在大森林的边上，住着一个贫穷的樵夫，他妻子和两个孩子与他相依为命。 他的儿子名叫汉赛尔，女儿名叫格莱特。 他们家里原本就缺吃少喝，而这一年正好遇上国内物价飞涨，樵夫一家更是吃了上顿没下顿，连每天的面包也无法保证。 这天夜里，愁得辗转难眠的樵夫躺在床上大伤脑筋，他又是叹气，又是呻吟。 终于他对妻子说："咱们怎么办哪！自己都没有一点吃的，又拿什么去养咱们那可怜的孩子啊？"
等两个大人睡熟后，他便穿上小外衣，打开后门偷偷溜到了房外。 这时月色正明，皎洁的月光照得房前空地上的那些白色小石子闪闪发光，就像是一块块银币。 汉赛尔蹲下身 ，尽力在外衣口袋里塞满白石子。 然后他回屋对格莱特说："放心吧，小妹，只管好好睡觉就是了，上帝会与我们同在的。"
随后，他们全家就朝着森林进发了。 汉赛尔总是走一会儿便停下来回头看看自己的家，走一会儿便停下来回头看自己的家。 他的父亲见了便说："汉赛尔，你老是回头瞅什么？
于是汉赛尔和格莱特坐在火堆旁边，等他们的父母干完活再来接他们。 到了中午时分，他们就吃掉了自己的那一小块面包。 因为一直能听见斧子砍树的嘭、嘭声，他们相信自己的父亲就在近旁。 其实他们听见的根本就不是斧子发出的声音，那是一根绑在一棵小树上的枯枝，在风的吹动下撞在树干上发出来的声音。 兄妹俩坐了好久好久，疲倦得上眼皮和下眼皮都打起架来了。 没多久，他们俩就呼呼睡着了，等他们从梦中醒来时，已是漆黑的夜晚。 格莱特害怕得哭了起来，说："这下咱们找不到出森林的路了！"
不久，当一轮满月升起来时，汉赛尔就拉着他妹妹的手，循着那些月光下像银币一样在地上闪闪发光的白石子指引的路往前走。 他们走了整整的一夜，在天刚破晓的时候回到了他们父亲的家门口。 他们敲敲门，来开门的是他们的继母。 她打开门一见是汉赛尔和格莱特，就说："你们怎么在森林里睡了这么久，我们还以为你们不想回家了呐！"
他们一家又在一起艰难地生活了。 但时隔不久，又发生了全国性的饥荒。 一天夜里，两个孩子又听见继母对他们的父亲说："哎呀！能吃的都吃光了，就剩这半个面包，你看以后可怎么办啊？咱们还是得减轻负担，必须把两个孩子给扔了！这次咱们可以把他们带进更深、更远的森林中去，叫他们再也找不到路回来。只有这样才能挽救我们自己。"
听见妻子又说要抛弃孩子，樵夫心里十分难过。 他心想，大家同甘共苦，共同分享最后一块面包不是更好吗？ 但是像天下所有的男人一样，对一个女人说个"不"字那是太难太难了，樵夫也毫不例外。 就像是"谁套上了笼头，谁就必须得拉车"的道理一样，樵夫既然对妻子作过第一次让步，当然就必然有第二次让步了，他也就不再反对妻子的建议了。
然而，孩子们听到了他们的全部谈话。 等父母都睡着后，汉赛尔又从床上爬了起来，想溜出门去，像上次那样，到外边去捡些小石子，但是这次他发现门让继母给锁死了。 但他心里又有了新的主意，他又安慰他的小妹妹说："别哭，格莱特，不用担心，好好睡觉。上帝会帮助咱们的。"
到了中午，格莱特把她的面包与汉赛尔分来吃了，因为汉赛尔的面包已经撒在路上了。 然后，他们俩又睡着了。 一直到了半夜，仍然没有人来接这两个可怜的孩子，他们醒来已是一片漆黑。 汉赛尔安慰他的妹妹说："等月亮一出来，我们就看得见我撒在地上的面包屑了，它一定会指给我们回家的路。"
但他们没有能够找到路，虽然他们走了一天一夜，可就是出不了森林。 他们已经饿得头昏眼花，因为除了从地上找到的几颗草霉，他们没吃什么东西。 这时他们累得连脚都迈不动了，倒在一颗树下就睡着了。
这已是他们离开父亲家的第三天早晨了，他们深陷丛林，已经迷路了。 如果再不能得到帮助，他们必死无疑。 就在这时，他们看到了一只通体雪白的、极其美丽的鸟儿站在一根树枝上引吭高歌，它唱得动听极了，他们兄妹俩不由自主地停了下来，听它唱。 它唱完了歌，就张开翅膀，飞到了他们的面前，好像示意他们跟它走。 他们于是就跟着它往前走，一直走到了一幢小屋的前面，小鸟停到小屋的房顶上。 他俩这时才发现小屋居然是用香喷喷的面包做的，房顶上是厚厚的蛋糕，窗户却是明亮的糖块。
说着，汉赛尔爬上去掰了一小块房顶下来，尝着味道。 格莱特却站在窗前，用嘴去啃那个甜窗户。 这时，突然从屋子里传出一个声音：
汉赛尔觉得房顶的味道特别美，便又拆下一大块来；格莱特也干脆抠下一扇小圆窗，坐在地上慢慢享用。 突然，房子的门打开了，一个老婆婆拄着拐杖颤颤巍巍的走了出来。 汉赛尔和格莱特吓得双腿打颤，拿在手里的食物也掉到了地上。
其实这个老婆婆是笑里藏刀，她的友善只是伪装给他们看的，她事实上是一个专门引诱孩子上当的邪恶的巫婆，她那幢用美食建造的房子就是为了让孩子们落入她的圈套。 一旦哪个孩子落入她的魔掌，她就杀死他，把他煮来吃掉。 这个巫婆的红眼睛视力不好，看不远，但是她的嗅觉却像野兽一样灵敏，老远老远她就能嗅到人的味道。 汉赛尔和格莱特刚刚走近她的房子她就知道了，高兴得一阵狂笑，然后就冷笑着打定了主意："我要牢牢地抓住他们，决不让他们跑掉。"
第二天一早，还不等孩子们醒来，她就起床了。 看着两个小家伙那红扑扑、圆滚滚的脸蛋，她忍不住口水直流："好一顿美餐呐！"说着便抓住汉赛尔的小胳膊，把他扛进了一间小马厩，并用栅栏把他锁了起来。 汉赛尔在里面大喊大叫，可是毫无用处。 然后，老巫婆走过去把格莱特摇醒，冲着她吼道："起来，懒丫头！快去打水来替你哥哥煮点好吃的。他关在外面的马厩里，我要把他养得白白胖胖的，然后吃掉他。"
