Gretel, Hansel, the witch and her edible house are depicted on this 1961 West German postage stamp.

"Hansel and Gretel" (German: "Hänsel und Gretel"; also published in English as "Hansel and Grethel", "Hansel and Grettel" and '"Little Brother and Little Sister"[1]) is a German fairy tale. It is included in Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales) the 1812 anthology of German folktales compiled by the Brothers Grimm. The story was told to Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm by Dortchen Wild, who later became Wilhelm Grimm's wife. Tales similar to "Hansel and Gretel" exist in the folklore of several European countries. Similar stories had also been published in French in the 17th and 18th centuries, a fact which the Brothers Grimm acknowledged in their original footnotes to "Hansel and Gretel".

The main characters in the story are two children, a boy named Hansel and his sister named Gretel.[2] The children are abandoned in the woods by their impoverished parents who are unable to feed them. After wandering around for several days, Hansel and Gretel come to a house made of bread, cakes and sugar. The house is home to an old woman who, at first, acts very kindly towards Hansel and Gretel. It is soon revealed, however, that the old woman is really a wicked witch who plans to eat the children.

There have been numerous adaptations of the Brothers Grimm's "Hansel and Gretel" to other media. One of the most notable and influential of those adaptations is the children's opera Hansel and Gretel, written by the German composer Engelbert Humperdinck, which was first performed in 1893.


The boy Hansel and his sister Gretel live with their father and stepmother.[3] The children's father is a woodcutter who is very poor. While he is in bed one night, the woodcutter laments the fact that he is unable to feed his family and asks what he should do. His wife says that, since they cannot feed Hansel and Gretel, they should take the children deep into the forest and abandon them there. The woodcutter does not want to leave his children to be killed by wild animals. His wife, however, says that all four of them will starve to death if the children remain. The woodcutter reluctantly agrees to his wife's plan.

Hansel leaves a trail of pebbles. Late 19th century illustration by the German artist Carl Offterdiner.

Hansel and Gretel are still awake and overhear their father and stepmother talking. Hansel tells his sister not to worry. Later that night, he goes outside and fills his pockets with white pebbles that shine in the moonlight.

Early the following morning, the children's stepmother wakes them up and tells them that they are going into the forest. She gives them each a piece of bread and tells them not to eat it until lunchtime. As they walk, Hansel drops pebbles behind him to create a trail that leads back to their house. When they reach the middle of the forest, the children are told to gather wood and light a fire. Their stepmother tells them to rest by the fire while she and her husband go to cut wood. The children stay by the fire, eat their bread at lunchtime and go to sleep. They wake up after night has fallen and know for certain that their father and stepmother have truly abandoned them. By the light of the moon, they are able to follow the trail of white pebbles back to their house. Their father is overjoyed to see them again. Their stepmother scolds them, pretending that she is angry with them for having stayed sleeping in the forest for such a long time.

Shortly afterwards, the woodcutter's wife again tells him one night that they will all starve to death unless the children are abandoned in the forest. She suggests taking them further into the forest this time so that they will be less likely to find their way home. Again, the woodcutter reluctantly agrees to her plan. As before, the children overhear this. Hansel plans to go outside and pick up white pebbles again. Unfortunately, this time he is unable to do so because the door of the house has been locked.

The children are again woken up early the following morning. As before, they are each given a piece of bread. Hansel breaks his piece of bread into crumbs and leaves a trail of breadcrumbs behind him. The children are taken to a part of the forest that they have never been to before and again go to sleep in front of a fire. They wake up at night, their father and stepmother having gone. Hansel tells his sister that they will be able to follow the trail of breadcrumbs home. Unfortunately, they are not able to do so because the crumbs have all been eaten by birds.

The witch comes out to greet Hansel and Gretel. 1909 illustration by the British artist Arthur Rackham.

