The true story of Hansel and Gretel belongs in history books, and it is a far cry from the fairytale about siblings, lost in the woods, looking for shelter. There is more than one version of the true story of Hansel and Gretel, and not one is anything but creepy.
The events that don't appear in the fairytale by the Grimm brothers are far more gruesome than one could imagine. One might say that the true story of Hansel and Gretel was far more interesting, yet, you would not want your children anywhere near it.
The original book by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm was not suited for children. As historians, they collected tales from folklore and told a somewhat true story of Hansel and Gretel in 1812. Their neighbor, Henriette Dorothea Wild, was among those who talked about this future fairytale with the help of her older cousins. So, what was behind the famous fairytale?
During the early XIV century, in 1314, the Great famine stroke Europe. It was such a devastating time in history that it killed 25% of the population. The elderly chose to die of starvation, hoping that their sacrifices would save younger ones.
The written passages from 1315 say that "mothers were to be fed their children." This wasn't even the worst part of the famine, as some historians suggest that people dug graves for food.
So, where does it leave us with the real story of Hansel and Gretel? For once, the story is set in today's Germany. These names were popular, so we cannot pinpoint the siblings to one family. They represent the starving children of the Great famine from the XIV century and later.
Some parents would turn to cannibalism. Others would send their children away, to the woods, to either die or try to survive.
While the true story of Hansal and Gretel is heartbreaking, the fact that it represents a piece of history makes it even more tragic.
But, how does the witch fit into this story? The witch trials, an element of supernatural that can be controlled or destroyed, make a more engaging story than famine, right?
The Crumbs Of The True Story Of Hansel And Gretel
Cannibalism, murder, starvation, and child abuse were always part of the Hansel and Gretel fairytale. The original manuscript from 1812 does not mention the stepmother but the children's mother. The book was not intended to become a fairytale for youngsters, but circumstances changed, and so did the characters.
The grim story of the Grimm brothers can be seen from another angle once you understand the disaster that the Great famine brought.
The real story of Hansel and Gretel is about sacrifice and survival, not about bad parenting from the dark ages. The parents sent their children because they did not want to eat them. They also wanted them to go far away, perhaps to get away from others or avoid watching them suffer.
The gingerbread house was a mirage, hope, but there was an obstacle. As within every fairytale, there is an element of evil that must be destroyed. The witch, well, that's now obvious.
If the witch represents a Great famine, why bring in the stepmother? Historically, accusing father and mother (or stepparent) in case of infanticide was familiar, but only female caretakers were charged.
Other gruesome old stories came together into what we now know as a fairytale of the lost siblings. Together they paint a picture of the true story of Hansel and Gretel.
Every great story needs a villain, and the Grimm brothers did not have to look far to find it.
Italian And Romanian Fairytales Behind The True Story Of Hansel And Gretel
Before the Grimm brothers' version, a story was published in the XVII century, collected by an Italian poet Giambattista Basile. This fairytale, called Nennillo and Nennella, includes a caring dad and an evil stepmother who forces the father to leave his children in the woods.
Dad leaves a trail of oats, but the donkeys eat them. The real story of Hansel and Gretel can also be traced to The Little Boy and the Wicked Stepmother, a chilling fairytale from Romania.
We aren't sure how this story classifies as a fairytale since it is creepier than any Stephen King novel. A stepmother forces a sister to cook her brother and serve him as a meal.
That's not even the worst. The sister takes out the boy's heart and hides it in a tree. Their unknowing dad and stepmother enjoy the dinner (brother).
In the morning, the sister brings bones to the tree. The boy comes alive, as a plant, and bursts into a song. His singing kills the stepmother.
It appears to be a story about karma or sisterly love, but it is too horrific even for adults.
Of course, no Hansel and Gretel narrative is complete without mentioning the French fairytale Le Petit Poucet. The story is about a poor woodcutter, forced to send his children to the woods. Sounds familiar?
However, a cannibal ogre, not the big evil female witch, tries to eat them but eats his daughters instead.
As you can see, the true story of Hansel and Gretel can be found in almost any European country. It evolved, but the origins go back to the Great Famine of the 1300s, followed by the Great famine of 1708-1711 and 1771-1772.
These tragedies influenced European folklore and resonated with the Grimm brothers, born in 1785 and 1786.
The Grimm Brothers Changed Their Original Story
The Grimm brothers stepped away from the true story of Hansel and Gretel, perhaps as they grew older and softer, wanting more stories for their children.
There have been other interpretations through decades, though all are categorized as incorrect.
German caricaturist Hans Traxler published Die Wahrheit über Hänsel und Gretel in the 60s. The book tells the story of Hans and Grete Metzler who lived in a village in the Spessart Forest during in the XVII century, during the Thirty Years War.
These siblings killed a woman named Katharina Schraderin to steal her recipe for gingerbread. Schraderin was also, according to this tale, known as a witch because her gingerbread was too good to be true. However, this is a satire, so popular that many think this is the true story of Hansel and Gretel.
In another twist of faith, someone claimed that the true story of Hansel and Gretel was set during the Holocaust. While we are confident that parents sent their children away into the woods to avoid the Nazis, they deserve to have their own stories.
Though the story is dark, it is easily connected to disasters, where the adults made disturbing yet necessary choices for their children.
But not everything about Hansel and Gretel today is as gruesome as it might appear.
For reasons unknown, Hansel and Gretel got into Urban Dictionary. There are several visual descriptions of what the phrase might mean.
Overall, despite belonging to lore, the true story of Hansel and Gretel tells us about starvation, human sacrifices, the position of women, and the lost innocence. All these topics are factual and happening even today.
There is an upside even to the darkest tales. Wilhelm Grimm married Henriette Dorothea Wild, the woman who told the true story of Hansel and Gretel. The two had four children and lived happily ever after.