“Little Red Riding Hood” is one of the best-known fairy tales. Depending on who tells it, this is a feminist story, or a patriarchal one. Little Red Riding Hood is told to children, but probably features often as a sexual fantasy. Elle avait vu le loup – “She’d seen the wolf” in French means she’s lost her virginity. There are also links to ‘true crime’, with certain historical crimes reminding us of this story of a girl in the woods.
A HISTORY IN A NUTSHELL
The history of Little Red Riding Hood is summed up neatly by Angela Slatter:
It’s been an interesting journey for Little Red Riding Hood. She started life in a tribal tale about a girl who outsmarts a wolf – all on her own, no outside help. A few centuries later, she gets a red cap, loses about twenty IQ points and gets eaten by a transvestite wolf. Add another hundred or so years, the cap becomes a hood, she loses a few more brain credits, gets molested, and then eaten by the same cross-dressing wolf but is rescued by a big, strong man and learns never to disobey the rules again. Adding insult to injury, in the 40s Tex Avery turned her into a stripper. Bruno Bettelheim* looked at Gustave Dore’s 1867 Little Red Riding Hood illustrations and saw dirty pictures – Little Red in bed with the wolf, giving him the eye. A red leather-jacketed Reese Witherspoon (oh, puhleeez!) played her in an Eighties film version, Freeway, in which a friendly neighbourhood serial killer fulfils the role of the wolf. Just when you thought it was all over, Angela Carter came along, reclaimed her and set her free.
*Bettelheim was an asshole who set psychology back a couple of decades. Look up his theories on the causes of autism. (tl;dr: Refrigerator Mothers)
In From The Beast to the Blonde, Marina Warner traces fairytales back to much older stories, oftentimes Greek and Roman legend.
Verumnus, god of autumn fruitfulness, fell in love with Pomona, goddess of summer fruitfulness, of orchards and gardens, but found that she was very zealous to keep her chastity; so he disguised himself as an old woman. In this masquerade, as the first wolf in granny’s clothing, the god of autumn softens Pomona; when he changes back into his ‘undimmed manly radiance’, she puts up no further resistance.Marina Warner, From The Beast to the Blonde
Almost all illustrators of Little Red Riding Hood have chosen a ‘stage’ composition, presenting the characters as if on a stage. These illustrations, by Beatriz Martin Vidal, take a cinematic approach. Red Riding Hood seems to have been shot with a camera. We see her in close up, and from the angle of an adult holding a camera. This changes the feeling completely.
THE ENDURING APPEAL OF LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD
Why does “Little Red Riding Hood” continue to be so popular? Perry Nodelman uses Little Red Cap as an example to explain that it’s the repetitiousness of fairytales rather than the suspense that brings readers back for more:
If we explore ‘authentic’ versions of fairy tales, particularly those in the collection of the Grimm brothers, we discover that they tend to place particular emphasis on those central episodes that form the spine of the tale and to describe them in more detail. In the story called “Little Red Cap,” we hear a lot about the little girl’s conversation with the wolf but only a quick summary of her flower picking. Further attention is drawn to the spinal episodes because so many of them repeat each other…Red Riding Hood asks the wolf about a number of his physical characteristics. Furthermore, there often tend to be curious parallels and contrasts that relate even those spinal episodes that are not directly repetitive with each other and that focus our attention on them. In the Grimms’ “Little Red Cap,” for instance, the central moments are all conversations, and most of them involve somebody theoretically wiser telling Little Red Cap what to do—first her mother, then the wolf, then the wolf disguised.
As we read or hear a fairy tale, these patterns result in a rhythmic intensifying and lessening of interest as we move from central episode to less central episode and then back again; the effect is different from the gradual intensifying toward a climax that we get in other sorts of stories. And for those of us who already know the popular fairy tales we hear—and that surely is most of us at some point early in our childhoods—our pleasure in them must derive from repetition of that rhythmic pattern rather than from the suspense we usually enjoy in story; if we already know the story, there can be no suspense in it for us.Words About Pictures by Perry Nodelman
The following are notes largely from:
- The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood by Jack Zipes
- Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked by Catherine Orenstein
- Deconstructing The Hero by Marjery Hourihan
Edward Gorey Retold in verse by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, Publisher: New York: Atheneum, 1972
A Man-Hating Story?