格莱特听了伤心得大哭起来，可她还是不得不按照那个老巫婆的吩咐去干活。 于是，汉赛尔每天都能吃到许多好吃的，而可怜的格莱特每天却只有螃蟹壳吃。 每天早晨，老巫婆都要颤颤巍巍的走到小马厩去喊汉赛尔："汉赛尔，把你的手指头伸出来，让我摸摸你长胖了没有！"可是汉赛尔每次都是伸给她一根啃过的小骨头，老眼昏花的老巫婆，根本就看不清楚，她还真以为是汉赛尔的手指头呢！ 她心里感到非常纳闷，怎么汉赛尔还没有长胖一点呢？
她勃然大怒，赶紧穿上她那双一步就能走上几码远的靴子，不多一会就要赶上那两个孩子了。 格莱特眼看老巫婆就要追上他们了，便用她偷来的那根魔杖把汉赛尔变成了一个湖泊，而把她自己变成了一只在湖泊中游来游去的小天鹅。 老巫婆来到湖边，往湖里扔了些面包屑想骗那只小天鹅上当。 可是小天鹅就是不过来，最后老巫婆只好空着手回去了。
这是一根魔笛，谁听了这笛声都会不由自主地跳起舞来。 所以那老巫婆不得不随着笛声一直不停地旋转起来，再也摘不到那朵玫瑰了。 汉赛尔就这样不停地吹着，直吹到那些荆棘把巫婆的衣服挂破，并深深地刺到她的肉里，直刺得她哇哇乱叫。 最后，老巫婆被那些荆棘给牢牢地缠住了。
这时，格莱特又恢复了自己的原形，和汉赛尔一块儿往家走去。 走了长长的一段路程之后，格莱特累坏了。 于是他们便在靠近森林的草地上找到了一棵空心树，就在树洞里躺了下来。 就在他们睡着的时候，那个好不容易从荆棘丛中脱身出来的老巫婆又追了上来。 她一看到自己的魔杖，就得意地一把抓住它。 然后，立刻把可怜的汉赛尔变成了一头小鹿。
她采来了很多树叶和青苔替小鹿铺了一张柔软的小床。 每天早上，她便出去采摘一些坚果和浆果来充饥，又替她的哥哥采来很多树叶和青草。 她把树叶和青草放在自己的手中喂小鹿，而那头小鹿就在她的身旁欢快地蹦来蹦去。 到了晚上，格莱特累了，就会把头枕在小鹿的身上睡觉。 要是可怜的汉赛尔能够恢复原形，那他们的生活该有多幸福啊！
他们就这样在森林里生活了许多年，这时，格莱特已经长成了一个少女。 有一天，刚好国王到这儿来打猎。 当小鹿听到在森林中回荡的号角声、猎狗汪汪的叫声以及猎人们的大喊声时，忍不住想去看看是怎么回事。 "哦，妹妹，"他说，"让我到森林里去看看吧，我再也不能待在这儿了。"他不断地恳求着，最后她只好同意让他去了。
国王和他的猎人们见到这头小鹿，马上又开始了围捕。 他们追了他一整天，最后终于把他给围住了，其中一个猎人还射中了他的一条脚。 他一瘸一拐地好不容易才逃回到了家中。 那个射伤了他的猎人跟踪着他，听到了这头小鹿说："妹妹，让我进来吧。"还看到了那扇门开了，小鹿进去后很快又关上了。 于是这个猎人就回去向国王禀报了他的所见所闻。 国王说："那明天我们再围捕一次吧。"
当格莱特看到她那亲爱的小鹿受伤了，感到非常害怕。 不过，她还是替他把伤口清洗得干干净净，敷上了一些草药。 第二天早上，那伤口竟已经复原了。 当号角再次吹响的时候，那小东西又说："我不能待在这儿，我必须出去看看。我会多加小心，不会让他们抓住我的。"
国王把小格莱特抱上他的高头大马之后，就朝着他的王宫跑去。 那头小鹿也欢快地跟在他们后面。 一路上，格莱特告诉了国王有关她的一切，国王认识那个老巫婆，便派人去把她叫来，命令她恢复小鹿的人形。
Near a great forest there lived a poor woodcutter and his wife, and his two children; the boy's name was Hansel and the girl's Grethel. They had very little to bite or to sup, and once, when there was great dearth in the land, the man could not even gain the daily bread. As he lay in bed one night thinking of this, and turning and tossing, he sighed heavily, and said to his wife, "What will become of us? we cannot even feed our children; there is nothing left for ourselves."
"I will tell you what, husband," answered the wife; "we will take the children early in the morning into the forest, where it is thickest; we will make them a fire, and we will give each of them a piece of bread, then we will go to our work and leave them alone; they will never find the way home again, and we shall be quit of them."
"No, wife," said the man, "I cannot do that; I cannot find in my heart to take my children into the forest and to leave them there alone; the wild animals would soon come and devour them." - "O you fool," said she, "then we will all four starve; you had better get the coffins ready," and she left him no peace until he consented. "But I really pity the poor children," said the man.
