The inevitable confrontation has arrived for Hansel and Gretel. They are about to encounter the evil witch who lives deep in the forest! Is it possible that they have been led here to overcome an evil that had been weighed in the balances and found wanting? The hand that has led them will be the hand that strengthens them to defeat a witch!
Beguiled By A Witch
Hansel and Gretel were lost, and had been wandering for days. They had only eaten a few found berries during that time.
On the third day, a beautiful bird caught their attention with its song and they followed it.
This is an intriguing idea.
It brings to mind times when my own children have done this very thing. We had been on a hike in the woods, and the quiet surprised us. It felt like magic when clear, sweet birdsong cracked through the silence and the little songbird was above us. As soon as we spotted the bird, it flitted away through the woods, and we would have had to leave the path to follow it.
Hansel and Gretel were led to the witch’s house, and they suspected no danger as they began their feasting.
But the witch had sensed their presence near her house, she could not see well, and she smelled them as they approached. While they were pulling treats off her house, they heard a soft voice call out,
“Nibble, nibble I hear a mouse. Who’s that nibbling at my house?”
The children answered with their own verse, “ The wind, the wind, it’s very mild, blowing like the heavenly child.”
The door opened and Hansel and Gretel saw a very old woman with a cane, there could be no harm in her!
She fed them the perfect “kid-food” meal of pancakes, milk, apples, and nuts. Her kindness reassured Hansel and Gretel, she was providing them with all the best hospitality they could ever crave.
Next, with an illusion of safety and comfort, the witch put the children to bed. For her tricky purposes, she had prepared child-sized beds dressed with lovely white sheets. However, every element of her homemaking was ingenuine!
Kind No Longer
Following the comforting welcome into her little house, the witch put her plan into action. The next morning, she grabbed Hansel and locked him inside a pen with a grilled door.
Gretel’s lot was to do the hard labor of fetching water and cooking, all to result in “fattening-up” Hansel so the witch could eat him. Imagine the horror for poor Gretel!
But Gretel was a brave girl and looked for an opportunity to escape.
Opportunity Arises To Defeat A Witch
“She was overcome by her impatience” one version of the fairy-tale reads. The witch had decided to cook Hansel the following day.
Gretel cried out another plea for God’s help, probably thinking it would come in the shape of a rescue.
Could a little girl ever be brave enough to defeat a witch?
The witch wanted some bread to go with her meal, so she had prepared the dough and heated the oven. She had planned to bake Gretel in the bread oven, as well as cook Hansel!
But the witch’s own plan was used against her. Gretel pushed the witch into the oven and bolted the iron door. The little girl was fulfilling her destiny to defeat a witch.
When push came to shove, she shoved!
Jewels Are Better Than Pebbles
Thus with the witch dead, Hansel and Gretel searched her house. They found pearls and jewels in chests all over the place. So, the witch must have had many wealthy victims through the years!
Gretel filled her apron pockets. Hansel filled his pockets as, as well, while breezily saying that jewels were better than pebbles. I enjoy Hansel’s light-hearted joke here that reminds the reader of the pebbles he had gathered at the beginning of the tale. These treasures would lead them back to a home that could be filled with comforts and plenty of food to eat.
In the introduction of this book, Jack Zipes, the author and translator, states that The Brothers Grimm “exhibit… the desire to make the stories more lively and pictorial by adding adjectives, old proverbs, and direct dialogue.”
Indeed, I think it likely that the above remark by Hansel was an example of one of their additions.
Help On The Journey Home
Next, in the fairy-tale, is one of my favorite parts. Hansel and Gretel had been walking for a few hours on the journey home. Somehow they were able to find their way out of the witch’s forest.
They came to a large river that they were unable to cross.
The brother and sister were given help when they had no resources of their own, and needed it most.
Gretel spotted a white duck swimming in the river, and she was certain it would help them cross if she would ask it to do so.
It is significant to note this as the second white bird to help Hansel and Gretel in this tale. To read more about symbolism of the bird, check out this post.
Gretel decided that they should ride individually on the little white duck’s back, because together they would be too heavy.
So, the duck kindly helped the children cross the river safely. Anything can happen in Faerie!
I love this charming portion, tucked neatly into the end of the story.
Home At Last
After walking through the increasingly familiar forest, Hansel and Gretel spotted their father’s house. Happily, they rushed inside and greeted their father.
While they were abandoned, lost, and held captive by the witch, their stepmother had died, Their father had missed them every day and longed for their return home.
Hansel and Gretel were exuberant when they showed their father their acquired treasures of pearls and jewels. Gretel shook out her apron, and Hansel emptied his pockets and threw the jewels around the room!
Hansel and Gretel were victims of a famine and their step-mother’s wicked plans to abandon them. They didn’t know that all things were working for their good, and the good of others, when they faced so much danger. It had been a long journey to defeat a witch!
The tale ends with “Now all their troubles were over, and they lived together in utmost joy.”
How Will You Benefit From Reading “Hansel And Gretel?
- Reading is good for you! Simply taking a break from looking at screens is a good thing. I recommend reading this tale out of an actual book. This is the translation I read from. It can be gotten inexpensively on this site. It can be a misconception that fairy-tales are for children. The truth is they are wonderful for children AND adults! Letting our minds and imaginations wander through this tale, and others, provides a tiny “holiday”!
- You can copy it. Fairy-tales were originally told orally, before they were gathered and written down. “Hansel and Gretel” has a story-teller charm that you can use as a template for your own stories. The more fairy-tales you read, your own stories can improve. Children love to hear us tell them family stories!
- Reading this fairy-tale grafts you into a literary “tradition”. Fairy-tales have been read, and loved, for generations. They have inspired great works of literature. If we don’t read them for ourselves and allow our children to experience them, how can fairy-tales continue their formative work?
The tale of Hansel and Gretel was originally told in the Baltic region of Europe, during the 1300s.
During the same time, there was a wide-spread famine, and the tragedies that resulted were inspiration for this tale to be told.
Some who have studied “Hansel and Gretel” have believed that the step-mother was actually the witch, giving the reason for the death of the step-mother.
Good-bye For Now
Surely you can tell how passionate I am about fairy-tales! I hope this series of posts about “Hansel and Gretel” has been as informative and fun for you as it has been for me. Please check out my first and second posts in the series.
It is my plan to bring more fairy-tales to life in this way.
Which ones would you like to see turned into an art adaptation? Let me know in the comments below.