At this point I’ll offer an interpretation of Little Red-Cap by a man, only to show the many ways this fairy tale can be interpreted, depending on which sex you tend to identify with most readily. Erich Fromm’s interpretation completely ignores the fact that it was written down by two men (the Grimm Brothers), who presumably also identified more readily with the patriarchy than with young girls. (Also, does everything red and associated with women have to signify menstruation?)
Most of the symbolism in this fairy tale can be understood without difficulty. The “little cap of red velvet” is a symbol of menstruation. The little girl of whose adventures we hear has become a mature woman and is now confronted with the problem of sex.
The warning “not to run off the path” so as not “to fall and break the bottle” is clearly a warning against the danger of sex and of losing her virginity.
The wolf’s sexual appetite is aroused byt he sight of the girl and he tries to seduce her by suggesting that she “look around and hear how sweetly the birds are singing.” Little Red-Cap “raises her eyes” and following the wolf’s suggestion she gets “deeper and deeper into the wood.” She does so with a characteristic piece of rationalization: in order to convince herself that there is nothing wrong she reasons that grandmother would be happy with the flowers she might bring her.
But this deviation from the straight path of virtue is punished severely. The wolf, masquerading as the grandmother, swallows innocent Little Red-Cap. When he has appeased his appetite, he falls asleep.
So far the fairy tale seems to have one simple, moralistic theme, the danger of sex. But it is more complicated than that. What is the role of the man, and how is sex represented?
The male is portrayed as a ruthless and cunning animal, and the sexual act is described as a cannibalistic act in which the male devours the female. This view is not held by women who like men and enjoy sex. It is an expression of a deep antagonism against men and sex. But the hate and prejudice against men are even more clearly exhibited at the end of the story. Again, as in the Babylonian myth, we must remember that the woman’s superiority consists in her ability to bear children. How, then, is the wolf made ridiculous? By showing that he attempted to play the role of a pregnant woman, having living beings in his belly. Little Red-Cap puts stones, a symbol of sterility, into his belly, and the wolf collapses and dies. His deed, according to the primitive law of retaliation, is punished according to his crime: he is killed by the stones, the symbol of sterility, which mock his usurpation of the pregnant woman’s role.
This fairy tale, in which the main figures are three generations of women (the huntsman at the end is the conventional father figure without real weight), speaks of the male-female conflict; it is a story of triumph by man-hating women, ending with their victory, exactly the opposite of the Oedipus myth, which lets the male emerge victorious from this big struggle.Erich Fromm, The Forgotten Language
by Jerry Pinkney
Various Versions and Intended Audience
WHEN I was a child, I had recurring nightmares about wolves — beasts the size of skyscrapers that walked on their hind legs around New York City blocks, chasing and eventually devouring me. My mother says she made the mistake of bringing me to see a live performance of “Little Red Riding Hood” when I was a toddler, and that the man dressed as the wolf terrified me. I started having the dreams almost immediately after I saw the play, and they lasted into high school; I don’t remember when they stopped.
It was just a play, just a scary man, yet my young brain was indelibly affected by that one moment.What Does A Lifetime Of Leers Do To Us? from Jessica Valenti
Illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone and Boris Dekhterev
Little Red Riding Hood wasn’t always a children’s story. It’s a truth seldom acknowledged that fairy tales used to be for everyone. It’s anachronistic to even speak of ‘the child’ before a certain point in history, because the concept did not exist. There were babies, then there were people, sent out to work at the earliest opportunity.
A Note About The Sunrise/Sunset Theory
Little Red Riding Hood was for a while considered among academics a derivation of ancient tales about sunrise and sunset. Red = sun, wolf = personification of darkness, but LRRH is actually pretty modern. (Orally developed during the late Middle Ages, mostly in France, Tyrol and Modern Italy.) The sunrise/sunset theory has fallen by the wayside because the red didn’t arrive until quite late in the story’s history.
Little Red Riding Hood is influenced mostly by the pagan tradition: Little kids were attacked/killed by animals, grown-ups were attached in the woods/fields. Hunger drove atrocious acts. Violence was difficult to explain on rational grounds. There was widespread belief in witches/werewolves/magical forces of nature. These forces were life-threatening for populations of humans.
