Three Grimm Brothers "Witch Tales" (1812-1815)

(actualisé le ) by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

The brothers Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859), co-authors of an extremely monumental modern German-language dictionary, are first and foremost renowned in the academic circles of their homeland as two of the main founders of German philology.

But of course among us lesser mortals they are best known for their remarkable collection of popular tales that they published in two volumes in 1812 and 1815.

We present here three of the best tales, selected it is true largely because they all feature witches who have always been high on the list of things we love to hate, but also because of their drive and energy, their utter realism beneath the veneer of make-believe, the way they get straight to the point without hemming and hawing and euphemising around, their frank and realistic violence that tells us so much about the lifestyle of the narrators who handed these stories down for generations until they arrived in the Grimm brothers collection, their innate charm - in short, the qualities that have enabled them to become so popular (albeit mostly in adulterated versions) for so long.

We present here the unadulterated, authentic versions translated directly from the original publications specially for this site.

e-book versions of these tales are available for downloading below.


1. Hänsel and Gretel (1812)

2. Rapunzel (1812)

3. The Blue Light (1815)


A poor woodcutter who lived beside a big forest had almost nothing to eat, and scarcely enough daily bread for his wife and his two children, Hansel and Gretel. There finally came a time when he couldn’t even do that, and he could find no way out of this terrible situation. As he was turning over in bed in anguish at night, his wife said to him: "Listen to me, husband, tomorrow morning take both children, give them each a piece of bread, then take them into the middle of the forest where it is the thickest, make a fire there and then go away and leave them there alone: we can no longer feed them."
"No, wife," said the man, "How could I leave my own children alone in the forest, where they would soon be torn to pieces by the wild animals?"
"If you don’t so it," said the wife, "then we must all die of hunger" and left him no peace until he agreed to do it.

The two children, who had become very weak for lack of food, had overheard what the mother said to the father. Gretel thought: "Now I am going to die," and began to cry pitifully, but Hansel said "be calm, Gretel, and don’t despair, I’ll find a way to save us." With that he got up, put on his jacket, opened the house door, and slipped outside. The moon was shining brightly and the white gravel stones gleamed like little coins. Hansel bent down and put as many in his jacket pocket as he could, and then went back into the house. "Don’t worry, Gretchen, and sleep well," he said and went to bed and fell asleep.

Early the next morning, before the sun had risen, the mother came in and woke up the two children, saying: "Get up, we have to go into the forest. Here is a piece of bread for each of you, but follow my advice and keep them until noon." Gretel put the bread under her apron, for Hansel’s pocket was full of stones, and they went out into the forest. After they had been going for only a little while, Hansel stopped and looked back at the house again and again. The father said, "Hansel, what are you looking at, pay attention and move on."
"Father, I am looking at my white cat, who is sitting on the roof and wants to say good-bye to me."
The mother said, "You idiot, that’s no little cat, it’s the morning sun that’s shining on the chimney."
Hansel had not been looking at the little cat, but rather at one of the white gravel stones that he had dropped frim his pocket onto the pathway.

When they arrived in the middle of the forest, the father said, "Now gather some wood, children; I’ll make a fire so that we won’t be cold." Hansel and Gretel gathered brushwood and made a little mound of it. Then they lit fire to it, and when the flames were burning brightly the mother said, "Now lie down by the fire and sleep, we’re going into the forest to cut wood: wait here until we come back to fetch you."

Hansel and Gretel sat by the fire until noon and then ate their piece of bread; they thought that their father was still in the forest as they could hear the strokes of an axe, but it was a branch that he had tied to a tree, that the wind was swinging back and forth. They waited until evening, but the mother and father had gone away, and no one came back to fetch them. As the night was now dark Gretel began to cry, but Hansel said, "wait just a while until the moon comes out." And when the moon came up, he took Gretel by the hand; the gravel stones shone like newly minted coins and showed them the way. Then they walked all through the night, and when it was morning they arrived at their father’s house. The father rejoiced to see them, for it had greatly saddened him to have left them so alone; the mother pretended to be happy too, but secretly she was furious.