The two children had not been able to sleep for hunger, and had heard what their step-mother had said to their father. Grethel wept bitterly, and said to Hansel, "It is all over with us."
"Do be quiet, Grethel," said Hansel, "and do not fret; 1 will manage something." And when the parents had gone to sleep he got up, put on his little coat, opened the back door, and slipped out. The moon was shining brightly, and the white flints that lay in front of the house glistened like pieces of silver. Hansel stooped and filled the little pocket of his coat as full as it would hold. Then he went back again, and said to Grethel, "Be easy, dear little sister, and go to sleep quietly; God will not forsake us," and laid himself down again in his bed. When the day was breaking, and before the sun had risen, the wife came and awakened the two children, saying, "Get up, you lazy bones; we are going into the forest to cut wood." Then she gave each of them a piece of bread, and said, "That is for dinner, and you must not eat it before then, for you will get no more." Grethel carried the bread under her apron, for Hansel had his pockets full of the flints. Then they set off all together on their way to the forest. When they had gone a little way Hansel stood still and looked back towards the house, and this he did again and again, till his father said to him, "Hansel, what are you looking at? take care not to forget your legs."
"O father," said Hansel, "lam looking at my little white kitten, who is sitting up on the roof to bid me good-bye." - "You young fool," said the woman, "that is not your kitten, but the sunshine on the chimney-pot." Of course Hansel had not been looking at his kitten, but had been taking every now and then a flint from his pocket and dropping it on the road. When they reached the middle of the forest the father told the children to collect wood to make a fire to keep them, warm; and Hansel and Grethel gathered brushwood enough for a little mountain j and it was set on fire, and when the flame was burning quite high the wife said, "Now lie down by the fire and rest yourselves, you children, and we will go and cut wood; and when we are ready we will come and fetch you."