The folk tale was not just a warning but a celebration of a girl’s coming-of-age. Pins and needles = apprenticeship in sewing of young peasant girls. Girl symbolically replaces her grandmother by eating her flesh and drinking her blood. A continuation of custom rather than granny reduced to sex object. LRRH was originally a ‘wives’ tale’ — before the term came to mean ‘a lie’. Told by women, for women.
Storytelling was a dynamic process between narrator and listener. Narrator would grab the child at “All the better to eat you with!” But the children being told the tale were not harmed, and neither was LRRH, who managed to outwit the wolf in the oral tradition.
Charles Perrault told [Little Red Riding Hood] as a moral parable about the dangers of children not knowing enough, of being ignorant of the evil at large in the world: children foolish enough to talk to wolves get what they deserve. But the Grimm brothers told it as a parable about the inevitability of the ignorance of children, who need, not to learn of evil, but to accept their elders’ wise counsel as protection against it. In these two version, in other words, the story has the exact opposite meaning. As with all tales of this sort, the basic structure is capable of becoming many different tales with many different meanings; and those meanings are capable of many different interpretations.Eng2011
Charles Perrault’s 1697 version is his own creation. He used the plot to make a tale suited for an upper-class audience whose ‘social and aesthetic standards were different from those of the common folk’. (‘Rowdy’ vs ‘Refined’ tale)
Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood is: pretty, defenceless, gullible, helpless. The moral does nothing to alter her character or to suggest what would improve her character. It simply warns children against strangers. The characters are exaggerated to shock the reader rather than to provide moral guidance for children. Remember how restricted women were in the 1600s. ‘A 1673 ordinance gave a father the right to confine his daughters until the age of 25, or marriage. Any man could seek out a letter de cachet from the King to sequester any female relative.’ If this is set in the middle ages, it is a big thing for a girl to be out on her own. (By girl, I mean anyone under 25.)
We don’t know why Perrault added the red hood. Sin, sensuality, the devil, her spoiled nature, wanting to be the centre of attention?
Perrault’s child contributes unwittingly to her own rape. The coarseness and cruelty of the original tale are gone.
Adults don’t always grasp the moral of the story… According to Zipes, a 17th-century version of “Little Red Riding Hood” was written as a cautionary tale about rape: ” ‘Little girls who invite wolves into their parlor deserve what they get.’ Now that’s a very clear moral and it’s very sexist, obviously,” he says. Today we might just say it’s “Don’t talk to strangers.”
When kids read fables and fairy tales, they probably won’t fully absorb their morals until they grow up — and maybe not even then.And the moral of the story is… kids don’t always understand the moral, from NPR
Wolves and Werewolves
Rarely, if ever, in children’s fiction is the painful and sometimes rather graphic dismembering or annihilation of the mythical hero presented. This element is in children’s fiction either omitted or transferred to a secondary character, presumably to spare young readers the horrors of empathic identification with the hero’s suffering. However, we do see some remnants of ancient stories—for instance, when Little Red Riding Hood is devoured by the wolf.Maria Nikolajeva, The Rhetoric of Character In Children’s Literature
Before Charles Perrault was the rowdy version: The original villain was probably a werewolf. It was Perrault who turned him into a simple wolf. Superstitions about werewolves flourished in France more than in any other place during early Christianity and Middle Ages. There was an epidemic of men tried as werewolves (similar to women being tried as witches) during 16th and 17th centuries. (See the first episode of the Criminal podcast). It was genuinely believed that men could transmogrify into werewolves. (Lycanthropy) Lawyers believed it, the whole justice system believed it. As Catherine Orenstein points out, fairytales are far from reality for a modern reader, but to a 16th C peasant, these tales took place right outside their door, perhaps with wolves howling in the distance.
Angela Carter bases “The Company Of Wolves” on the ‘rowdy’ version. There is no red cape or red. (So much for the ‘sunrise’ theory.)
See also: Stuff You Missed In History Class about people who used to be tried as wolves. Jacques Raollet was one such man tried as werewolf, if you’d like a taste of creepy supernatural beliefs from yesteryear.