Hansel and Gretel wander around the forest for three days. Eventually, the lost, tired and hungry children come to a house made of bread and covered with cakes that has windows made of sugar. Hansel begins eating the house's roof. Gretel starts eating its windows. An extremely old woman comes out of the house. The children are frightened at first but the old woman speaks to them kindly. She invites them inside, gives them a meal and then leads them to beds with clean sheets. The old woman, however, is only pretending to be kind. She is a wicked witch who plans to kill, cook and eat the children.

The witch plans to eat Hansel first and to use Gretel as a servant while she is fattening up the boy. Early the following morning, she takes Hansel to a stable and locks him behind a grated door. She then wakes up Gretel and begins to give the girl orders. Gretel is ordered to cook for her brother. While the boy is being fattened up, however, Gretel is given hardly anything to eat.

Each day, the witch tells Hansel to stretch out his finger so that she can check if it is getting fat. Although witches have a very good sense of smell, their eyesight is poor. Hansel is therefore able to trick the witch and prolong his life by showing her a bone instead of his finger. After a month, the witch grows tired of waiting for Hansel to get fat and decides to eat him anyway. She heats an oven and then tells Gretel to check if it is hot enough. Realizing that the witch plans to shut her in the oven and cook her too, Gretel pretends not to understand what the witch wants her to do. The witch demonstrates how the girl could crawl into the oven, which is large enough for the witch to get inside too. Once the witch is inside the hot oven, Gretel shuts and bolts its door. The witch burns to death.

Gretel releases her brother from the stable. In the witch's house, the two children find chests full of rubies and pearls. The two children fill their pockets with the jewels before they leave.

Hansel and Gretel come to a stretch of water that they cannot cross. Gretel sees a duck. She calls out to the duck and asks it to take them across the water on its back. The duck is not large enough to carry the two children at the same time. Hansel is carried across first. After that, the duck returns to carry Gretel across the water.[4]

Shortly afterwards, the children find themselves in a familiar part of the forest and soon arrive home. Their father is delighted to see them again. While Hansel and Gretel were away, their stepmother died.[5] The two children empty their pockets of the rubies and pearls that they took from the witch's house. As a result, the poor woodcutter suddenly becomes rich and the family's worries are over.


Baba Yaga, a cannibal witch from Russian folklore who appears in folktales similar to "Hansel and Gretel". 19th century depiction by the Russian artist Nikolay Karazin.

Stories similar to "Hansel and Gretel" can be found in the folklore of several European countries. They are especially common in regions that neighbor the Baltic Sea. Those stories tell of how children temporarily fall under the power of ogres that they are later able to outwit.

In their original footnotes to "Hansel and Gretel", the Brothers Grimm state that the story has some similarities to the French fairy tales "Hop-o'-My-Thumb" (Le Petit Poucet), written by Charles Perrault and first published in 1697, and "Clever Cinders" (Finette Cendron), written by Madame d'Aulny and first published in 1721. In "Hop-o'-My-Thumb", the title character and his brothers are twice abandoned by their parents. The first time, Hop-o'-My-Thumb leaves a trail of pebbles and is able to lead his brothers home. The second time, he leaves a trail of breadcrumbs which are eaten by birds. The boys then find themselves at the home of a child-eating ogre. In "Clever Cinders", the title character is unable to find her way home after pigeons eat a trail of peas that she has left. She and her sisters find themselves at the castle of an ogre who wants to eat them. The girls are able to escape after Clever Cinders tricks the ogre into looking inside an oven. She pushes him into it and he is burned to death.

The story of "Hansel and Gretel" may have originated during the Great Famine which affected much of Europe between the years 1315 and 1322. Widespread crop failures during that period meant that some desperate people killed their own children when they realized that they could not provide for them. Some people resorted to cannibalism in order to survive.


Photograph taken during a 2015 performance of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at the Vienna State Opera.

