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1001 Stories Collection

Hansel and Gretel

Added on 25th June 2020

Oral tradition European folktale

The Whispering Wood Europe Folk and fairy tales

A well known folk tale about children lost in a wood, a trail of crumbs, a gingerbread house and one of the most terrifying fairy tale witches.

Story

Hansel and Gretel are abandoned in the wood by their father and stepmother and must fend for themselves. When they stumble across a gingerbread house, they think they have found refuge. But how will they escape the witch who lives there?

Why we chose it

When we asked visitors to the museum to tell us their favourite traditional tales Hansel and Gretel was one of the most frequently mentioned.

Where it came from

There is a long tradition of tales in which children outwit the ogres who capture them. The horror of Hansel and Gretel being abandoned by their parents is thought to have roots in the Great Famine (1315-21) when poor families couldn’t afford to keep their children. In Germany in the early 19th century, Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm set out to collect the fairy tales that had been passed orally down the generations to make sure that they were not forgotten. Hansel and Gretel was one of them and was published in Children’s and Household Tales in 1812.

Where it went next

In 1893, Engelbert Humperdinck produced his opera, Hansel and Gretel, which made the tale hugely popular, although it omitted the children being abandoned by their parents. The story has been retold many times, including recent versions by Michael Morpurgo illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark and by Anthony Browne.

Associated stories

Fairy tale woods in many cultures hide witches, many of them with a desire to eat children. In British story Molly Whuppie three children find a giant in the forest who tries to eat them. Baba Yaga, the iron toothed witch in Russian and Slavic folk tales, lives deep in a wood.

Added on 25th June 2020

Oral tradition European folktale

The Whispering Wood Europe Folk and fairy tales