Then there is the astounding story of Stubbe Peeter:
One of [Stubbe Peeter’s] habits when in wolf form…was to roam the fields seeking any women or girls he could get alone. When successful he would rape and then murder them and devour their hearts. He claimed to have killed thirteen children and two women in this way. This sounds very like a possible origin of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, and in a version of the story which…seems to date back to seventeeth-century France…the wolf is actually a werewolf. He kills the grandmother, tricks the girl into eating her grandmother’s flesh and drinking her blood, and then, pretending to be the grandmother, entices her into bed.Marjery Hourihan
There’s more about this unpleasant man of history on Wikipedia.
Wolves are the main true victims of fairytales, and are now almost extinct. Lotta might have sympathy for a wolf. A wolf is a large dog. She herself is a large version of a girl, and might feel for it.
The ‘wolf’ is threatens family ‘patrimony’ – property inherited from one’s father or male ancestor. Such a man was feared because he would try and take the daughter’s virginity as a way to secure himself into a richer family. Or so it was thought. (Did it really happen all that often?)
The wolf in sheep’s clothing is a biblical reference to the devil. (Perhaps our wood cutter could be wearing a woollen cloak, which he has strewn off perhaps.) In the bible a wolf appears as the Devil’s agent in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.’
In an old wives’ tale collected around 1885, the wolf is called a ‘bzou’ — a werewolf, French.
In modern times the wolf is a symbol of manhood, a womaniser and the patron saint of bachelordom. But upon closer reflection, his symbolic meaning in the fairytale contains some startling contradictions.
Wolves fall into the small number of species that are actually monogamous. Legends of their fidelity abound.
The wolf of Little Red Riding Hood is a cross-dresser (or can be perceived as such). Anne Sexton makes note of his big belly looking like he’s pregnant. The delivery is when Little Red Riding Hood gets cut out. The wolf is now without gender or ‘wolfless’. The wolf is both masculine/misogynistic and a mother-to-be/grandmother.
WOLF AS SIGNIFIER
To explain how myth works Barthes uses the linguist Saussure’s concept of the sign. Saussure calls an acoustic or written symbol (e.g. ‘wolf’) a signifier; the signifier evokes a concept, the signified (the speaker’s or listener’s mental idea of a wolf). The word, or sign, consists of the signifier and the signified. The crucial point is that the signifier does not relate to anything in the physical world (any actual animal); it relates to a mental concept which may involve any number of emotional associations. In the case of ‘wolf’ these associations might include ‘dangerous’, ‘slavering’, ‘predatory’, ‘shaggy’, ‘huge fangs’, ‘blood-thirsty’ and so on — all the ascriptions which have led to the persecution and extermination of the wolf in many parts of the world, despite the extreme rarity of actual wolf attacks on humans…. Twentieth century observations of actual wolves in their natural habitats have shown them to be very different from…mythical monsters. They are extremely social animals who rarely kill human beings and whose behaviour is similar to that of humans in significant ways. Hall and Sharp argue that because both wolves and human beings evolved as hunters and gatherers who were too small to overpower or outrun large prey they both developed intelligence to outwit their prey and learned to practise co-operation and division of labour within the group. Not all members of a wolf pack engage in hunting. The non-hunting members include the young who are carefully protected by their elders. Food procured by thee hunters is shared with the rest of the pack which normally consists of about seven animals — roughly the size of a human family group. Because their diet of meat is high in protein wolves do not need to spend all their time searching for food and so are able to play and socialize, and because, as hunters, they need to communicate over distances as well as at close quarters they have developed a vocabulary of howling. The affinity between humans and dogs which gives pleasure to so many is the result of our ancient evolutionary parallels with wolves. There were, of course, stories which recognized wolves’ intelligent and nurturing behaviour, such as the tale of Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome, who, as babies, were reared by a she-wolf. However, such stories were overshadowed during the Middle Ages by the myth of the wolf as the embodiment of evil.