So Hansel and Grethel sat by the fire, and at noon they each ate their pieces of bread. They thought their father was in the wood all the time, as they seemed to hear the strokes of the axe: but really it was only a dry branch hanging to a withered tree that the wind moved to and fro. So when they had stayed there a long time their eyelids closed with weariness, and they fell fast asleep.
When at last they woke it was night, and Grethel began to cry, and said, "How shall we ever get out of this wood? "But Hansel comforted her, saying, "Wait a little while longer, until the moon rises, and then we can easily find the way home." And when the full moon got up Hansel took his little sister by the hand, and followed the way where the flint stones shone like silver, and showed them the road. They walked on the whole night through, and at the break of day they came to their father's house. They knocked at the door, and when the wife opened it and saw that it was Hansel and Grethel she said, "You naughty children, why did you sleep so long in the wood? we thought you were never coming home again!" But the father was glad, for it had gone to his heart to leave them both in the woods alone.
Not very long after that there was again great scarcity in those parts, and the children heard their mother say at night in bed to their father, "Everything is finished up; we have only half a loaf, and after that the tale comes to an end. The children must be off; we will take them farther into the wood this time, so that they shall not be able to find the way back again; there is no other way to manage." The man felt sad at heart, and he thought, "It would better to share one's last morsel with one's children." But the wife would listen to nothing that he said, but scolded and reproached him. He who says A must say B too, and when a man has given in once he has to do it a second time.
But the children were not asleep, and had heard all the talk. When the parents had gone to sleep Hansel got up to go out and get more flint stones, as he did before, but the wife had locked the door, and Hansel could not get out; but he comforted his little sister, and said, "Don't cry, Grethel, and go to sleep quietly, and God will help us." Early the next morning the wife came and pulled the children out of bed. She gave them each a little piece of "bread -less than before; and on the way to the wood Hansel crumbled the bread in his pocket, and often stopped to throw a crumb on the ground. "Hansel, what are you stopping behind and staring for?" said the father.
"I am looking at my little pigeon sitting on the roof, to say good-bye to me," answered Hansel. "You fool," said the wife, "that is no pigeon, but the morning sun shining on the chimney pots." Hansel went on as before, and strewed bread crumbs all along the road. The woman led the children far into the wood, where they had never been before in all their lives. And again there was a large fire made, and the mother said, "Sit still there, you children, and when you are tired you can go to sleep; we are going into the forest to cut wood, and in the evening, when we are ready to go home we will come and fetch you."
So when noon came Grethel shared her bread with Hansel, who had strewed his along the road. Then they went to sleep, and the evening passed, and no one came for the poor children. When they awoke it was dark night, and Hansel comforted his little sister, and said, "Wait a little, Grethel, until the moon gets up, then we shall be able to see the way home by the crumbs of bread that I have scattered along it."
So when the moon rose they got up, but they could find no crumbs of bread, for the birds of the woods and of the fields had come and picked them up. Hansel thought they might find the way all the same, but they could not. They went on all that night, and the next day from the morning until the evening, but they could not find the way out of the wood, and they were very hungry, for they had nothing to eat but the few berries they could pick up. And when they were so tired that they could no longer drag themselves along, they lay down under a tree and fell asleep.
It was now the third morning since they had left their father's house. They were always trying to get back to it, but instead of that they only found themselves farther in the wood, and if help had not soon come they would have been starved.
About noon they saw a pretty snow-white bird sitting on a bough, and singing so sweetly that they stopped to listen. And when he had finished the bird spread his wings and flew before them, and they followed after him until they came to a little house, and the bird perched on the roof, and when they came nearer they saw that the house was built of bread, and roofed with cakes; and the window was of transparent sugar. "We will have some of this," said Hansel, "and make a fine meal. I will eat a piece of the roof, Grethel, and you can have some of the window-that will taste sweet." So Hansel reached up and broke off a bit of the roof, just to see how it tasted, and Grethel stood by the window and gnawed at it. Then they heard a thin voice call out from inside,
"Nibble, nibble, like a mouse,
Who is nibbling at my house?"
And the children answered,
"Never mind, It is the wind."
And they went on eating, never disturbing themselves. Hansel, who found that the roof tasted very nice, took down a great piece of it, and Grethel pulled out a large round window-pane, and sat her down and began upon it.
Then the door opened, and an aged woman came out, leaning upon a crutch. Hansel and Grethel felt very frightened, and let fall what they had in their hands. The old woman, however, nodded her head, and said, "Ah, my dear children, how come you here? you must come indoors and stay with me, you will be no trouble." So she took them each by the hand, and led them into her little house. And there they found a good meal laid out, of milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples, and nuts. After that she showed them two little white beds, and Hansel and Grethel laid themselves down on them, and thought they were in heaven.
