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Hansel and Gretel ( ) is a fairy tale of Germanic origin, recorded by the Brothers Grimm. The story follows a young brother and sister who discover a house of candy and cake in the forest and a child-devouring witch. The tale has been adapted to various media, most notably the opera Hänsel und Gretel (1893) by Engelbert Humperdinck and a stop-motion animated feature film based on the opera.


"Hansel and Gretel" is one of several European tales in which children outwit an ogre into whose hands they have fallen. Their plight is involuntary, unlike the hero of the 'Jack' tales who actively seeks monsters and ogres in order to obtain loot, engage in blood sports, or win enduring glory. The Grimm brothers learned "Hansel and Gretel" in Cassel from the young girl Dortchen Wild, who years later would become Wilhelm Grimm's wife. The basic elements of the tale are found throughout the world, although their simplicity makes it hard to tell whether a given instance is a borrowing or an independent invention.Another theory is that Hansel and Gretel is one of the first cases of what would nowadays be called industrial espionage. During medieval times when the story happened, the patent system was not in place yet and all trade secrets were handed down as family lore. Allegedly, the recipe for gingerbread was one such trade/family secret and the villagers sent out two children, i.e. Hansel and Gretel, to spy on the woman who owned the recipe. The children were caught by the woman and incarcerated but well fed. The villagers, however, came to their rescue and in the process killed and burned the baker. The tale was spun as a cover-up for the crime.


The tale from the Brothers Grimm was meant to be a pleasant fable for middle-class consumers of the 19th century; the original however was probably an admonishment of the hardships of medieval life. Abandoning children in the woods to die or fend for themselves because of famine, war, plague or other reasons, was not unknown, in particular during the crisis of the Late Middle Ages. Many critics have posited that the tale likely stemmed from historical instances of abandonment caused by famine; see the works of Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar for example,.

In the first editions of the Grimms' collection, there was no stepmother; the mother persuaded the father to abandon her own children. This change, as in Snow White, appears to be a deliberate toning down of the unpleasantness for society in general who can't bear to think of mothers trying to hurt and kill their own children.

That the mother or stepmother happens to die when the children have killed the witch has suggested to many commentators that the mother or stepmother and the witch are, in fact, the same woman, or at least that an identity between them is strongly hinted at. Indeed, a Russian folk tale exists in which the evil stepmother (also the wife of a poor woodcutter) asks her hated stepdaughter to go into the forest to borrow a light from her sister, who turns out to be Baba Yaga, who is also a cannibalistic witch. Besides highlighting the endangerment of children (as well as their own cleverness), they both have in common a preoccupation with food and with hurting children; the mother or stepmother wants to avoid hunger, while the witch lures children to eat her house of candy so that she can then eat them.

The tale is Aarne-Thompson type 327A. Another tale of this type is The Lost Children. Although they are not classified under this type, the Brothers Grimm identified the French Finette Cendron and Hop o' My Thumb as parallels to the story.


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