The charge of cunning and deceitfulness levelled against wolves no doubt arose from human frustration at being frequently outwitted by these intelligent animals. Even in recent times government hunters in North America, armed with high-powered rifles, have been unable to destroy certain legendary wolves. But this does not explain why they were persistently condemned as murderous, greedy and lustful. Clearly they were the victims of humans’ desire to externalize their own shortcomings, but this fate could have befallen any other wild animal. It is possible that linguistic confusion helped to link wolves to the Devil because the Greek for ‘wolf’, lukos, is very close to leukos (light) and ‘Lucifer’ means light. But the more important answer seems to be that the Church took advantage of their availability. In Europe in the Middle Ages there were more wolves than any other large predators living in close proximity to human beings. They did attack sheep and possibly, on occasions, did kill lone travellers. Lopez suggests that, to distract attention from actual grievances and smother social and political unrest, ‘the Roman church, which dominated mediaeval life in Europe, exploited the sinister image of wolves in order to create a sense of real devils prowling in the real world’.
This propaganda campaign was very effective. People because obsessed with wolves. They believed that highway robbers were reincarnated as wolves. The poisonous plant aconite became known as ‘wolfsbane’. Peasants referred to both famines and avaricious landlords as wolves. As early as the tenth century King Edgar of England had imposed an annual tribute of 3000 wolves on the king of Wales, and in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the English Kings Richard I, John and Henry III made land grants to individuals who undertook to keep the number of wolves in check.
The hysteria intensified in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Wolves were persecuted, poisoned and burnt in Church sponsored programmes, and the Inquisition condemned hundreds of human beings to be burnt at the stake as werewolves. The Malleus Maleficarum, published in 1486 and reprinted fourteen times by 1520, encouraged the hunt for werewolves as well as for witches. The theological position of its authors was that the apparent transformations of humans into wolves were merely illusions caused by the Devil, but a ‘werewolf’, by dealing with the Devil, was guilty anyway. While the werewolf legend goes back to antiquity (there is a werewolf story in Petronius’s Satyricon) it was in this period that they became a European obsession. Lopez suggests the pressures of famines and plagues and the stifling ignorance of the Middle Ages encouraged mass neuroses and that the belief in werewolves was such a neurosis. There was an orgy of accusation and condemnation, and also of confession. These confessions, recorded by the Inquisition, include those of Jean Peyral who, in 1518, said that he had committed murer while in the shape of a werewolf and Gilles Garnier who confessed to devouring young children as a wolf in 1573. Both of these, along with numerous others who confessed to similar crimes, were burnt at the stake.Marjery Hourihan, Deconstructing The Hero
Little Red Riding Hood and The Grimm Brothers
The story changed when the Grimm Bros came alone. Working as historians/linguists of folklore, their trade didn’t generate much in the way of cash, so they decided to take the most gruesome bits out of the folklore they had collected, write them down, and sell the stories for children. This also meant the stories were aimed at women, because women were the same as children when it came to rights.
When the Grimms got a hold of it they took out anything that couldn’t be sold for children. They considered the tale too cruel, sexual and tragic. They cleaned it up in line with the bourgeois socialisation process of the 19th C. It now complied with the Victorian image of ideal little girls. They called it Little Red Cap for their 1812 collection. It may be a bit anti-French in tone (ironically, since it’s a French tale.) They changed the ending to the belly filled with stones version. They killed the wolf twice by adding an anti-climactic moral. This time Little Red Riding Hood tricks the wolf with Granny. LRC is a justification of law and order and is against individual autonomy and imagination. Reverence is to be shown to mother, grandmother and the male gamekeeper. Salvation comes only from a male patriarch who controls both inner and outer unruly forces.
The Grimms also removed the seduction element from Little Red Riding Hood.
The Grimm version virtually dwarfed Perrault’s and took only second place to the bible as most widely book in Germany in the 1800s. Most translations you’ll find now are based on the Grimm version, or influenced by it. Victorian taste was rampant in the West through the 20th C. LRRH came to represent the ideal Victorian child. The nuclear family was now the norm. The mother is now prominent, telling her not to stray from the path. Though no father is mentioned, the hunter is the authoritative father figure. (Sometimes he is actually her father.) It came to emphasise Christian messages, emphasising obedience necessitated by spiritual danger.