The old woman, although her behaviour was so kind, was a wicked witch, who lay in wait for children, and had built the little house on purpose to entice them. When they were once inside she used to kill them, cook them, and eat them, and then it was a feast day with her. The witch's eyes were red, and she could not see very far, but she had a keen scent, like the beasts, and knew very well when human creatures were near. When she knew that Hansel and Grethel were coming, she gave a spiteful laugh, and said triumphantly, "I have them, and they shall not escape me!"
Early in the morning, before the children were awake, she got up to look at them, and as they lay sleeping so peacefully with round rosy cheeks, she said to herself, "What a fine feast I shall have!" Then she grasped Hansel with her withered hand, and led him into a little stable, and shut him up behind a grating; and call and scream as he might, it was no good. Then she went back to Grethel and shook her, crying, "Get up, lazy bones; fetch water, and cook something nice for your brother; he is outside in the stable, and must be fattened up. And when he is fat enough I will eat him." Grethel began to weep bitterly, but it was of no use, she had to do what the wicked witch bade her. And so the best kind of victuals was cooked for poor Hansel, while Grethel got nothing but crab-shells.
Each morning the old woman visited the little stable, and cried, "Hansel, stretch out your finger, that I may tell if you will soon be fat enough." Hansel, however, used to hold out a little bone, and the old woman, who had weak eyes, could not see what it was, and supposing it to be Hansel's finger, wondered very much that it was not getting fatter.
When four weeks had passed and Hansel seemed to remain so thin, she lost patience and could wait no longer. "Now then, Grethel," cried she to the little girl; "be quick and draw water; be Hansel fat or be he lean, tomorrow I must kill and cook him." Oh what a grief for the poor little sister to have to fetch water, and how the tears flowed down over her cheeks! "Dear God, pray help us!" cried she; "if we had been devoured by wild beasts in the wood at least we should have died together."
"Spare me your lamentations," said the old woman; "they are of no avail." Early next morning Grethel had to get up, make the fire, and fill the kettle. "First we will do the baking," said the old woman; "I nave heated the oven already, and kneaded the dough." She pushed poor Grethel towards the oven, out of which the flames were already shining.
"Creep in," said the witch, "and see if it is properly hot, so that the bread may be baked." And Grethel once in, she meant to shut the door upon her and let her be baked, and then she would have eaten her. But Grethel perceived her intention, and said, "I don't know how to do it: how shall I get in?"
"Stupid goose," said the old woman, "the opening is big enough, do you see? I could get in myself!" and she stooped down and put her head in the oven's mouth. Then Grethel gave her a push, so that she went in farther, and she shut the iron door upon her, and put up the bar. Oh how frightfully she howled! but Grethel ran away, and left the wicked witch to burn miserably.
Grethel went straight to Hansel, opened the stable-door, and cried, "Hansel, we are free! the old witch is dead!" Then out flew Hansel like a bird from its cage as soon as the door is opened. How rejoiced they both were! how they fell each on the other's neck! and danced about, and kissed each other! And as they had nothing more to fear they went over all the old witch's house, and in every corner there stood chests of pearls and precious stones. "This is something better than flint stones," said Hansel, as he filled his pockets, and Grethel, thinking she also would like to carry something home with her, filled her apron full. i! Now, away we go," said Hansel, "if we only can get out of the witch's wood." When they had journeyed a few hours they came to a great piece of water. "We can never get across this," said Hansel, "I see no stepping-stones and no bridge."
"And there is no boat either," said Grethel; "but here comes a white duck; if I ask her she will help us over." So she cried,
"Duck, duck, here we stand,
Hansel and Grethel, on the land,
Stepping-stones and bridge we lack,
Carry us over on your nice white back."
And the duck came accordingly, and Hansel got upon her and told his sister to come too. "No," answered Grethel, "that would be too hard upon the duck; we can go separately, one after the other." And that was how it was managed, and after that they went on happily, until they came to the wood, and the way grew more and more familiar, till at last they saw in the distance their father's house. Then they ran till they came up to it, rushed in at the door, and fell on their father's neck. The man had not had a quiet hour since he left his children in the wood; but the wife was dead. And when Grethel opened her apron the pearls and precious stones were scattered all over the room, and Hansel took one handful after another out of his pocket. Then was all care at an end, and they lived in great joy together. My tale is done, there runs a mouse, whosoever catches it, may make himself a big fur cap out of it.