29 November 2010

Hansel and Gretel

I recently ran across this old cartoon commenting on childhood obesity, and wondered whether the original story of Hansel and Gretel involved "fattening up" the children.  So I dug out my ancient copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales (the 1945 Illustrated Junior Library copy that was one of my first books) and found that starving children were part and parcel of the original tale.

In the first place, the children were abandoned in the woods by their parents because there wasn't enough food to feed the family:
... And at one time when there was famine in the land, he could no longer procure daily bread... "I'll tell you what, husband... tomorrow morning we will take the children out quite early into the thickest part of the  forest.  We will light a fire and give each of them a piece of bread.  Then we will go to our work and leave them alone.  They won't be able to find their way back, and so we shall be rid of them."
After wandering the woods, the children find the house made of bread and roofed with cake, with windows of transparent sugar.  They start to eat the house, which is inhabited by the wicked witch...
Whenever she could get a child into her clutches she cooked it and ate it, and considered it a grand feast... 
But she has to fatten up Hansel:
"Fetch some water and cook something nice for your brother.  He is in the stable and has to be fattened.  When he is nice and fat, I will eat him."
Here is Arthur Rackham's illustration of the encounter, via the OBI Scrapbook Blog:
A brief search through Google Images doesn't reveal any images depicting the children as being malnourished.


  1. Of course, a 1945 edition in English may or may not bear much resemblance to the Grimms' original tale. Any version of those stories published in a "Junior Library" is pretty sure to be heavily bowdlerised.

  2. I'm not sure Arthur Rackham wasn't using some mind expanding pharmaceuticals!

  3. Fattening up the children and the witch's terrible eyesight were two key features of the story as Gretel gave Hansel a chicken bone (to fool the witch with) to thrust through the cage at the witch when she'd check to see if he'd put on weight enough to make a good roast!


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