Hansel & Gretel

Before I dive into the creation of this story in more detail, here is a brand new version written by Claude from Anthropic. If I think there's any point trying to make it any better, this may not be the final version; but I might just move on to another fairy tale. The next few posts following this will still be Hansel & Gretel related, as I had plenty of fun trying to make Claude come up with all sorts of different versions. The upcoming posts will also demonstrate how frequently Claude gets it wrong, how hasty and careless it can be, always trying to cut corners.

You're absolutely right, my chapters 8 and 9 contained a contradiction where Hansel was freed from the cage prematurely. I apologize for the oversight. To be consistent with the chapter descriptions, Hansel should remain trapped in the cage by the witch until the end of chapter 9 when Gretel tricks the witch and finally frees him. Thank you for catching that - I will be more careful about aligning to the provided chapter summaries in future rewrites. Maintaining narrative consistency is important, especially for a well-known story like Hansel and Gretel. Please feel free to point out any other inconsistencies I may have missed!

On with the story...

Chapter 1

In a darling little cottage nestled on the outskirts of a deep, dark forest lived a kindly woodcutter, his dear children Hansel and Gretel, and their less-than-lovely stepmother. Though the cottage was cosy as could be with a gently sloping shingled roof and quaint flower boxes in the windows, a sadness lingered inside its otherwise cheerful walls.

You see, not long ago, the children's sweet mother who they cherished dearly had tragically passed away from illness. Ever since losing his beloved wife, the woodcutter had become withdrawn and sullen, leaving little Hansel and Gretel to mostly fend for themselves.

Making matters worse, just months later their father had married a new woman who was about as nasty as a sulphurous bog. The vile stepmother despised her new husband's 'pesky brats' and rarely missed a chance to scoldΒ or smack them when he wasn't around.

In addition to their stepmother's cruelty, a terrible famine had struck the land. With so little food to go around, the once happy family now scarcely had crumbs left to fill their poor hungry tummies. Most nights, the children went to bed with their bellies aching fiercely from lack of a decent supper.

One chilly morning, after the family had shared a watery gruel that barely took the edge off their hunger, the horrible stepmother stamped her feet in a rage.

"Those greedy children gobble up our last precious morsels! We must abandon them in the forest or we'll all surely starve," she demanded loudly to the woodcutter.

The kindly man wrung his hands, replying gently, "But my petalings are still so young and helpless. Might we find another way instead of leaving them to such a fate?"

The stepmother shook her fist furiously, shouting even louder, "I'll not debate this any longer! Do as I say or you'll get more than a harsh word from me. I'll make you regret the day you disobeyed my orders!"

Though it made his heart ache something dreadful to imagine leaving his beloved children alone in the wilderness, the woodcutter reluctantly agreed for fear of incurring his volatile wife's fiery wrath.

That night, huddling together in their lumpy straw bed, Hansel and Gretel overheard their stepmother's evil plan to abandon them in the forest. Poor Gretel began weeping a river of tears that dripped down her pale, skinny cheeks.

But brave Hansel hugged her close and gently dried her eyes. "There now, don't fret my dear sister," he whispered. "We shan't let that wretched woman's scheme succeed. I'll think up a clever way for us to find our path back home again, just you wait and see!"

After the cottage had gone silent with the sounds of sleep, Hansel quietly crawled out of bed. Being cautious not to wake Gretel, he tiptoed outside under the moon's glow and gathered as many smooth white pebbles as he could stuff into the pockets of his tattered linen pants. He knew these stones would help show them the way out of the brooding forest when the time came...

Chapter 2

When the first tender rays of dawn's light peeked through the crooked trees surrounding the cottage, the nasty stepmother burst into the children's room and shook Hansel and Gretel awake roughly.

"Get up you lazy layabouts! We're off on a nice long jolly trip to the forest so make haste." she barked unkindly.

Of course there was nothing even remotely nice or jolly about her devious scheme, but the children obediently slipped on their worn leather shoes and followed their father out the rusted iron gate onto the winding wooded path.

As she trudged behind them, the stepmother hissed under her breath things like "good riddance" and "won't be seeing those brats again anytime soon!"

Being a clever and resourceful lad, Hansel stealthily dropped one of his white pebbles onto the dirt trail every few steps, creating a subtle silvery path through the trees. In the daylight, the stones glinted faintly like tiny pearls to mark their way back home.

After some time, the family came to a murky glen deep in the gloomiest part of the forest. The air here felt heavier and more sinister. Mighty oaks and beeches loomed over them on all sides, blocking out much of the sky with their knotted, twisting branches.