Not long afterwards there was again no bread in the house, and Hansel and Gretel heard the mother said to the father one evening, "The children have found their way back once, and I have let that be: but now there is again no more than half a loaf of bread in the house; tomorrow you must take them deeper into the woods so that they cannot find their way back, there is no other hope for us." The man felt heavy-hearted and he thought, "It would be better to share the very last bit with the children," but because he had agreed to it once he could no longer refuse. As the children had overheard the conversation, Hansel got up and wanted to go out to gather gravel stones again, but when he came to the door he found that the mother had locked it. So he consoled the little Gretel and said "just sleep, Gretel, dear God will surely help us."

Early the next morning they received their piece of bread, even smaller than before. Hansel broke it into pieces in his pocket and often stopped on the way to drop a crumble on the ground. "Why do you always stand there looking around, Hansel?" asked the father, "continue on your way." "I am looking at my little pigeon who is sitting on the roof and wants to say good-bye to me." "You idiot," said the mother, "that is no pigeon, it is the morning sun that is shining on the chimney." But Hansel crumbled up all of his bread, and dropped all of the crumbs down on the path.

The mother led them even deeper into the woods, where they had never been before, and there again they had to stay and sleep by a big fire; in the evening the parents would come and fetch them. At noon Gretel shared her bread with Hansel, as he had strewn his on the path, and noon went by and the evening went by, and still no one came for the poor children. Hansel consoled Gretel and said, "Wait until the moon comes up, then I’ll see the bread crumbles that I have laid on the ground and they’ll lead us home." The moon came up, but wherever Hansel looked the crumbs were gone, as the many thousands of birds in the forest had found them and eaten them all up. Hansel wanted nevertheless to find the way back to the house, and started off with Gretchen; however they soon lost their way in the vast wilderness and walked all night and all the next day; then they slept, they were so tired. They went on walking for another day, but they did not come out of the forest and were terribly hungry, as they had nothing more to eat than a few small berries that they found on the ground.

On the third day they had again walked until noon when they came upon a little house that was built all of bread and was covered with cakes, and whose windows were made of bright sugar. "We’ll sit down here and eat to our heart’s content," said Hansel, " I’ll eat from the roof; you eat from the window, Gretel, there it’s is nice and sweet for you." As Gretel was nibbling at the sugar a lovely voice sang out from inside:

"Nibble, nibble, little mouse;
Who is nibbling at my house?"

The children answered:
"The breeze, the breeze, Heaven to please."

And they continued to eat. Gretel broke off a whole round windowpane, and Hansel took a big piece of cake from the roof. Then the door opened, and a very old woman came slinking out. Hansel and Gretel were so frightened that they let go of what they had in their hands. The old woman wagged her head and said, "Eh, my dear children, where are you going? Come in here with me, I’ll give you good things," took them both by the hand and lead them into her little house. There nice things were laid out for them, milk, and pancakes with sugar, apples and nuts, and then two nice little beds were prepared; Hansel and Gretel laid down there and thought that they were in heaven.

But the old lady was an evil witch, who waited in ambush for children and had only built her little house of cake to lure them there, and when they came into her power she killed them, cooked them and ate them, and that was a feast day for her. So she was now very happy that Hansel and Gretel has come her way. Early the next morning, before they were awake, she got up, went to their little beds, and as she looked on the two so peacefully resting, she rejoiced and murmured, "that will be a good morsel for me." She then took up Hansel and locked him up in a pen; when he woke up he found himself enclosed in a cage like the ones used for young chickens, where he could only take a few steps. Then she shook Gretel awake and called out: "Get up, you lazy girl; fetch water and get into the kitchen and cook something good to eat; your brother is over there in a pen - I am first going to fatten him up, and when he is fat enough then I’ll eat him; now you must feed him!" Gretel was shocked and cried, but had to do as the witch demanded. From then on, every day Hansel had the best food cooked for him so that he would become fat: Gretel however got nothing other than crab shells. Every day the old woman came and said: "Hansel, stick out your finger, so that I can feel if you will soon be fat enough." Hansel however always stuck out a little bone instead of his finger; she was astonished that he remained so thin and wouldn’t put on any weight at all.

