Hansel and Gretel
Once upon a time . . . a very poor woodcutter
lived in a tiny cottage in the forest with his two children, Hansel and Gretel.
His second wife often ill-treated the children
and was forever nagging the woodcutter. "There is not enough food in the house
for us all. There are too many mouths to feed! We must get rid of the two
brats," she declared.
And she kept on trying to persuade her husband
to abandon his children in the forest. "Take them miles from home, so far that
they can never find their way back! Maybe someone will find them and give them a
The downcast woodcutter didn't know what to do.
Hansel who, one evening, had overheard his parents' conversation, comforted
Gretel. "Don't worry! If they do leave us in the forest, we'll find the way
home," he said. And slipping out of the house he filled his pockets with little
white pebbles, then went back to bed.
All night long, the woodcutter's wife harped on
and on at her husband till, at dawn, he led Hansel and Gretel away into the
forest. But as they went into the depths of the trees, Hansel dropped a little
white pebble here and there on the mossy green ground. At a certain point, the
two children found they really were alone: the woodcutter had plucked up enough
courage to desert them, had mumbled an excuse and was gone.
Night fell but the woodcutter did not return.
Gretel began to sob bitterly. Hansel too felt scared but he tried to hide his
feelings and comfort his sister. "Don't cry, trust me! I swear I'll take you
home even if Father doesn't come back for us!"
Luckily the moon was full that night and Hansel
waited till its cold light filtered through the trees. "Now give me your hand!"
he said. "We'll get home safely, you'll see!" The tiny white pebbles gleamed in
the moonlight, and the children found their way home. They crept through a
half-open window, without wakening their parents. Cold, tired but thankful to be
home again, they slipped into bed.
Next day, when their stepmother discovered that
Hansel and Gretel had returned, she went into a rage. Stifling her anger in
front of the children, she locked her bedroom door, reproaching her husband for
failing to carry out her orders.
The weak woodcutter protested, torn as he was
between shame and fear of disobeying his cruel wife. The wicked stepmother kept
Hansel and Gretel under lock and key all day with nothing for supper but a sip
of water and some hard bread.
All night, husband and wife quarreled, and when
dawn came, the woodcutter led the children out into the forest. Hansel, however,
had not eaten his bread, and as he walked through the trees, he left a trail of
crumbs behind him to mark the way.
But the little boy had forgotten about the
hungry birds that lived in the forest. When they saw him, they flew along behind
and in no time at all, had eaten all the crumbs. Again, with a lame excuse, the
woodcutter left his two children by themselves.
"I've left a trail, like last time!" Hansel
whispered to Gretel, consolingly. But when night fell, they saw to their horror,
that all the crumbs had gone. "I'm frightened!" wept Gretel bitterly. "I'm cold
and hungry and I want to go home!" "Don't be afraid. I'm here to look after
Hansel tried to encourage his sister, but he too
shivered when he glimpsed frightening shadows and evil eyes around them in the
darkness. All night the two children huddled together for warmth at the foot of
a large tree.
When dawn broke, they started to wander about
the forest, seeking a path, but all hope soon faded. They were well and truly
lost. On they walked and walked, till suddenly they came upon a strange cottage
in the middle of a glade.
"This is chocolate!" gasped Hansel as he broke a
lump of plaster from the wall. "And this is icing!" exclaimed Gretel, putting
another piece of wall in her mouth. Starving but delighted, the children began
to eat pieces of candy broken off the cottage.
"Isn't this delicious?" said Gretel, with her
mouth full. She had never tasted anything so nice.
"We'll stay here," Hansel declared, munching a
bit of nougat.
They were just about to try a piece of the
biscuit door when it quietly swung open. "Well, well!" said an old woman,
peering out with a crafty look. "And haven't you children a sweet tooth?"
"Come in! Come in, you've nothing to fear!" went
on the old woman.
Unluckily for Hansel and Gretel, however, the
sugar candy cottage belonged to an old witch, her trap for catching unwary
victims. The two children had come to a really nasty place . . .
"You're nothing but skin and bones!" said the
witch, locking Hansel into a cage. I shall fatten you up and eat you!"
"You can do the housework," she told Gretel
grimly, "then I'll make a meal of you too!"
As luck would have it, the witch had very bad
eyesight, and when Gretel smeared butter on her glasses, she could see even
"Let me feel your finger!" said the witch to
Hansel every day to check if he was getting any fatter. Now, Gretel had brought
her brother a chicken bone, and when the witch went to touch his finger, Hansel
held out the bone.
"You're still much too thin!" she complained.
When will you become plump?"
One day the witch grew tired of waiting.
"Light the oven," she told Gretel. "We're going
to have a tasty roasted boy today!"
A little later, hungry and impatient, she went
on: "Run and see if the oven is hot enough."
Gretel returned, whimpering: "I can't tell if it
is hot enough or not."
Angrily, the witch screamed at the little girl:
"Useless child! All right, I'll see for myself."
But when the witch bent down to peer inside the
oven and check the heat, Gretel gave her a tremendous push and slammed the oven
door shut. The witch had come to a fit and proper end.
Gretel ran to set her brother free and they made
quite sure that the oven door was tightly shut behind the witch. Indeed, just to
be on the safe side, they fastened it firmly with a large padlock.
Then they stayed for several days to eat some
more of the house, till they discovered amongst the witch's belongings, a huge
chocolate egg. Inside lay a casket of gold coins.
"The witch is now burnt to a cinder," said
Hansel, "so we'll take this treasure with us." They filled a large basket with
food and set off into the forest to search for the way home.
This time, luck was with them, and on the second
day, they saw their father come out of the house towards them, weeping. "Your
stepmother is dead. Come home with me now, my dear children!"
The two children hugged the woodcutter. "Promise
you'll never ever desert us again," said Gretel, throwing her arms round her
father's neck. Hansel opened the casket. "Look, Father! We're rich now . . .
You'll never have to chop wood again . . ."
And they all lived happily together ever after.