There the woodcutter gave each child one last tearful kiss on the forehead. "You wait here my dearests. I shall return soon once I've gathered some firewood," he told them, trying to sound cheerful despite the anguish in his eyes.

Of course the children understood this was the last they'd see of their father. The stepmother had made it painfully clear there'd be no happy reunion. As he vanished slowly between the shadowy trees, Hansel and Gretel clung to each other, feeling very small and alone.

When darkness began to fall over the forest like a black wool blanket, creepy critters started emerging from the trees to hoot, growl and cackle.

But brave Hansel kept calm for Gretel's sake. "Don't you worry, sister. We need only follow my trail of pebbles to return home safe and sound," he reassured her confidently.

And sure enough, as the bright full moon rose overhead, the white pebbles lining the path back glowed luminously, creating a shimmering ribbon through the trees as clear as day. By carefully placing one grubby bare foot in front of the other, the children were able to emerge from the woods exactly as Hansel had predicted.

In no time at all, they found themselves approaching the familiar rusted iron gate of the little cottage they called home. But curiously, no lamp light emanated from within. The whole cottage sat dark and quiet.

"Father must still be out searching for kindling in the forest," Hansel whispered as they crept up to the front door. "We'd best slip back into bed before he or the stepmother catches us."

But when the nasty stepmother later returned home alone, she flew into a furious rage upon discovering Hansel and Gretel sleeping safely in their room! She insisted right then that the very next morning they must journey even deeper into the most remote heart of the forest so as never to find their way back again.

As the children huddled under their tatty blanket that night, they knew with sinking hearts that tomorrow would bring even greater peril...

Chapter 3

True to her vengeful promise, even before the following day's first frail light arrived, the rotten stepmother roughly grabbed Hansel and Gretel, yanking them both out of bed by their hair.

"Back to the woods with you useless burdens!" she screeched, spittle flying from her mouth. She shoved the children out the front door, almost making them tumble down the stone steps.

"And no more tricks!" she added, her eyes narrowed to slits and fists clenched tightly at her sides.

As they began their march into the forest again, Hansel's clever mind spun faster than a bicycle wheel trying to think up a new cunning plan. Alas he had not gathered any white pebbles to leave a trail this time.

But during the meagre bit of stale bread and mouldy cheese the children had been given for breakfast, a scrumptious idea came to Hansel's mind.

As the stepmother drove them ever deeper under the dense canopy of trees, Hansel discreetly dropped tiny breadcrumbs from his coat pocket, creating a winding trail of tasty morsels on the dark forest floor.

This time the woodcutter led the children farther into the woods than they'd ever ventured before. The trees here grew so thick they nearly blotted out every speck of sky above. Unfamiliar birds cawed and chattered in foreign tongues around them.

When at last they reached a murky pond as black as tar, the woodcutter finally halted in his tracks. "Wait here my angels. I promise I shall return shortly," he murmured under his breath without meeting their eyes.

Of course the children understood this was just as much a lie as his first promise. For leaving them alone forever in these bleak woods was too great a sorrow for the kind woodcutter's heart to withstand watching again.

Nonetheless, Hansel and Gretel obediently sat upon a mossy log and waved as their father vanished between the densely crowded trunks.

When inky darkness slowly fell over the forest like a curtain, sealing them in pitch blackness, unnatural sounds began to echo from all around.

Beastly eyes glinted at them from the brush and ominous shuffling noises circled their camp. But Hansel tightly squeezed Gretel's trembling hand and gently encouraged her to be brave.

"We need only follow my breadcrumb trail once more by the moon's glow to return home safely," he reassured her. "Try and get some rest. I will keep watch until dawn."

But when silvery moonbeams at last filtered down through the trees, illuminating the forest floor, Gretel awoke to a horrifying sight - the trail was gone!

The forest creatures had sniffed out and gobbled up Hansel's breadcrumb pathway, erasing any trace of the route back. Now the children were well and truly lost with no hope of being saved...

Chapter 4

For endless days and pitch black nights, poor Hansel and Gretel wandered helpless and hungry, penetrating deeper and deeper into the massive forest.

Scratchy branches clawed at their clothes and skin, leaving behind batches of red welts and cuts. Dried pine needles and leaves became matted in their tangled hair. At night, unseen creatures howled, hooted, and cackled, sending shivers down the children's spines.

When it rained, which was often, they tried cupping the icy water in their palms to quench their parched throats. It barely helped relieve their unrelenting thirst and hunger.