After four weeks she said one evening to Gretel: "Be quick, go and bring water here: whether your brother is now fat enough or not, tomorrow I’ll slaughter him and boil him; in the meantime I’ll make the dough that we’ll bake to go with him." Then Gretel went with heavy heart and brought the water in which Hansel was going to be cooked. Early the next morning Gretel had to get up, light the fire, and hang up the pot filled with water. "Pay attention now, said the witch, "I’ll make a fire in the oven and put the bread in it." Gretel stood in the kitchen and cried heavy tears, and thought, "It would have been better to have stayed in the forest and been eaten by wild animals, at least then we would then have died together and wouldn’t have had to bear this torment; I just can’t heat the water myself for the death of my dear brother; merciful God, help us poor children in our hour of need!"
Then the old woman cried: "Gretel, come over here to the oven." When Gretel came, she said, "look in to see if the bread is already brown and well cooked, my eyes are weak, I cannot see so far, and if you can’t see either, then get on this board and I will push you in farther so that you can see better." She wanted to close the oven door as soon as Gretel was inside, and bake her in the hot oven, and then eat her up. God gave the little girl however an idea, and she said, "I don’t know how to begin, show me first how to do it, and put yourself on the board, so that I can push you forward. So the old woman laid down on the board, and as she was very light, Gretel shoved her inside, as far as the shaft of the board could go, and then quickly shut the oven door and locked it with its iron latch. Then the old woman began to scream and cry in the hot oven. Gretel nevertheless stood strong, and the godless witch came to a miserable end, all burnt up.

Then Gretel ran over to Hansel, opened up his door, and cried, "jump out, Hansel, we are saved." Hansel jumped out like an imprisoned bird flying out of its cage when the door opened. They both cried for joy, and embraced each other heartily. The whole house was full of precious stones and pearls that they stuffed into their pockets, and then they went out and searched for the way home. They came to a body of water, and couldn’t go any further. There the little sister saw a white duck swimming back and forth that she called out to: "Oh dear duck, do take us on your back." When the duck heard that, it came swimming over and took first Gretchen on its back and then Hansel too. After that they soon found their way back home. The father was overjoyed when he saw them again, for he had been miserable ever since his children had gone away. However the mother was dead. The children had brought enough wealth with them, and they no longer had any worries about having enough to eat and drink.


Once upon a time there was a man and a woman who had wanted for a long time to have a child, but in vain, and at last the woman was hopeful that the dear God had granted her wish. In the back of their house there was a little window that overlooked a splendid garden full of the most beautiful flowers and herbs; it was however surrounded by a high wall, and no one dared to go into it because it belonged to a witch who had great powers and who was feared by everyone.