Dmitry Nepomniachtchi, Olga Popugaeva
Little Red Riding Hood Meets The 20th Century
The turning point wasn’t in 1900 but the first world war. Until WW1 the tale remained very uniform — either Grimm or Perrault’s version. Any modifications were toward prudery. Many thought Grimm and Perrault too cruel/violent/sexual, but then those critics hadn’t read the rowdy oral version!
LRRH is a still a model of virtue in the face of danger, appropriately silly and helpless (and therefore appropriately female).
IN England and America, sweet, innocent, and helpless Little Red Riding Hood suffered through hybrid adventures. The Perrault and Grimm versions were often mixed together: LRRH was made into a Victorian middle-class lass whose virtue is threatened because she forgets to control her sensual drives and disobeys her good super-ego mother.
Up through WW1, the blame for the rape was heaped squarely upon LRRH: idleness, vanity, negligence were stressed as leading to her downfall. She was treated as an accomplice in her own demise. Perrault had started the discourse about female indulgence in sin, and Grimm Bros only built upon it. This story was executed fully executed again and again by a host of other English and American writers. Bear in mind that rape was a crime against a woman’s father or husband, never against the victim herself.
In the 20th C — an obsession with sex and the body. The sexuality of children and adolescents was problematised. Feminine sexuality medicalised. One of the first to be sexualised was the figure of the ‘idle woman’, inhabiting the outer edge of the world. She always had to appear as a value, charged with conjugal and parental obligations.
The good ‘idle’ woman = the housewife, who could easily become hysterical.
The bad ‘idle’ woman = the sex worker, who could reap chaos.
Each one is reflected in the trials of Little Red Riding Hood in America and England. To disobey rules set by adults and indulge in sensual pleasures = death.
Little Red Riding Hood Meets The 21st Century
Despite changing attitudes in the West about how children should be raised, the Perrault and Grimm tales remain strong in recounts of LRRH.
Little Red Riding Hood reflects men’s fear of female sexuality and of their own as well. The curbing and regulation of sexual drives is fully portrayed in this bourgeois literary fairy tale on the basis of deprived male needs. The wolf is not really a male but symbolises natural urges and social non-conformity.
Little Red Riding Hood Syndrome: a perversion of sexuality that began during the 17th C and led to an instrumentalization of the body. The body as a machine for max use and profit. Tied up with eugenics and the advancement of the human species.
But starting at the end of the 20th C, writers started to re-vision the tale in line with the various waves of feminism.
A child reading a modern version of Little Red Riding Hood in which the wolf is killed and Red Riding Hood rescued by a hunter will not know that the 1697 Perrault version of the story did not include the hunter and ended with both the grandmother and Red Riding Hood still inside the wolf. Nor will he or she know that there was an earlier oral French version in which Red Riding Hood had not yet acquired the red hood, and escaped from the wolf in an enterprising manner by asking to be allowed to go outside to relieve herself. Today’s child readers will not be concerned with the possible meanings from the version of the story presented to them, including the intervention of the hunter, and the interesting questions are what this motif might signify to children and why the addition of the hunter, which transforms the story into a version of the hero myth, has become so firmly established in our time.Deconstructing The Hero, Marjery Hourihan
For Older Readers
Though no particular darling of second wave feminists at the time, Angela Carter used the much more female-friendly ‘rowdy’ version as hypotext when writing her short story In The Company Of Wolves.
Modern versions for older readers tend to fall into two main camps: Erotic literature and images, in which LRRH is a sex object. In contradistinction we have the stories in which LRRH is now a ‘strong woman’, who gets herself out of trouble, often using violence against the wolf. As Chunk Wendig explains at his blog Terrible Minds, we are now facing some problematic issues with the concept of the ‘strong female character’ in literature:
The idea of writing a “strong female character” isn’t enough.
As shorthand, it sounds noble. It seems spot on. But a lot of writers — and writing advice about the subject — seem to get it wrong. I get asked about this a lot, I guess because write women or girl characters like Miriam Black or Atlanta Burns who, on paper, kick a lot of ass.
And that is often the focus of the question — they’re characters who can fight, scrap, throw a punch, fire a gun, and that seems to end up the focus of the question. It’s where the buck stops. But for me, that’s never where it begins. It’s not even what makes them who they are.
Instead of writing “strong female characters,” try to aim for “women or girls that possess agency.”
