The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen

The Pancake House


Once there were two poor people who lived in a great forest. They had two children, a son and a daughter. The son was called Hans, and the daughter's name was Grethe. Early one summer morning, the woman said to both of her children: "Today I want you to go out and pick berries!" So each of them took a crock on their arm, and they held-one another by the hand, and went out into the great forest.

There were so many lovely red berries that they quite forgot where they were walking; and before they realized it, they were so deep in the woods that they did not know the way back, neither path nor road.

They walked around together, quite anxiously, and even though they had their pots full of the most delicious berries, they were very sad; for what would father and mother say, when they did not come home to supper? And now, when they also thought that they might not get any supper at all that day, they only became hungrier, and went ever deeper and more quickly into the woods, because they were sure that sooner or later they must reach the end of it.

Then suddenly, the boy stood still, and pointed and pointed; he was so astonished that he could not say a word. Such a house as the one which was standing yonder, back among the trees, they had certainly never seen before.

The walls were built of layer upon layer of the most delicious pancakes, mortared with melted sugar. The windows were made of the clearest jam, and the roof, unlike other houses, was not covered with stones or straw: instead, there were great, broad pancakes, each one higher up than the next, and highest of all, instead of a chimney, there stood the loveliest wreath-cake anyone could wish to see. At first they stood still and looked at each other, and they were so astonished that they couldn't think of anything to say. But before long, the lad wanted to sit up there.

Now while Grethe stood and ran her finger along the beautiful window panes, and tasted and tasted, and couldn't at all understand where all of that jam came from, she saw Hans, who was already up on the roof. "Give me your hand, Grethe," he shouted, and she could hardly understand what he was saying, for he already had his mouth full of pancakes. Now Hans helped Grethe up, and they sat there, and did well for themselves.

But as they sat and ate one pancake after the other right off of the roof, they soon made a great hole. Then the old witch who was inside shouted: "Who is sitting on my house and eating my roof?" "It's me and my sister Grethe," answered Hans. But suddenly the hag stretched her crooked arm out through the hole and dragged them both inside to her. Then she locked them in a big goose cage and gave them raisins and almonds and rich cheese with butter on top, to fatten them up.

And when they had sat there for seven whole days, the witch came to the cage and said, "Finger out!" Then they had to stick their fingers out, so that she could feel whether they were fat enough to roast. But they were both still too thin. Then they got twice as much to eat as before, and also thick cream and buttermilk. And then, when seven more days had passed, the witch came again and shouted, "Finger out!" But the boy, who had realized why she wanted them so fat, stuck a stick out to the witch, and when she had felt it, she shook her head, and went to Grethe and cried, "Finger out!" Then Grethe stuck her finger out of the cage. And when the witch had felt it, she was so satisfied that she took the girl out of the cage and went down into the kitchen with her. Then six more days passed. But on the seventh morning, the witch ordered Grethe to make a fire under the baking oven and to wipe the roasting-pan clean.

While Grethe did that, the witch went up to the cage where Hans sat moping, so terribly bored at sitting there all alone, that he was quite happy to hear the witch come stumping up the stairs on her crutches. And long before she shouted, "Finger out!" he sat there and stuck out his finger quite as far as he could. Now the witch-hag was happy, for his finger was so plump and soft that it was a joy. She took him out of the cage and down into the kitchen, and intended to make herself a savory bit of dinner when he and Grethe were well roasted. When the oven was so hot that it was a horror, the witch took little Grethe and laid her in the roasting pan, and ordered the boy, who had become fat and round, to crawl up by himself, and lay himself by his sister. But he lay crosswise, and pretended to be so stupid that he could not in the least understand what the woman intended. And when at last the witch-woman said that he lay properly, and was about to put the roasting pan into the oven, Hans rolled off, and let himself fall right on the kitchen floor. He crawled back up onto the roasting pan, but each time she went to put it into the oven, he always rolled from the pan onto the floor. Now that it had taken a long while, and it was near dinnertime, the witch got sorely angry at him. She hit him with her crutch and scolded him for being a clumsy fool.

But Hans continued to act simple-minded, and at last he said to the woman: "Just show me how I have to lie!" Then the witch, as clever as she otherwise was, took Grethe from the pan, put her crutches up by the chimney, and laid herself in the pan. But just as soon as she lay there, Hans kicked out at the crutches, so that they fell to the floor, and at the same time pushed the witch on the roasting pan into the oven, while Grethe hastily bolted it shut so that she had to stay there. The witch shrieked as loudly as she could, but Hans and Grethe each put a great piece of wood under the oven, took the crutches on their arms, and each other by the hand, and before it was dinnertime, they arrived home to their parents, who had certainly never expected to see them again.

Copyright WITS II
Danish Folk Tales
Collected by M. Winther
Translated from Danish by T. Sands and J. Massengale

The Hans Christian Andersen Project