German philologist, jurist and mythologist
HANSEL AND GRETEL
Narrated by Beth Richmond
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running time is 19 minutes
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Hard by a great forest dwelt a poor wood-cutter with his wife and his
two children. The boy was called Hansel and the girl Gretel. He had
little to bite and to break, and once when great dearth fell on the
land, he could no longer procure even daily bread. Now when he thought
over this by night in his bed, and tossed about in his anxiety, he
groaned and said to his wife: 'What is to become of us? How are we to
feed our poor children, when we no longer have anything even for
ourselves?' 'I'll tell you what, husband,' answered the woman, 'early
tomorrow morning we will take the children out into the forest to
where it is the thickest; there we will light a fire for them, and
give each of them one more piece of bread, and then we will go to our
work and leave them alone. They will not find the way home again, and
we shall be rid of them.' 'No, wife,' said the man, 'I will not do
that; how can I bear to leave my children alone in the forest?—the
wild animals would soon come and tear them to pieces.' 'O, you fool!'
said she, 'then we must all four die of hunger, you may as well plane
the planks for our coffins,' and she left him no peace until he
consented. 'But I feel very sorry for the poor children, all the
same,' said the man.
The two children had also not been able to sleep for hunger, and had
heard what their stepmother had said to their father. Gretel wept
bitter tears, and said to Hansel: 'Now all is over with us.' 'Be
quiet, Gretel,' said Hansel, 'do not distress yourself, I will soon
find a way to help us.' And when the old folks had fallen asleep, he
got up, put on his little coat, opened the door below, and crept
outside. The moon shone brightly, and the white pebbles which lay in
front of the house glittered like real silver pennies. Hansel stooped
and stuffed the little pocket of his coat with as many as he could get
in. Then he went back and said to Gretel: 'Be comforted, dear little
sister, and sleep in peace, God will not forsake us,' and he lay down
again in his bed. When day dawned, but before the sun had risen, the
woman came and awoke the two children, saying: 'Get up, you sluggards!
we are going into the forest to fetch wood.' She gave each a little
piece of bread, and said: 'There is something for your dinner, but do
not eat it up before then, for you will get nothing else.' Gretel took
the bread under her apron, as Hansel had the pebbles in his pocket.
Then they all set out together on the way to the forest. When they had
walked a short time, Hansel stood still and peeped back at the house,
and did so again and again. His father said: 'Hansel, what are you
looking at there and staying behind for? Pay attention, and do not
forget how to use your legs.' 'Ah, father,' said Hansel, 'I am looking
at my little white cat, which is sitting up on the roof, and wants to
say goodbye to me.' The wife said: 'Fool, that is not your little cat,
that is the morning sun which is shining on the chimneys.' Hansel,
however, had not been looking back at the cat, but had been constantly
throwing one of the white pebble-stones out of his pocket on the road.
When they had reached the middle of the forest, the father said: 'Now,
children, pile up some wood, and I will light a fire that you may not
be cold.' Hansel and Gretel gathered brushwood together, as high as a
little hill. The brushwood was lighted, and when the flames were
burning very high, the woman said: 'Now, children, lay yourselves down
by the fire and rest, we will go into the forest and cut some wood.
When we have done, we will come back and fetch you away.'
Hansel and Gretel sat by the fire, and when noon came, each ate a
little piece of bread, and as they heard the strokes of the wood-axe
they believed that their father was near. It was not the axe, however,
but a branch which he had fastened to a withered tree which the wind
was blowing backwards and forwards. And as they had been sitting such
a long time, their eyes closed with fatigue, and they fell fast
asleep. When at last they awoke, it was already dark night. Gretel
began to cry and said: 'How are we to get out of the forest now?' But
Hansel comforted her and said: 'Just wait a little, until the moon has
risen, and then we will soon find the way.' And when the full moon had
risen, Hansel took his little sister by the hand, and followed the
pebbles which shone like newly-coined silver pieces, and showed them
They walked the whole night long, and by break of day came once more
to their father's house. They knocked at the door, and when the woman
opened it and saw that it was Hansel and Gretel, she said: 'You
naughty children, why have you slept so long in the forest?—we
thought you were never coming back at all!' The father, however,
rejoiced, for it had cut him to the heart to leave them behind alone.