For Younger Readers
These days, the Little Red Riding Hood tale is often produced for a younger and younger audience — Very Little Red Riding Hood is marketed at children aged 3+.
What if Little Red Riding Hood was rather smaller than the heroine of the European folktale? What if she wasn’t scared of the wolf? Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap’s delightful picture book takes these revisions as its premise in a story that switches on a nightlight to bleach out the darkness of the Grimms’ version.
Heapy allows the little girl to speak like a real child and Heap gives her the sort of coat with animal ears that wouldn’t look out of place in the local park.
Very Little Red Riding Hood (VLRRH) is told by her exasperated mother to take some cakes to Gramma, “and don’t break anything”. When she meets the Big Bad Wolf she does what a small child might do: shouts “A Foxie!” and gives him a hug. Then, with the learnt bossiness of the very young, she tells him not to touch her cakes and, instead, demands he play chase. They arrive at Gramma’s a jumbled pair: he exhausted, she birthday bouncy. When she sees the wolf at the door, she, sensibly, sees that he offers childcare options: when VLRRH starts to miss her mummy, only the wolf can calm her. A perfect present for a Gramma to give her VLRRH.Children’s Book of the Week review by Alex O’Connell at The Guardian
London based publisher Nosy Crow has created a series of book apps based on the most popular fairytales.
Nosy Crow is not the only publishing company who decided to break into a new media with old stories. Tom Bonnick explains why to FutureBook:
We decided to make fairytales apps for reasons that were both pragmatic and idealistic.
In the first category: when our first app came out, Nosy Crow was a new company without a backlist to mine, and fairytales are copyright-free. They’re also internationally known, which was important, because we wanted to sell our apps globally. And without having big licensed brands at our disposal, we knew we would be at a discoverability disadvantage in the cutthroat world of the App Store: we needed to create stories that people would search for and be able to find.
But there were more literary reasons for deciding to make apps from fairytales, too.
The fact that children and parents knew these stories so well was a virtue: we could adapt them more freely, and make use of the advantages of the platform — interactivity, non-linearity — more imaginatively, knowing that children would not lose sight of the story. They would always know that Cinderella married the prince, that the third little pig’s house did not blow down, and that the Big Bad Wolf had disguised himself as Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. Fairytales, we like to say, bend, but they do not break.
This goes some way towards explaining why fairytales — especially Little Red Riding Hood — is well-suited to new technologies, and why we are seeing so many re-visionings.
The following modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood may signal a new trend:
Little Red Hood is clearly in control of this not-so-wiley wolf and her calm composure is evident, even through the use of these raw, jagged strokes. Unlike the original, this wolf isn’t quite as you’d expect. He’s not the sharpest tool in the box and Little Red has the upper hand in this classic tale with a twist.Picturebooks Blogger
Sometimes the path you think you are following isn’t as exciting as what you are actually following.
The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi is an animal-friendly retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in which Kikko follows the tracks in the snow, thinking she’s following her father to grandmother’s house. Instead, she ends up following a bear. Far from frightening, this leads Kikko to a delightful tea party with a host of friendly woodland animals. She still ends up at her grandma’s place, but she gets there by a much more exciting route.Nerdy Book Club
It was Perrault who cloaked the heroine in red — harlots, scandal, blood, symbolising her sin, foreshadowing her fate.
Chaperon = hood in French. Has a double meaning, and eventually acquired the second meaning in English as well: a matron who accompanies and protects single girls from men. (Lotta, you can’t go through the woods unchaperoned. But Lotta wasn’t worried. She had her hood. If anyone caught sight of her under the hood they would think she were a man, by her bulk and her man-sized horse.) A chaperon was a stylish headdress of velvet or satin, worn by women of the aristocracy and middle classes in the 16th and 17th centuries.
But LRRH didn’t acquire her dress or the name LRRH until arriving in England. There, the riding hood was worn by the middle classes. A hood was the staple or ‘icon’ of rural women’s dress. Women wore this throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. They were made of wool for warmth and low cost (cotton was expensive) and double milled for weather resistance. Scarlet cloth became so popular for rural wear that the red riding hood became one of the few English garments that can be called traditional.
