I'm certain most of us have read Hansel and Grettel or come across it in some form or another from a very early age. Hansel and Grettel are, of course, a brother and sister living on the outskirts of what proves to be a rather fateful forest. Their family is quite impoverished, and when hard times become harder than usual, their father - a woodcutter - and their stepmother decide to take them deep into the forest and leave them there (leaving the family with two less mouths to feed).
The children overhear their parents' conversation however, and initially thwart them by leaving stones to mark the path taken from the woodcutter's hut to the middle of the forest, by which they find their way back that night. The second time their parents leave them in the woods, however, Hansel has no stones to mark the way back, and so he instead leaves bread crumbs to be followed back home. Unfortunately, the crumbs are eaten by birds before the children can get home, and they are stranded all alone just as their parents had planned.
But before Hansel and Grettel can give up on finding their home again - or die of hunger - they come across a house made of sweets and bread. The eatable house is not what it seems, of course. The place was cleverly designed by a witch with the specific purpose of luring wandering children to her, after which she intends to fatten them up and eat them. Hansel and Grettel are captured, but before the witch can carry out her foul plans and roast the brother and sister, she gets her just desserts *grin*, the children escape with an array of her jewels, and promptly find their way back to their their family (sans stepmother, who it seems is to take practically all the blame for sending the kids away).
Their is a certain dark - perhaps gothic - feel to this story. It's always spooked me a little, maybe because I've always been tempted by sweets myself:), but more likely because it's one of those tales that cuts a little too close to reality sometimes. I've certainly heard stories from my grandparents' generation of children being left with family friends or extended family without a word of warning, usually to combat the threat of starvation or scarcity if they'd stayed with their own parents during difficult times. It might be the shadow of those tales that casts a touch of darkness over Hansel and Grettel's plight. Or maybe it's simply the sinister overtones present in the thought of them being abandoned by their own parents to fend for themselves in a dark forest, one which holds only deception and death for the unwary.
But, as I mentioned above, what always brings me back to this story isn't its gothic atmosphere or concern for the children's safety, or even the appreciation for the children's intelligence in the face of adversity; instead, it's the strong sense of love between the siblings that has always charmed this reader. Somehow, despite everything - and everyone - that conspires against them, one knows that Hansel and Grettel will see each other through all obstacles and survive to tell the tale, simply because the brother and sister truly love each other and will stick together no matter what life throws at them. In the end, the bond between the siblings is too great to bend under the pressures of ordinary - and, well, extraordinary - life.
Now that's something heartening to take away from a tale such as this - and surely what makes Hansel and Grettel the classic it is. I've no doubt this fairy tale will live through the ages to be read again and again by wide-eyed children all over the world, reminding them always of the power and strength that can come from loving your family, especially your siblings, through the good days and the bad, wherever life's paths might take you:)