NEIL GAIMAN LORENZO MATTOTTI
Bloomsbury Publishing, London, New Delhi, New York and Sydney First published in Great Britain in December 2014 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3DP Published by arrangement with TOON BOOKS/RAW Junior, LLC, 27 Greene Street, New York, NY 10013 www.bloomsbury.com Bloomsbury is a registered trademark of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc Text copyright © 2014 by Neil Gaiman Illustrations copyright © 2007 & 2009 Lorenzo Mattotti & Gallimard Jeunesse The moral rights of the author and illustrator have been asserted All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978 1 4088 6198 1 Book design by Françoise Mouly and Jonathan Bennett Printed in China by C&C Offset Printing Co Ltd, Shenzhen, Guangdong 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
his all happened a long time ago, in your grandmother’s time, or in her grandfather’s. A long time ago. Back then, we all lived on the edge of the great forest.
were far from the forest where they lived, and schools cost money, which the woodcutter did not have enough of, for you do not make much money from hewing wood and hauling logs. Even so, their father taught them the way of the woods, and their mother taught them how to
here was a woodcutter. He cut down trees. He chopped
cook and to clean and to sew. And if their mother was
the branches off the trees, and he cut the trunks and
sometimes bitter and sharp-tongued, and if their father
the branches into logs for firewood, which he would haul
was sometimes sullen and eager to be away from their little
on a handcart to the nearest path into the town. It was
home, why, Gretel and Hansel thought nothing of it, as
hungry work, cutting trees.
long as they could play in the forest, and climb trees and
The woodcutter took a pretty young wife, who helped him
ford rivers; as long as there were freshly baked bread and
as best she could. She cooked for him, and she gave him
eggs and cooked cabbage on their table.
every comfort, so it was no surprise to them that, shortly
after they were married, her belly began to swell and, in the winter, when the snows were high, she gave birth to a girl. The child was called Margaret, which they shortened to Greta, and then to Gretel. Two years later the woodcutter’s wife gave birth to a boy, and they called him Hans, which, because they could make it no shorter, they made longer and changed to Hansel. Hansel and Gretel did not go to school, for the schools
hen the wood sold well, their father would buy meat for the family at the market: a fat-tailed sheep or a
goat, which he would bring back trotting behind his handdrawn cart; or even a hunk of raw beef, dripping with blood, black with flies or yellow with wasps, and the family would feast that evening. There were rabbits in the forest, there were ducks in the woodcutter’s pond, there were chickens scratching in the dirt behind the woodcutter’s tiny house. There was always food.
hat was in the good days, before the war, before the
woodcutter, and his wife, and Gretel, and Hansel, all felt
the war’s effect. They ate soup made from old cabbage
ar came, and the soldiers came with it–hungry, angry, bored, scared men who, as they passed through,
stole the cabbages and the chickens and the ducks. The woodcutter’s family was never certain who was fighting whom, nor why they were fighting, nor what they were fighting about. But beyond the forest, fields of crops were
leaves, into which the children would dip their stale bread, now hard as a stone, and the family went to bed hungry and woke up hungrier.
he children slept on straw pallets. Their parents slept in an ancient bed that had once belonged to the woodcutter’s
grandmother. Hansel woke in the night, a sharp, empty pain
burned and barley fields became battlefields, and the
in his stomach, but he did not say anything, for he knew
farmers were killed, or made into soldiers in their turn and
there was little enough to eat. He kept his eyes closed and
marched away. And soon enough the miller had no grain
tried to return to sleep. When he slept, he was not hungry.
to mill into flour, the butcher had no animals to kill and hang in his window, and they said you could name your own price for a fat rabbit. Soon enough, the root vegetables rotted in the fields, all the turnips and carrots and potatoes, for there were fewer
He could hear his parents talking in the darkness. “There are four of us,” his mother was saying. “Four mouths to feed. If we keep going like this, we’ll all die. Without the extra mouths, you and I will have a chance.”
and fewer people to dig them up. And it rained and it
“We cannot,” replied the woodcutter, in a whisper. “It
rained, so the only things to eat their fill, in those fields,
would be a monstrous thing to do, to kill our children,
were the slugs.
and I will have no part of it.”
The woodcutter’s cottage was far from the battles, but the
“Lose them, not kill them,” said the woodcutter’s wife.
“Nobody said anything about killing anybody. We’ll take them deep into the forest, and lose them. They will be fine. Perhaps a kind person will take them in, and feed them.
into the forest. He said it was too dangerous for children. Hansel went down to the little stream that splashed and sang behind their cottage, and he filled his pockets with
And we can always have more children,” she added, practically.
the tiny white stones that lined the stream bed.
“A bear might eat them,” said the woodcutter, dejectedly.
“Why are you doing that?” asked Gretel.
“We cannot do this thing.” “If you do not eat,” said his wife, “then you will not be
able to swing an axe. And if you cannot cut down a tree,
took them into the forest. At each turn they took, Hansel
or haul the wood into the town, then we all starve and die.
quietly dropped a little white stone to mark each change
Two dead are better than four dead. That is mathematics,
and it is logic.”
Their father told them to wait for him in a grove of birch
“I care for neither your mathematics nor your logic,”
trees, their trunks paper-white against the darkness of the
grumbled the woodcutter. “But I can argue no more.”
forest. He built them a small fire, to keep them warm.
And Hansel heard only silence from his parents’ bed.
retel woke Hansel the next morning. “It is going to be a good day,” she said. “Our father is going to take us
ansel looked up and saw his parents standing by the doorway, and he said nothing to his sister. Their father
He gave them his lunch to keep them from hunger: stale black bread and hard cheese. He would be back for them soon, he said.
into the forest with him, and he will teach us to cut wood.”
Their father would not ordinarily take them with him deep
“He is never coming back,” said Hansel.