For images of women wearing this cloak, see George Morland, William Redmore Bigg, Francis Wheatley (A Woodman Returning Home, Evening, 1795). This final image looks like an illustration straight out of LRRH, but the tale hadn’t yet reached England when it was painted.
For accounts of the life of English women during this time, read Jane Austen’s novels. Austen was a contemporary of the Grimm brothers.
It would have been dangerous for a girl to be too beautiful in the middle ages, because it was genuinely thought that a beautiful woman who inspired lust was a witch, along with all sorts of other kinds of women (barren, widows, midwives, or anyone with any kind of sexual power at all).
The Grimms may have borrowed the ending where the hunter saves LRRH from another tale called The Wolf and the Kids. (There’s also stones in the belly in that tale.)
The Grimms offered a second ending which didn’t gain popularity at the time. The granny and LRRH set a trap and catch the wolf on their own without much trouble. This wasn’t in line with Victorian ideas about femininity. Even today, this ending is virtually unknown.
In early myths the wilderness is the wild, unpredictable forces of nature while the devouring dragon or monster is death and primeval chaos, so that to kill it is to bestow life and establish human order….This symbolism survives as a residue in much later works, reshaped and redeployed according to the context of the times. We can recognise it in fairy tales which emphasise the dangers of the forest where wolves lurk; the powerful appeal of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is due in part to its dramatic use of these ancient motifs.Deconstructing The Hero, Marjery Hourihan
The forest is a ‘cathedral’, a place of solitude but is also a metaphor for the psyche, where our greatest fears come out.
In some versions, LRRH must choose a path of either pins or needles after meeting the wolf. These tales were probably the ones told by women, probably as they sewed, which took up a whole heap of time back in the day. (Perhaps our LRRH should have sewed her own riding hood. Perhaps her mother could be a seamstress, or weaver or spinner.)
The bottle of wine and the cake in the basket are thought to be symbols of Christian communion. Because of the existence of the wine, this has lead to the story sometimes being banned for promoting alcohol.
If you’re a fan of art related to fairytales, check out the Little Red Riding Hood Pinterest boards. Here is one nice collection.
Little Red Riding Hood and Rape Culture
Maria Tatar writes in a NYT review of fairytales:
In adult reworkings of fairy tales, almost anything goes, and in a creative flash, the girl in red can turn into Red Hot Riding Hood. When it comes to versions for children, the urge to preach becomes almost irresistible. We put tight constraints on improvisation, insisting on morals, even when they do not square with the facts of the story. MacDonald turns the audacious Jack into a repentant rogue who “knew he shouldn’t have risked his life like that.” Adventurous and beauty-loving Little Red Riding Hood is portrayed as disobedient (for talking to the wolf) and wayward (for picking flowers). In the end, she promises “never to stray from the path again,” just as her mother had told her in the beginning. All versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” in these collections make the same point, even though staying on the path would not have changed a thing. In “Fairy Tale Comics,” Little Red Riding Hood vows never to talk to strangers again, an update to the story, making it about stranger danger but ignoring the fact that conversation was never the real problem.
Here’s what I’d like to see in a modern reworking of Little Red Riding Hood:
- Reader empathy with Red Riding Hood is encouraged — we feel not only her fear but her shame at being victimised
- Red Riding Hood wondering what she’d done to provoke the attack — had she worn the wrong shade of hood?
- Red Riding Hood reassured that the attack wasn’t her fault, that if it hadn’t been her it would have been some other victim.
The Big Bad Wolf Reconsidered, a talk by Maria Tatar on YouTube
We (humans) have now become the wolf. The wolf is the victim in environmental destruction.
- There Are 58 Versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Some 1,000 Years Older Than the Brothers Grimm’s
- Charles Perrault: “Little Red Riding Hood”
- 1st-Century Roots of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ Found
- Charles Perrault Red Riding Hood
- Various Versions Online
- Little Red Riding Hood — Life Off The Path
- More Faux Feminism
- Red Riding Hood Defanged
- Edward Gorey also illustrated Little Red Riding Hood
A friend and I rewrote Little Red Riding Hood for a modern audience. One way to grant humanity to a nameless character is to give the invisibilised heroine a personal name. So we called her Lotta, and the story is called “Lotta: Red Riding Hood“.