Source and activity 5

Fairy tale settings: The forest

Hansel and Gretel in the forest
Hansel and Gretel in 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

Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood.

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
  • Monsters
  • Witches
  • Elves
  • Fairies.

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).


Suggested activities

  • 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 the forest.

    [EXA 1-05a; EXA 2-05a; EXA 1-03a; EXA 1-04a; EXA 2-04a]
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Download storybox activity (PDF: 157KB; 1 page)


Source and activity 6



Themes in focus — Fairy tales


Related material at the Library

Find out more about fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm in our 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.


Hansel and Gretel creative writing competition winners


Read a news story about the Grimms' Scottish connections in a letter that Jacob Grimm wrote to Sir Walter Scott.


Elsewhere on the web

Find out more about storytelling duo Macastory.


Learn more about traditional tales and stories with the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

Library learning for you

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