It truly seemed as if they were destined to perish out here amid the endless trees, their young lives cut tragically short. More than once, Gretel broke down in sobs of despair, certain death was creeping up on them.

But Hansel kept his spirits up for his sister's sake, making up silly songs and stories as they walked to coax a smile from her. "Don't fret Gretel," he said, mustering as much genuine confidence as he could. "We always manage to land on our feet in the end! I just know we shall find our way out of this maze someday."

Then late one afternoon, as the children collapsed exhausted against a fallen log, no longer able to will their aching feet to take another step, they heard a beautiful sound drift on the breeze - the soft, cooing call of a snow white dove!

Peering upwards, they spotted the elegant creature perched on a branch watching them with its beady black eyes. Letting loose another melodious coo, it spread its wings and took flight, soaring gracefully between the trees ahead.

"Quickly, let's follow that dove!" Hansel exclaimed, feeling the first spark of hope rekindled in his heart. "Surely it wants to lead us somewhere safe out of this wilderness."

Gretel needed no further convincing. They took off as fast as their weary legs could manage, pursuing the dove through the tangled woods. It remained always just barely in view, flitting tantalisingly from knotted branch to twisted bough.

All afternoon and into the evening the children struggled to keep up, refusing to lose sight of the dove. Little did they know, their feathered guide was leading them even deeper into the menacing forest's lightless heart...

Chapter 5

After hours of stumbling through the untamed wilderness in pursuit of the dove, Hansel and Gretel's legs finally gave out completely just as the first stars peeked in the sky above.

They crumpled to the muddy earth in sobs, their last ounce of hope evaporating. The dove had flown off without a trace, leaving them lost in the pitch black forest with nowhere left to turn.

As they lay huddled together shivering on the cold ground awaiting sunrise, the sound of the dove's soft cooing suddenly came again from above! There it was roosting on a branch, peering down at them expectantly.

Mustering their last scraps of energy, the children pushed themselves back up and continued after the dove, determined not to lose track of it again. Before long, they noticed the trees beginning to thin, and afternoon sunlight streaming down from ahead.

Moments later, they stumbled into a marvellous sun-dappled clearing, so bright it stung their eyes after the dimness of the woods. As their vision adjusted, an astonishing sight awaited them - there in the middle sat the strangest little cottage they'd ever laid eyes on!

The house appeared to be made entirely of sugary confections - lollipops and licorice lined the roof shingles, gingerbread bricks plastered with creamy frosting formed the outer walls. A fence of candy canes surrounded the front yard. Hansel and Gretel simply froze, blinking in disbelief at the impossibility of it all.

But the rich scents wafting through the air left no doubt. This was a real edible cottage straight out of a fairy tale! Their hunger instantly flared to an unbearable level. All caution immediately deserted them.

The children rushed forward and began desperately stuffing their faces with chocolate windowsills, gumdrop trim, and sugary cake doors. At long last their aching bellies would finally be filled! They had survived the forest after all thanks to this miraculous haven.

But after some time, while Hansel gnawed on a liquorice shingle, a faint creaking sound from the direction of cottage made them both freeze. The front door was slowly swinging open. And there silhouetted in the doorway stood the oddest person either child had seen in their short lives...

Chapter 6

The figure that emerged from the mysterious candy cottage was a hunched old woman, with a warty face wrinkled as a dried apple and thin scraggly white hair poking out from under her headscarf.

She was draped in a tattered black shawl that made her blend right into the shadowy forest behind. But her beady eyes almost glowed, fixed right on the two petrified children.

In her gnarled wooden cane and laceless black boots, she limped haltingly down the front steps of the cottage and toward Hansel and Gretel, never blinking.

They stood paralyzed, mouths still stuffed with candy crumbs and traces of chocolate smeared across their hungry faces. What would the owner of this extraordinary gingerbread house do? Shriek in anger at them for defacing her home? Turn them into the police? The children held their breath, bracing themselves nervously.

But as the old woman drew closer, instead of wrath, her face slowly split into a wide toothless grin that gave Hansel and Gretel immense relief. She seemed not at all upset about the destruction to her home.

"Well well, what do we have here?" she croaked in an ancient voice, dry as fallen leaves. "You poor hungry children must have been crazed with starvation to resort to nibbling away at my humble cottage."

She beckoned them forward with a crooked finger. "But fear not, dearies. Old Auntie Gingersnap understands. Now come inside and I'll fix you up a proper hot meal to fill those empty tummies."

Still feeling some lingering wariness but greatly tempted by the prospect of sitting at a real table to enjoy a cooked meal, Hansel and Gretel hesitantly stepped across the threshold into the bizarre cottage after the odd but seemingly friendly old woman...