One day the woman was standing at this window looking down at the garden and she saw a flowerbed planted with the loveliest rapunzel lettuce; it seemed so fresh and green that she was filled with desire to eat some of that lettuce. The desire grew stronger every day, and as she knew that she couldn’t have any of it, she declined and became pale and miserable. That shocked her husband who asked her: "What is the matter, my dear wife?" – "Ah," she answered, "if I don’t have any of the rapunzel lettuce from the garden down behind our house, I shall surely die." The man who loved her deeply, thought: "Rather than let your wife die, you must fetch some lettuce from that garden for her, no matter what the cost." So that evening he climbed over the wall into the garden of the witch, grabbed in all haste a handful of the rapunzel lettuce and brought it to his wife. At once she made a wonderful salad out of it and ate it with great relish.
She liked it so much, it tasted so good, that the next day she had three times more longing for it than before. To calm her desire the man had to go once more into the garden. In the evening twilight he again climbed over the garden wall, but as he climbed down from the wall he was terribly frightened when he saw the witch standing before him.
"How dare you, "she said with a furious look, "climb into my garden and like a thief take some of my rapunzel lettuce? For that you will be severely punished."
"Oh," he answered, "have mercy on me, I only did it out of dire need: my wife saw your lettuce from our window and felt such a desire for it that she would have died if she couldn’t have had any of it to eat."
At that the witch’s anger died down and she said to him: "If it’s as you say then I’ll let you take lettuce away with you, as much as you want, on one condition only: you must give me the child that your wife brings into the world. She will be well taken care of, and I’ll look after her like a mother."
The man in his terror agreed to everything, and when his wife gave birth the witch appeared suddenly, gave the baby the name Rapunzel, and took it away.
Rapunzel was the most beautiful child under the sun. When she was twelve years old, the witch locked her up in a forest tower that had neither stairs nor doorway, only a little window high up. When the witch wanted to go in, she stood at the bottom and called:
"Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let your hair down for me."
Rapunzel had splendid long hair, as fine as spun gold. When she heard the voice of the witch she untied the band around her braids, looped them around a hook on the window, and then the hair fell all the way down to the ground, and the witch climbed up.
After a few years it happened to pass that the king’s son was riding through the forest and came upon the tower. There he heard such a beautiful song that he stopped to listen. It was Rapunzel who in her loneliness passed her time by letting her sweet voice ring out. The king’s son wanted to go up to her and looked for the door of the tower, but there was none to be found. He rode home, but the singing had so touched his heart that he went into the forest every day to listen to it. One day as he was standing behind a tree he saw a witch arrive and heard how she called up:
"Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let your hair down."
Then Rapunzel let her hair down and the witch climbed up to her.
"If that’s the ladder one has to use to go up there, then I’ll try my luck," he thought. And the next day, as it began to get dark, he went to the tower and called:
"Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let your hair down."
Right away the hair fell down, and the king’s son climbed up. At first Rapunzel was very frightened when a man came up to her, as her eyes had never yet seen one, but the king’s son began to talk to her in a friendly way and told her that his heart had been so moved by her singing that it had left him no rest and he just had to see her. Then Rapunzel forgot her fear and when he asked her if she would marry him and she saw that he was young and handsome, she thought, "He will love me more than the old woman Gothel," and said "Yes," and put her hand in his. She said: "I would like to go away with you, but I don’t know how I can get down. When you come, each time bring a silk thread with you, I’ll weave a ladder out of them, and when it’s ready I’ll climb down and you’ll take me away on your horse."
They agreed that from now on he would come to see her every evening, as the old woman came in the daytime. The witch didn’t notice anything until one time Rapunzel said to her: "Tell me, Gothel, why is it that you are much harder to pull up than the young king’s son, who comes up in an instant?" – "Ah, you wicked child," cried out the witch, "what are you saying? I thought I had hidden you from the whole world, and you have betrayed me!" 
In her anger she took hold of Rapunzel’s beautiful hair, wrapped it a few times around her left hand and with her right hand, snip, snap, it was all cut off and the beautiful locks were lying on the floor. And she was so pitiless that she brought the poor Rapunzel into a wilderness, where she had to live in wretchedness and misery.
In the evening of the very day that she had banished Rapunzel, the witch attached the braids onto the hook in the window, and when the king’s son came and called:
"Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let your hair down."
She lowered them down. The king’s son climbed up, but instead of his beloved Rapunzel he found the witch there, who looked at him in an evil way and cried: "Aha! You want to take your beloved away, but the lovely bird is no longer in its nest and sings no more, the cat has caught it and will scratch your eyes out too. You have lost Rapunzel, you’ll never see her again!"
The king’s son was crazed with grief, and out of despair he jumped down from the tower; he survived but the thorns into which he fell poked out his eyes. Then he wandered around the forest blind, ate nothing but roots and berries and did nothing but lament and cry over his beloved Rapunzel. So he wandered everywhere for a whole year and ended up finally in the wilderness where Rapunzel lived miserably with the twins that she had given birth to, a boy and a girl.
He heard a voice, and it seemed so familiar to him that he went over to where it was coming from, and when he arrived, Rapunzel recognized him and fell in his arms crying. But two of her tears bathed his eyes that became clear again, and then he could see just like before. He took her to his kingdom where he was received with joy, and they lived happily and joyfully for a long time.


