In Hansel and Gretel, I am not sure if the standard version has the parents abandoning the kids twice but I think so and the second abandonment (or the first) is simply omitted with Hans leaving a trail of breadcrumbs which are eaten by birds whereas the first time stones were used effectively.

I realize the Grimms had many arbitrary and often simply nonsensical (as well as cruel and outright antisemitic) plot elements so perhaps there is no explanation for Hans choosing to leave breadcrumbs but maybe this can be explained?

  • Worth noting that the two trails was already in the Grimms source material, and appear in other folk tales such as Hop 'o my thumb, published over a century earlier.
    – James K
    Sep 21, 2023 at 20:38

2 Answers 2


Their mother had figured out what he had done. And so (from Andrew Lang's translation):

When the old people were asleep Hansel got up, and wanted to go out and pick up pebbles again, as he had done the first time; but the woman had barred the door, and Hansel couldn't get out.

It does not give his motive for trying the breadcrumbs, but it was what he had.

  • 3
    It was better than nothing and in some fairly tales, the birds would have gratefully helped them later.
    – releseabe
    Sep 21, 2023 at 2:17
  • Do you know that the Grimms's collection of fairy tales went through several editions and that the tales evolved in those editions? Have you compared every version of the tale in those editions? Do you know which edition Lang's translation is based on? Without this information, the answer is incomplete.
    – Tsundoku
    Sep 22, 2023 at 14:58

There is certainly an explanation in the story! Hansel could see the first trail of pebbles in the moonlight, and so followed them back home, to the stepmother's annoyance. As another poster said above, he had nothing to use but breadcrumbs the second time, and when he and Gretel tried to follow the trail back home, the birds had eaten the breadcrumbs, making it impossible for the children to get home.

"Breadcrumb trail" has become a metaphor for marking a path so that you can find your way back from something (usually not a physical trail, but, say, through a series of web pages), but to my mind -- because of the Hansel and Gretel story, presumably the origin of the term -- a breadcrumb trail is far from being a safe bet!

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