Not long afterwards, there was once more great dearth throughout the
land, and the children heard their mother saying at night to their
father: 'Everything is eaten again, we have one half loaf left, and
that is the end. The children must go, we will take them farther into
the wood, so that they will not find their way out again; there is no
other means of saving ourselves!' The man's heart was heavy, and he
thought: 'It would be better for you to share the last mouthful with
your children.' The woman, however, would listen to nothing that he
had to say, but scolded and reproached him. He who says A must say B,
likewise, and as he had yielded the first time, he had to do so a
second time also.
The children, however, were still awake and had heard the
conversation. When the old folks were asleep, Hansel again got up, and
wanted to go out and pick up pebbles as he had done before, but the
woman had locked the door, and Hansel could not get out. Nevertheless
he comforted his little sister, and said: 'Do not cry, Gretel, go to
sleep quietly, the good God will help us.'
Early in the morning came the woman, and took the children out of
their beds. Their piece of bread was given to them, but it was still
smaller than the time before. On the way into the forest Hansel
crumbled his in his pocket, and often stood still and threw a morsel
on the ground. 'Hansel, why do you stop and look round?' said the
father, 'go on.' 'I am looking back at my little pigeon which is
sitting on the roof, and wants to say goodbye to me,' answered Hansel.
'Fool!' said the woman, 'that is not your little pigeon, that is the
morning sun that is shining on the chimney.' Hansel, however little by
little, threw all the crumbs on the path.
The woman led the children still deeper into the forest, where they
had never in their lives been before. Then a great fire was again
made, and the mother said: 'Just sit there, you children, and when you
are tired you may sleep a little; we are going into the forest to cut
wood, and in the evening when we are done, we will come and fetch you
away.' When it was noon, Gretel shared her piece of bread with Hansel,
who had scattered his by the way. Then they fell asleep and evening
passed, but no one came to the poor children. They did not awake until
it was dark night, and Hansel comforted his little sister and said:
'Just wait, Gretel, until the moon rises, and then we shall see the
crumbs of bread which I have strewn about, they will show us our way
home again.' When the moon came they set out, but they found no
crumbs, for the many thousands of birds which fly about in the woods
and fields had picked them all up. Hansel said to Gretel: 'We shall
soon find the way,' but they did not find it. They walked the whole
night and all the next day too from morning till evening, but they did
not get out of the forest, and were very hungry, for they had nothing
to eat but two or three berries, which grew on the ground. And as they
were so weary that their legs would carry them no longer, they lay
down beneath a tree and fell asleep.
It was now three mornings since they had left their father's house.
They began to walk again, but they always came deeper into the forest,
and if help did not come soon, they must die of hunger and weariness.
When it was mid-day, they saw a beautiful snow-white bird sitting on a
bough, which sang so delightfully that they stood still and listened
to it. And when its song was over, it spread its wings and flew away
before them, and they followed it until they reached a little house,
on the roof of which it alighted; and when they approached the little
house they saw that it was built of bread and covered with cakes, but
that the windows were of clear sugar. 'We will set to work on that,'
said Hansel, 'and have a good meal. I will eat a bit of the roof, and
you Gretel, can eat some of the window, it will taste sweet.' Hansel
reached up above, and broke off a little of the roof to try how it
tasted, and Gretel leant against the window and nibbled at the panes.
Then a soft voice cried from the parlour:
'Nibble, nibble, gnaw,
Who is nibbling at my little house?'
The children answered:
'The wind, the wind,
The heaven-born wind,'
and went on eating without disturbing themselves. Hansel, who liked
the taste of the roof, tore down a great piece of it, and Gretel
pushed out the whole of one round window-pane, sat down, and enjoyed
herself with it. Suddenly the door opened, and a woman as old as the
hills, who supported herself on crutches, came creeping out. Hansel
and Gretel were so terribly frightened that they let fall what they
had in their hands. The old woman, however, nodded her head, and said:
'Oh, you dear children, who has brought you here? do come in, and stay
with me. No harm shall happen to you.' She took them both by the hand,
and led them into her little house. Then good food was set before
them, milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples, and nuts. Afterwards two
pretty little beds were covered with clean white linen, and Hansel and
Gretel lay down in them, and thought they were in heaven.