Chapter 7

Inside the cottage, the aromas enveloping Hansel and Gretel were even more heavenly and mouth watering than outdoors. The furniture appeared to be crafted entirely from rich dark chocolate while pastel striped swirl lollipops lined the walls like wallpaper.

Auntie Gingersnap patted their shoulders fondly with a gnarled hand and led them to a handsome dining table already set for three.

"You just sit right down dearies while I dish up our supper," she told them warmly.

Hansel and Gretel needed no further convincing. As soon as their bottoms hit the chocolate chairs, their host was setting piping hot bowls of beef stew, freshly baked yeast rolls, and root vegetables before them. It was the most delicious and filling meal either child had ever laid eyes upon!

They ate ravenously, pausing only to remark on how scrumptious everything tasted. Seeing the children enjoy her cooking so delighted Auntie Gingersnap to no end. She urged them to have second and third helpings.

Once every crumb and drip of stew broth had been devoured, Hansel and Gretel were so pleasantly full, warm, and comfortable that their eyelids began drooping heavily. Auntie gave a tender smile.

"Let's get you both to bed now, my dears," she said, helping them up and guiding them to a cosy room down the hall. There they found two snug beds already made up with soft blankets and plump pillows. No place had ever looked so inviting.

They were asleep almost before their heads hit those feather pillows. As she tucked the covers around them, Auntie leaned down to gently kiss each child on the forehead.

"Sleep well. You're safe here now from all harm," she whispered. With the horrors of being lost in the wilderness now just a distant memory, Hansel and Gretel slept soundly that night, blissfully unaware of the danger yet to come.

The very next morning would bring a sinister surprise that would jolt them from their untroubled slumber and plunge them right back into a new nightmare worse than the one before...

Chapter 8

Hansel and Gretel both slept so deeply in those cosy beds not even their growling stomachs could disturb them. But several hours past midnight, Hansel was startled awake most abruptly by a loud crash.

Before he could make sense of it, rough hands seized him, a burlap sack was thrown over his head, and he felt himself hoisted over someone's bony shoulder. No matter how he thrashed and yelled, his cries were muffled by the sack.

After being carried some distance, he was dumped onto a hard floor and the sack removed. Hansel found himself in a dim windowless room face to face with his sweet Auntie Gingersnap.

Except she no longer appeared sweet at all. Her gentle smile had been replaced by a wicked grin. Behind her, Hansel saw Gretel unconscious in a small cage.

"No one eats my house then flees into the night without consequences," Auntie cackled. She threw Hansel into an identical cage and locked it securely.

"Fatten up nicely my dears, for soon you shall become my next scrumptious meal!" she said with a lip-licking laugh. Then she hobbled off, leaving them trapped and terrified.

True to her word, the witch force-fed Hansel plate after plate of sickly sweet foods, stuffing him until he became round and sluggish. Gretel was starved nearly to bones.

Soon Hansel was so bloated he could hardly move, while Gretel grew gaunt and frail watching helplessly through the bars.

Then late one evening, the old witch burst in proclaiming, "Tomorrow I shall gorge on juicy boy stew!" She roughly squeezed Hansel's limbs, inspecting him like livestock at a fair.

Gretel wept bitterly. Her dear brother would be brutally butchered and devoured unless she could come up with an escape plan immediately. But the cottage held them fast in her sugary snare...

Hansel and Gretel arrive at Witch's cottage

Chapter 9

The following night, the witch forced Gretel at knifepoint to stoke up the huge brick oven within which Hansel would roast.

"Light it, girl!" she commanded. Thinking fast, Gretel pretended to fumble with the old iron lighter.

"These new contraptions are too modern for me," she said. "How do you work it?"

With an irritated growl, the witch crawled halfway into the oven to demonstrate. In a flash, Gretel slammed the iron door shut, locking it securely!

The witch's howls soon faded away to silence. Gretel grabbed the key ring and rushed to unlock Hansel's cage. At long last they were free!

Together they fled into the night, following their trusted dove who appeared to guide them home. Just as dawn broke, the familiar cottage emerged up ahead.

They raced to the door where their father sat weeping. He had waited all these months longing for his children to return. Scooping them into his arms, he vowed never to let them go again.

And mysteriously, their wicked stepmother had disappeared without a trace, never to bother them again. With the witch gone, they could be a happy family once more.

Though challenges surely lay ahead, Hansel and Gretel had proven they could survive anything side by side. And no matter where life took them next, they would face it together with hope.


Witch's cottage


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