The children's opera Hansel and Gretel by the German composer Engelbert Humperdinck is often credited with being responsible for the continued popularity of the "Hansel and Gretel" story. The opera was composed between 1891 and 1892. The libretto was written by Humperdinck's sister Adelheid Wette. It was Wette who initially approached her brother and asked him to provide music for song lyrics that she had written for her children based on "Hansel and Gretel".

The opera presents a story that is notably lighter than the tale that the Brothers Grimm wrote. In the opera, Hansel and Gretel come from a poor but loving family. Due to a lack of food, the children are sent into the forest by their mother to pick strawberries. Their mother is unaware that the forest is home to a witch. The children's father, a broomstick salesman, returns home after having sold a lot of broomsticks and spent the money on a large amount of food. When he finds out that the children have gone into the forest, he tells his wife about the witch who lives there. Hansel and Gretel's mother and father both go into the forest at once to try to rescue their children. The witch, who is given the name of Rosine Leckermaul or Rosina Tastymuzzle, transforms children into gingerbread. Some of those magically transformed children form a fence around the witch's house. At the end of the opera, after the witch has been pushed into her oven, she is turned into gingerbread herself and the children who formed her fence are restored to normal. Additional characters, who appear in the opera but not in the Brothers Grimm's story, are the Sandman who makes the children go to sleep, angels who watch over them while they are sleeping and the Dew Fairy who wakes them up in the morning.

The song "Brother, Come and Dance with Me" from Act I of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretelas played on a music box.

Instrumental version of the song "Evening Prayer" from Act II of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel.

Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel was first performed at the Hoftheater (now the Deutsches Nationaltheater) in Weimar on December 23, 1893. To this day, the opera remains strongly associated with the Christmas season in Germany. The first performances of the opera in the United Kingdom and the United States were both at theaters owned by the American theater director Augustin Daly. The first performance of Hansel and Gretel in the United Kingdom was at Daly's Theatre in London on December 26, 1894. The first performance in the United States was at Daly's Theater in New York City on October 8, 1895. The first performance in Australia was at the Princess's Theatre in Melbourne on April 6, 1907. In English-speaking countries, the opera is usually performed in an English translation rather than in the original German. For many years, the translation by the British composer Constance Bache was the one most often performed in the United Kingdom and the translation by the American tenor Norman Kelley was the one most often performed in the United States. Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel is admired for its folk music-inspired themes. One of its best known songs is "Abendsegen" ("Evening Prayer") from Act II.

Dolls produced as a merchandising tie-in for the 1954 animated film Hansel and Gretel.

The 1954 American stop motion animation film Hansel and Gretel (known since its 2012 DVD release as Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy) was the first American animated film not to use traditional animation and the first American animated feature film not to have been made by Walt Disney Productions since 1941. Although the film is an adaptation of Engelbert Humperdinck's opera, it is not itself an opera but rather an operetta in which songs are connected by spoken dialogue. It features the voices of Anna Russell as the witch (who is given the name of Rosina Rubylips), Mildred Dunnock as the children's mother, Frank Rogier as the children's father and Constance Brigham as both Hansel and Gretel. The film was made in New York City. It was directed by John Paul and produced by Michael Myerberg. It was originally distributed to movie theaters by Myerberg himself. RKO took over the film's distribution prior to the 1954 Christmas season. The film was heavily promoted by RKO, with merchandising including books, comic books, toys, candy, figurines and clothing.

Animated shorts based on the "Hansel and Gretel" story include the 1932 Walt Disney Silly Symphony Babes in the Wood, the 1934 Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon The Candy House, the 1954 Bugs Bunny cartoon Bewitched Bunny and the 1954 Woody Woodpecker cartoon Get Lost. The plot of the 2011 American computer animated feature film Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil is set in motion when Little Red Riding Hood's extreme sports-loving grandmother is tasked with rescuing Hansel and Gretel from the witch.

Models promote the home media release of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles in June 2013.

