Source and activity 5
Fairy tale settings: The forest
This illustration of Hansel and Gretel in the forest is from 'The child's Hansel and Gretel', illustrated by M L Kirk, 1909. Download Hansel and Gretel illustration (PDF: 2.05 MB; 1 page).
An unknown place
The forest is one of the most common fairy tale settings. It is a place beyond the safety and familiarity of the town or village.
It represents the unknown where anything can happen. It is outside of normal experience, and is both a magical realm and a place of danger. It is a place of freedom and wildness, where normal rules no longer apply.
Strange events can take place in the forest, and it can be a place of transformation, where the hero overcomes various difficulties and finds his or her way home.
It can also represent a hiding place where characters can take refuge, but it can also represent the things that we most fear.
Symbol of the natural world
The forest is a symbol of the natural world, in contrast to the world of humans. It represents something more primitive and untamed.
When characters find themselves in the forest, they are cut off from home and from the outside world.
The forest is inhabited by strange and magical creatures. At any time you may come upon:
- Talking animals
Forests are places full of mystery, where the imagination can run riot.
When the fairy tales were first told, the lands of northern and western Europe were thick with woodland. At that the time, the forest represented very real dangers, such as bandits and wild animals.
This illustration is from 'Little Red Riding Hood' by Jennie Harbour from 'My book of favourite fairy tales', 1921. It shows a wood that is mysterious and foreboding. Download 'Little Red Riding Hood' illustration (PDF: 1.78 MB).
- Look at the 'Hansel and Gretel' illustration
by M L Kirk above. This shows the scene when Hansel and Gretel are
lost and abandoned in the middle of the forest at night. Ask the
pupils to look closely at the picture and to list / identify the
creatures hiding in the background. Which ones are real animals,
and which are magical beings? Which of the creatures might be
helpful and friendly, and which ones seem more menacing? Look at
the characters of Hansel and Gretel — what might they each of them
be feeling and thinking?
Expressive Arts and Literacy and English experiences and outcomes: [EXA 1-07a; EXA 2-07a; LIT 1-09a; LIT 2-09a; LIT 1-07a; LIT 2-07a]
- Look at / research pictures of forests. If you're located near a forest, try to arrange a guided walk or talk with a Forestry Commission ranger.
- Create an enchanted forest in your classroom
or school hall. Decorate the walls with paintings or collages of
tall trees, and create a canopy with tissue paper leaves. Include
pictures of real animals that live in local forests, as well as
imagined creatures and fairy tale characters. Add words to describe
[EXA 1-05a; EXA 2-05a; EXA 1-03a; EXA 1-04a; EXA 2-04a]
Download storybox activity (PDF: 157KB; 1 page)
Related material at NLS
Find out more about fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm in NLS collections:
Search our main catalogue for books about fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm.
Discover more about the Brothers Grimm in our past treasures display.
Take part in our exciting Hansel and Gretel creative writing competitions.
Read a news story about the Grimms' Scottish connections in a letter that Jacob Grimm wrote to Sir Walter Scott.