Last Fairy Tale Friday was Sleeping Beauty because it was one that many people know about and I wanted to ease myself in. I also had a lot to say about it which made it an incredibly lengthy post.
This one is also known to people but I chose it as I asked friends the question; “What is your favourite fairy tale?”
And so, for the first several posts I will go with their answers.
The friend who likes this one the most answered the question first. What I didn’t ask was; “Why is this your favourite fairy tale?” Maybe they don’t actually know. We don’t always know why we like something. Sometimes we just do.
I also have a lot to say about this one but I need to stop doing lengthy posts so I’m trying to reign it in.
FYI – I love the above artist’s style and she happens to love fairy tales and as I happen to love fairy tales and her style I’m probably going to be using a lot of her pictures…
Ok, here we go. Down the path and into the woods towards Grandmother’s house.
The earliest recorded written version of Little Red Riding Hood was by French writer Charles Perrault in 1697 followed by an amended version by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. If you haven’t guessed by now, the Brother’s Grimm do a lot of re-dos. But then again, the version by Perrault is not necessarily the first version as there were other versions told verbally beforehand.
there lived a little girl who was nick-named after her favourite outfit, a red riding hood. If I was named after my favourite outfit I’d be known as Comfy Jogging Bottoms. Anyway…
The little girl was given a basket with butter and bread to take to her Grandmother’s house. In order to get to the house she had to walk through the woods so her mother told her to stay on the path and not talk to any strangers.
Little Red Riding Hood ignored both those things. While she was walking through the woods she was stopped by a nice wolf who asked her a lot of questions; mainly involving who she was, where she was going, who she was visiting. That sort of thing. She told him pretty much everything he needed to know and he wished her goodbye and went on his merry way.
While Little Red decided to leave the path and meander around the woods collecting flowers, the wolf made his way to Grandmother’s house, knocked on the door and pretended to be Little Red.
Grandmother inexplicably fell for it. The wolf eats her up, dresses in her clothes and gets in her bed. When Little Red finally makes it to Grandmother’s house, the wolf lets her in and proceeds to pretend he is Little Red’s Grandmother.
Despite her doubt and a whole bunch of questionning (you know the ones), Little Red also inexplicably falls for it, gets too close to ‘Grandmother’ with her massive eyes, ears and teeth and surprise… gets eaten.
Somehow, via the power of Deus Ex Machina, a hunter (or woodcutter) passes by Grandmother’s house, sees the wolf with his bulging belly and realises whats happened. He then cuts the wolf open while he sleeps (this doesn’t kill the wolf somehow) and frees a fully whole and still alive Grandmother and Little Red.
They fill the wolf’s belly with stones and when the wolf awakes and goes to drink from a stream, he falls in because of the weight and drowns.
That version is the Grimm version.There was no rescuer in Perrault’s version, the hunter/ woodcutter is a Grimm addition because they wanted to make the story a happier one. In Perrault’s version, the wolf eats Little Red and that’s how it ends.
What the Grimm’s also add on is the warning that Little Red’s mother tells us – stay on the path and don’t talk to strangers, lending the story the moral of ‘always listen to your parents.’ And you know… don’t talk to strangers.
In fact, despite the Grimm’s being ‘grim,’ they have removed some of the more disturbing elements that Perrault’s version contained.
Perrault’s version tells us that Little Red is pretty. In the story itself he refers to her as ‘pretty’ and in the moral at the end he makes mention of ‘attractive, well-bred ladies’ inferring that’s what Little Red represents.
Another disturbing element in his version is that when Little Red and the wolf play their questioning game, the wolf gets Little Red to climb into bed with him. Which she does after removing all her clothes.
There is also another French version called ‘The Grandmother’ where the wolf is a bzou (were-wolf) and tricks Little Red into eating some of her Grandmother. She escapes this one of her own wits but only after getting into bed with him and realising what he is. At the beginning of the story she also chooses the ‘path of needles’ which has connotations to prostitution.
This version and the Perrault version are probably the reasons why Little Red Riding Hood lends itself to some interesting retelling’s and interpretations.
In fact, Perrault’s overall moral of his story was that lovely ladies shouldn’t talk to strangers, because if they do they may become food for the wolf. When he says ‘wolf’ he is referring to men (and stating that the charming, polite, unassuming men who pursue ladies are the worst).
And by ‘food’ I’m sure he means something else entirely.
This is a story about data protection.
Ok, I’m kidding but Grimm’s moral certainly applies if we are applying it to children. It is a ‘don’t wander off,’ ‘don’t talk to anyone you don’t know’ and a ‘don’t tell anyone you don’t know personal things about you’ tale. It is a cautionary tale and one that we’ve had embedded in our minds since childhood.
But… the Perrault is definitely not just a case of ‘don’t talk to strangers’ and has a far more sinister and sexual content to it. Or at least that’s what people have picked up and inferred, are we correct in that reading that or are we secretly just a bunch of perverts?
In my honest opinion – I think it’s the former. Perrault’s moral at the end does warn attractive, well bred ladies to be wary of men, all men. But especially Nice Guys. Nice Guys were clearly around in Perrault’s time too.
BUT…. this does feel a little like a blame game. Ladies, it says, be careful of who you talk to because you’re gentle and innocent and men are rogues. This feels like one of those uni campaigns where they tell you to watch your drinks, look after your friends and carry your rape alarms with you rather than teaching men what consent looks like.
This is probably meant to be more a tale of ‘seduction’ than rape. After all, doesn’t Little Red take off her clothes willingly?
There are some interpretations that highlight that Grandmother and Little Red fell for things a little too easily and doubt their intelligence and common sense but for me I would say the wolf is the bad guy here. Let’s not excuse what he did.
Why is it only attractive, well-bred ladies that get this warning?! Hmmm Perrault. Hmmm.
There are a lot (and I mean a lot) of very sexualised images and versions of this tale so there is obviously something about it that just screams ‘sex’ in some form. Honestly… doing my research for images I saw a lot of ‘sexy’ Red Riding Hood Halloween costumes.
Depending on how it’s interpreted this fairy tale is either about a predator of children, a predator of women, a seducer of women, a seducer of women who know that they’re being seduced and want to be, Little Red as a willing partner ready to be seduced and have her wild side unleashed, Little Red already as wild in nature as the wolf is or Little Red as someone who knows what she’s doing and leads the wolf to his destruction.
The cloak itself is seen as symbolic of menstruation and the beginning of female fertility which lends itself to some of those interpretations.
All those interpretations also lead to a lot, and again I mean a lot, of new retelling’s. A few are below.
The one’s that come to my mind/ I have found that look promising are:-
- The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly (book)
- Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (book; part of The Lunar Chronicles)
- The Company of Wolves in The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (short story)
- The Werewolf in The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (short story)
- Hoodwinked! (movie)
- Hard Candy (film, not based on Red Riding Hood but contains some metaphors and symbolism)
- The Path (video game)
I actually don’t know what version I would do but in all honesty it would be something for adults and not YA. I quite like the messages that Little Red Riding Hood contain and I think my preferred interpretation is one of Little Red being someone who is repressed by society and oppressed by her family but who has a secret yearning to be free and run wild.
She’s warned by her family about the dangers of men but in truth it is the Nice Guy from the village who everyone seems to adore that poses the most danger to her. A stranger arrives from the outside world and no one trusts or likes him, aside from Little Red who finds herself mysteriously drawn to him.
This version is definitely a ‘Little Red as a willing partner ready to be seduced and have her wild side unleashed’ situation.
Next one will be on Hansel and Gretel.
If anyone is actually liking these, please let me know 😉