The 2013 German-American film Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters includes elements of horror, action and comedy. It stars Jeremy Renner as an adult Hansel and Gemma Arterton as an adult Gretel. As a result of their childhood experience, Hansel and Gretel develop a deep hatred for witches. They grow up to be professional witch hunters. Fortunately, they appear to be immune to spells and curses. During the course of the film, Hansel and Gretel discover that not all witches are evil. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was a commercial success. Having been made on a budget of US$50 million, it went on to earn US$226 million at the box office worldwide. It was a major hit in Brazil, Germany, Mexico and Russia. The movie was not well received by most mainstream critics, who accused it of having a weak script and relying on gratuitous violence. It was, however, much better received by critics who specialize in the horror genre.

Other live-action movies based on "Hansel and Gretel" include two West German films, which were both released in 1954, a 2002 American children's fantasy film and a 2007 South Korean horror film. The 2013 American films Hansel & Gretel and Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft (also known as Hansel & Gretel: Witch Slayers) are low-budget "mockbuster" horror movies that were both released direct-to-video at the same time that Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was in theaters in order to exploit that film's publicity. The 2013 American film Hansel & Gretel Get Baked (also known as Black Forest: Hansel and Gretel and the 420 Witch) is a horror comedy that references cannabis culture. An 84-minute adaptation of "Hansel and Gretel", starring Cloris Leachman as Griselda the Witch and featuring some music from Engelbert Humperdinck's opera, was filmed at GG Israel Studios in Jerusalem in 1987. It was released direct-to-video in the United States on December 10, 1988 as part of the Cannon Movie Tales series.

A musical adaptation of "Hansel and Gretel" was broadcast as a live TV special on the American NBC network on April 27, 1958. The special stars Red Buttons as Hansel and Barbara Cook as Gretel. It features songs by composer Alec Wilder and lyricist William Engunck. A cast album was released which was recently reissued on CD.

Tim Burton directed the TV movie Hansel and Gretel that first aired on the Disney Channel in the United States on October 31, 1983. The TV movie has a predominantly Asian-American cast. It stars Andy Lee as Hansel, Alison Hong as Gretel, Jim Ishida as the children's father and Michael Yama in the dual role of the children's stepmother and the witch. The narrator is Vincent Price.

A version of the story is told by actor and comedian Rik Mayall in the eighth episode of the first season of the British children's TV series Grim Tales. The episode was first shown on the ITV network in the United Kingdom on June 2, 1989.

Hansel et Gretel, la comédie musicale, a French musical based on "Hansel and Gretel" that was written by Guillaume Beaujolais, Fred Colas and David Rozen, was first performed at the Palais des Glaces in Paris on February 1, 2014.


  1. "Brother and Sister", another German fairy tale with some similarities to "Hansel and Gretel" that the Brothers Grimm also included in their 1812 anthology, has also been published in English under the title "Little Brother and Little Sister".
  2. The names Hansel and Gretel are both pet names. Hansel is a version of the German name Johann (John). It is roughly equivalent to the names Johnny or Jack in English. Gretel is a version of the German name Margarete (Margaret). It is roughly equivalent to the names Maggie. Meg or Peggy in English.
  3. In the 1812 first edition of the Brothers Grimm's Kinder- und Hausmaärchen, the woman is Hansel and Gretel's biological mother. It was not until the fourth edition of the book, which was published in 1840, that the character was changed to become the children's stepmother.
  4. The episode with the duck is not in the 1812 first edition of the Brothers Grimm's Kinder- und Hausmärchen. It was added in the 1819 second edition.
  5. The announcement of the stepmother's death coming shortly after the witch has been killed has led some commentators to conclude either that the two women are one and the same or that they are strongly connected in some way. In a Russian folktale similar to "Hansel and Gretel", the daughter of a poor woodcutter is sent into the forest to borrow a light from her stepmother's sister. Her stepmother's sister turns out to be the child-eating witch Baba Yaga.

External links

  • Versions of "Hansel and Gretel" in German and English on Wikisource.
  • Public domain audiobooks of "Hansel and Gretel" in German and English on YouTube.
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