Once upon a time there was a soldier who had faithfully served his king for many years, however when the war came to an end and the soldier could no longer serve on account of his many wounds, the king said to him “You can go now, I don’t need you any more; you won’t get any more money, as only those who are in my service can be paid.”
So the soldier just didn’t know how he would be able to survive; he set out and walked all day long full of care until in the evening he came to a forest. As night was falling he saw a light, and going towards it he came to a house where a witch lived.
“Please give me bed for the night and something to eat and drink”, he said to her, “I am dying of hunger and thirst”.
“Ha!” she answered, “who gives anything to a wandering soldier? However I shall be kind-hearted and harbour you, if you do as I bid.”
“What do you want me to do?” asked the soldier.
“To dig up my garden tomorrow morning.”
The soldier agreed, and worked the following day with all his strength, but couldn’t finish by evening-time.
“It is clear”, said the witch, “that today you can’t do anything more: I’ll keep you another night, if tomorrow you cut down a cart-load of wood and cut it up.”
The soldier worked at that all the next day and in the evening the witch proposed to him to stay another night. “You will only have to do a little job for me tomorrow: behind my house there is an old dried-up well into which my torch has fallen: it is burning continually with a blue flame and you must bring it back to me.”
The next day the old woman brought him to the well and lowered him down in a basket. He found the blue light and made a sign for her to bring him back up. She pulled him up, but as he was nearing the rim of the well, she reached out her hand to take the blue light away from him.
“No,” he said, becoming aware of her evil intentions, “I’ll only give you that light when I am standing on firm ground.”
The witch cried out in anger, let him fall back into the well and went away.

The poor soldier fell down without hurt onto the damp ground at the bottom of the well and the blue light continued to burn, but how could that help him? He sat there sadly for a while, then he put his hand in his pocket and found his pipe there that was still half-full of tobacco.
“This will be my last treat”, he thought as he pulled it out, lit it with the blue flame and began to smoke. When the smoke from the pipe had wafted all around the bottom of the well, a black little man stood there before him and asked, “Master, what are your orders?”
“What can I order you to do?” replied the soldier in wonder.
“I must do everything,” said the little man, “that you ask for.”
“Good”, said the soldier, “so first help me to get out of the well.”
The little man took him by the hand and led him through an underground corridor, not forgetting to bring the blue light along. He showed him on the way the treasure that the witch had amassed and hidden there, and the soldier took as much gold with him as he could carry.
When they were up on top he said to the little man, “Now go and tie up the old witch and take her to the court of justice.”
Not long afterwards she came riding by on a wild cat as fast as the wind with a terrifying cry, but it wasn’t long before the little man came back.
“It has all been taken care of,” he said, “and the witch is already hanging from the gallows - Master, what do you order next?”
“Nothing for the moment”, he replied, “ you can go back home; only be on hand when I call for you.”
“That will not be necessary”, said the little man, “whenever you light your pipe with the blue light, I shall be standing before you.” Then he disappeared from view.