The old woman had only pretended to be so kind; she was in reality a
wicked witch, who lay in wait for children, and had only built the
little house of bread in order to entice them there. When a child fell
into her power, she killed it, cooked and ate it, and that was a feast
day with her. Witches have red eyes, and cannot see far, but they have
a keen scent like the beasts, and are aware when human beings draw
near. When Hansel and Gretel came into her neighbourhood, she laughed
with malice, and said mockingly: 'I have them, they shall not escape
me again!' Early in the morning before the children were awake, she
was already up, and when she saw both of them sleeping and looking so
pretty, with their plump and rosy cheeks she muttered to herself:
'That will be a dainty mouthful!' Then she seized Hansel with her
shrivelled hand, carried him into a little stable, and locked him in
behind a grated door. Scream as he might, it would not help him. Then
she went to Gretel, shook her till she awoke, and cried: 'Get up, lazy
thing, fetch some water, and cook something good for your brother, he
is in the stable outside, and is to be made fat. When he is fat, I
will eat him.' Gretel began to weep bitterly, but it was all in vain,
for she was forced to do what the wicked witch commanded.
And now the best food was cooked for poor Hansel, but Gretel got
nothing but crab-shells. Every morning the woman crept to the little
stable, and cried: 'Hansel, stretch out your finger that I may feel if
you will soon be fat.' Hansel, however, stretched out a little bone to
her, and the old woman, who had dim eyes, could not see it, and
thought it was Hansel's finger, and was astonished that there was no
way of fattening him. When four weeks had gone by, and Hansel still
remained thin, she was seized with impatience and would not wait any
longer. 'Now, then, Gretel,' she cried to the girl, 'stir yourself,
and bring some water. Let Hansel be fat or lean, tomorrow I will kill
him, and cook him.' Ah, how the poor little sister did lament when she
had to fetch the water, and how her tears did flow down her cheeks!
'Dear God, do help us,' she cried. 'If the wild beasts in the forest
had but devoured us, we should at any rate have died together.' 'Just
keep your noise to yourself,' said the old woman, 'it won't help you
Early in the morning, Gretel had to go out and hang up the cauldron
with the water, and light the fire. 'We will bake first,' said the old
woman, 'I have already heated the oven, and kneaded the dough.' She
pushed poor Gretel out to the oven, from which flames of fire were
already darting. 'Creep in,' said the witch, 'and see if it is
properly heated, so that we can put the bread in.' And once Gretel was
inside, she intended to shut the oven and let her bake in it, and then
she would eat her, too. But Gretel saw what she had in mind, and said:
'I do not know how I am to do it; how do I get in?' 'Silly goose,'
said the old woman. 'The door is big enough; just look, I can get in
myself!' and she crept up and thrust her head into the oven. Then
Gretel gave her a push that drove her far into it, and shut the iron
door, and fastened the bolt. Oh! then she began to howl quite
horribly, but Gretel ran away and the godless witch was miserably
burnt to death.
Gretel, however, ran like lightning to Hansel, opened his little
stable, and cried: 'Hansel, we are saved! The old witch is dead!' Then
Hansel sprang like a bird from its cage when the door is opened. How
they did rejoice and embrace each other, and dance about and kiss each
other! And as they had no longer any need to fear her, they went into
the witch's house, and in every corner there stood chests full of
pearls and jewels. 'These are far better than pebbles!' said Hansel,
and thrust into his pockets whatever could be got in, and Gretel said:
'I, too, will take something home with me,' and filled her pinafore
full. 'But now we must be off,' said Hansel, 'that we may get out of
the witch's forest.'
When they had walked for two hours, they came to a great stretch of
water. 'We cannot cross,' said Hansel, 'I see no foot-plank, and no
bridge.' 'And there is also no ferry,' answered Gretel, 'but a white
duck is swimming there: if I ask her, she will help us over.' Then she
'Little duck, little duck, dost thou see,
Hansel and Gretel are waiting for thee?
There's never a plank, or bridge in sight,
Take us across on thy back so white.'
The duck came to them, and Hansel seated himself on its back, and told
his sister to sit by him. 'No,' replied Gretel, 'that will be too
heavy for the little duck; she shall take us across, one after the
other.' The good little duck did so, and when they were once safely
across and had walked for a short time, the forest seemed to be more
and more familiar to them, and at length they saw from afar their
father's house. Then they began to run, rushed into the parlour, and
threw themselves round their father's neck. The man had not known one
happy hour since he had left the children in the forest; the woman,
however, was dead. Gretel emptied her pinafore until pearls and
precious stones ran about the room, and Hansel threw one handful after
another out of his pocket to add to them. Then all anxiety was at an
end, and they lived together in perfect happiness. My tale is done,
there runs a mouse; whosoever catches it, may make himself a big fur
cap out of it.
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