Freaky Fairytales: The Horror of Hansel and Gretel

Behind every story is a real inspiration, and the fairytale of Hansel and Gretel has one of the most gruesome origins.

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Welcome back to another edition of Freaky Fairytales, where we enlighten you about the horrors behind your favorite childhood tales. As children, we read lighthearted fairytales that end with a happily ever after, but every story is rooted in a dark and twisted truth.

Hansel and Gretel’s story has been around since 1314 CE, originating from the Baltic region but gained popularity after the Grimm Brothers published it in their first volume Kinder-und Hausmarchen or the Grimm’s Fairytales. Now, if you’re asking yourself, why was their story unpopular before its publication in 1812? Well, it’s because the truth behind Hansel and Gretel’s story was overshadowed by the Black Plague.

So let’s dive into Hansel and Gretel’s truth.

Hansel and Gretel’s history lies with the Great Famine that began in 1314 CE. When the Great Famine struck Europe, the death toll was staggering with more than 30 million people affected. In some areas, 25 percent of the entire population was taken. The Great Famine came when the people were already struggling, as the food was scarce, but now they were desperate.

As the people struggled to survive the Great Famine, which rotted their crops and infected their livestock, their desperation led to infanticide, child abandonment, murder, and cannibalism. Growing desperation, the elderly often starved themselves so that those younger would have a chance at survival. But others chose to abandon their children or become cannibals, eating their children and digging up the dead to eat. Some of which we see in Hansel and Gretel’s tale, depending on the version we read.

Hansel and Gretel finding the Witch's gingerbread house.
Image via Artist Nikogeyer /

In the Grimm’s tale of Hansel and Gretel, their stepmother convinces the father twice to abandon the children in the woods so that they themselves would not starve to death. When the children are taken into the woods for a second time, they cannot find their path home and come to a house made of sugar or a gingerbread house.

While this is obviously a trap, at least obvious to us, Hansel and Gretel fall for it because they are desperate. Now trapped by the witch, who plans to eat both the children, Gretel finds herself preparing the oven for her brother. But she outsmarted the witch and was able to push the witch into the oven.

While Hansel and Gretel’s tale ended happily with the children reunited with their father, the truth is that many families did not survive the Great Famine. And the ones that did survive were forever marked and haunted by their choices.

To see my reference material and all the gruesome details, click here. For more Freaky Fairytales, click here and stay tuned for more freaky truths about our childhood tales.