The soldier went back into the town where he had come from. He went into the best inn and had fine clothes made, then ordered the innkeeper to arrange a room as lavishly as possible for him. When the room was ready and the soldier had taken possession of it, he called the little black man and said, “I was a faithful servant to the king, but he sent me away famished; for that I want to take my revenge.”
“What should I do?” asked the little one.
“Late in the evening, when the king’s daughter is in bed, bring her here to me asleep, she will have to become a maid for me.”
The little man said, “For me that is easy, for you however it is dangerous, because when everything is over it will go badly for you.”
When midnight had struck, the door sprang open and the little man carried the king’s daughter in.
“So, you are here?” cried the soldier. “Get to work! Go fetch a broom and sweep out the room.”
When that had been done, he bade her come to his chair, stretched his feet out towards her, shouted “Take off my boots!” at her, and she had to take them off, clean them and shine them.
She did all that he ordered without any resistance, silent and with half-closed eyes. By the time the cock crowed the little man had brought her back to the king’s castle and into her bed.

The next morning when the king’s daughter got up she went to her father and recounted the wonderful dream she had had to him. “I was taken like lightening through the streets and brought into the room of a soldier, who made me serve as a maid and wait on him and do all kinds of common work, to sweep the room and to shine his boots. It was only a dream, and yet I am as tired as if I had really done it.”
“The dream might have been true,” said the king, “I’ll give you some advice: stuff your pocket full of herbs and make a tiny hole in the bottom; if you are taken there again, they’ll fall out and leave a trace on the street.”
While the king was speaking, the little man was standing invisibly by and overheard everything. In the night while he carried the king’s sleeping daughter through the streets again some herbs did fall down from her pocket, but they couldn’t leave a trace, as the clever little man had previously strewn herbs over all of the streets. And the king’s daughter had to perform maid’s tasks until the cock crowed all over again.

The king sent his men out the following morning to search for the traces left by the herbs but in vain, as in all the streets poor children were sitting there gathering up the herbs and saying, „It rained herbs last night.“
“We must think of something else,” said the king, “keep your shoes on when you go to bed, and before you come back, hide one of them; I shall surely be able to find it.”
The black little man heard the plan, and when the soldier demanded in the evening that he fetch the king’s daughter again, he advised him against it, saying that nothing effective could be done against this kind of ruse, and if the shoe were found, it could go badly for him.
“Do as I say!” answered the soldier, and the king’s daughter had to work as a maid for the third night; however before she was brought back she hid a shoe under the bed.

The next morning the king had the whole town searched for his daughter’s shoe; it was found in the soldier’s room, and the soldier himself, who had rushed out through the town gate as suggested by the little one, was soon caught and brought back into captivity. He had forgotten his most treasured belongings in his flight, the blue light and his gold, and had only one ducat in his pocket.
As he was standing in chains at the window of his cell, he saw one of his friends go by. He tapped on the pane and when the friend came over said to him, “be so good as to go and fetch the bundle I left in my room at the inn, and I’ll give you a ducat for it.”
The friend went and brought him what he had asked for. As soon as the soldier was alone again, he lit his pipe and summoned the black little man.
“Don’t be afraid” he said to his master, “go where they take you, and let everything happen as it may, but be sure to take the blue light with you.”

The next day the judgement was pronounced on the soldier, and although he had done nothing evil, the judge condemned him to death. As he was being led to the gallows, he asked the king for one last grace.
“What kind of grace?” asked the king.
“That on the way to the gallows I can light my pipe one last time.”
“You can smoke three of them,” answered the king, “but don’t think that I shall spare your life.”
Thereupon the soldier drew out his pipe and lit it with the blue light, and after some ringlets of smoke had risen up, the little man was suddenly standing there with a club in his hand, saying: “What are your orders, Master?”
“Beat the false judge and his lackeys into the ground, and don’t spare the king, who treated me so badly.”
The little man went like a flash, zick-zack, here and there and everywhere, and whoever he so much as touched with his club fell to the ground and promised not to move any more. The king took fear and pleaded for mercy, and to save his life gave his kingdom to the soldier, and his daughter for wife.

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Wilhelm Grimm (left) and Jacob Grimm in 1856