outside the house and they all go home together.


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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[4]

The tale is Aarne-Thompson type 327A.[6] Another tale of this type is The Lost Children.[7] 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.[8]


  • The opera Hänsel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck was first performed in Weimar on December 23, 1893, and is often performed at Christmas today.
  • In 1954, the opera was adapted into a stop-motion animated film Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy with comedienne Anna Russell providing the voice of Rosina Rubylips, the witch. The film featured spoken dialogue, but also retained some of Humperdinck's music, sung in English instead of German.
  • The 1954 Looney Tunes animated short Bewitched Bunny retells the story of Hansel and Gretel, featuring Witch Hazel and starring Bugs Bunny in a novel role, in which he rescues the children before being captured himself. (Hansel? Hansel?? Hansel?)
  • In 1958, a live musical adaptation of the story, starring Red Buttons, Barbara Cook, Rudy Vallee, Hans Conried (in drag as the Witch), Stubby Kaye, and Paula Laurence was presented on television by NBC. It featured songs by Alec Wilder and William Engvick, the same team that had created the Mickey Rooney Pinocchio, which had been performed live on television in 1957. A cast album of the show has recently been released on CD.[9]
  • In December 1982, Live from the Met presented a complete production of Humperdinck's opera on television, again sung in English.
  • In 1982 Tim Burton's "Hansel and Gretel" is a live action film short featuring Japanese actors and striking set designs reminiscent of his later work in films such as "Beetle Juice" and "Edward Scissorhands".
  • In December 1983, the opera's Evening Prayer music was heard as the opening theme of the television episode "Hansel and Gretel" from the anthology series Faerie Tale Theatre.
  • There is a live-action film made in 1988 starring Hugh Pollard and Nicola Stapleton.
  • The season 3 Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Gingerbread explores a new twist to the Hansel and Gretel tale, as a demon that takes the form of two murdered children in order to turn society against itself.
  • There is a 2002 live-action film which features new twists to the Hansel and Gretal story. It stars Lynn Redgrave, Howie Mandel, Dakota Fanning and Taylor Momsen.
  • In an episode of Disney's House of Mouse, there is a cartoon version of the story, with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse as Hansel and Gretel.
  • There is also a South Korean live-action horror film made in 2007, which is a retelling of the story in which the children are the occupants of the house and travellers are the innocents.
  • The German comedian Otto Waalkes used the Hansel and Gretel story for a large collection musical parodies. He takes the melody and text of various well known pop songs (in particular of the New German Wave) and intertwines them with parts of the Hansel and Gretel plot.
  • There is an American industrial metal band from New York City called Hanzel und Gretyl that sings most of their songs in German.
  • In Once Upon a Suite Life, Hansel and Gretel are played by Zack Martin and Cody Martin.
  • In a Halloween edition of The Simpsons, Treehouse of Horror XI, titled 'Scary Tales Can Come True', they parodize the story of Hansel and Gretel along with other fairytale stories, with Bart Simpson and Lisa Simpson playing as Hansel and Gretel.

See also


  1. ^ [1], plot summary of Hansel and Gretel
  2. ^ Coulton, George Gordon (1989). The Medieval Village. pp. 326. 
  3. ^ Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales. pp. 49. ISBN 0-691-06722-8. 
  4. ^ a b Tatar, Maria. The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales. W.W. Norton & Company. p. 45, 57. ISBN 0-393-05163-3. 
  5. ^ Lüthi, Max (1970). Once Upon A Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.. p. 64. 
  6. ^ "Tales Similar to Hansel And Gretel". 
  7. ^ Delarue, Paul (1956). The Borzoi Book of French Folk-Tales. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.. p. 365. 
  8. ^ Tatar, Maria. The Annotated Brothers Grimm. W.W. Norton & Company. p. 72. ISBN 0-393-05848-4. 
  9. ^

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also Hänsel, and hansel



Proper noun




  1. An Anglicised spelling of the German given name Hänsel. English equivalent: Johnny.
  2. A fictional character in the German fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, originally Hänsel und Gretel as adapted by Giambattista Basile and more recently the brothers Grimm.


See also

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