From The Grandmother's Tale
to Red Riding Hood
The story revolves around a girl called Little Red Riding Hood, after the red hooded cape/cloak (in Perrault's fairytale) or simple cap (in the Grimms' version) she wears. The girl walks through the woods to deliver food to her sick grandmother.
A mean wolf wants to eat the girl but is afraid to do so in public. He approaches Little Red Riding Hood and she naïvely tells him where she is going. He suggests the girl pick some flowers, which she does. In the meantime, he goes to the grandmother's house and gains entry by pretending to be the girl. He swallows the grandmother whole, (In some stories, he locks her in the closet), and waits for the girl, disguised as the grandma.
When the girl arrives, she notices that her grandmother looks very strange. Little Red then says, "What a deep voice you have," ("The better to greet you with"), "Goodness, what big eyes you have," ("The better to see you with) "And what big hands you have!" ("The better to hug you with"), and lastly, "What a big mouth you have," ("The better to eat you with!") at which point the wolf jumps out of bed, and swallows her up too. Then, with a fat full tummy, he falls fast asleep.
A lumberjack, however, comes to the rescue and with his axe cuts open the wolf, who had fallen asleep. Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother emerge unharmed. They fill the wolf's body with heavy stones. The wolf awakens and tries to flee, but the stones cause him to collapse and die. (Sanitized versions of the story have the grandmother shut in the closet instead of eaten, and some have Little Red Riding Hood saved by the lumberjack as the wolf advances on her, rather than after she is eaten.)
Little Red Riding Hood, also known as Little Red Cap or simply Red Riding Hood, is a European fairy tale about a young girl and a Big Bad Wolf. The story has been changed considerably in its history and subject to numerous modern adaptations and readings. The story was first published by Charles Perrault.
The origins of the Little Red Riding Hood story can be traced to versions from various European countries and more than likely preceding the 17th century, of which several exist, some significantly different from the currently known, Grimms-inspired version. It was told by French peasants in the 14th century as well as in Italy, where a number of versions exist, including La finta nonna (The False Grandmother). It has also been called "The Story of Grandmother". It is also possible that this early tale has roots in very similar Oriental tales (e.g. "Grandaunt Tiger").
The tale makes the clearest contrast between the safe world of the village and the dangers of the forest, conventional antitheses that are essentially medieval, though no written versions are as old as that. Specifically, the tale parallels how an innocent victim can be taken in and controlled by a criminal mentality, therefore, facilitating further subjection of a crime or harm against a vulnerable victim through mischievous criminal intent by removing the victim from a familiar or "safe" public location - facilitating the crime in an effort to isolate the victim by drawing her to another location "away from the public eye" where the criminal entity has complete control over the victim.
Relationship to other tales
The theme of the ravening wolf and of the creature released unharmed from its belly is also reflected in the Russian tale Peter and the Wolf, and the other Grimm tale The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids, but its general theme of restoration is at least as old as Jonah and the Whale. The theme also appears in the story of the life of Saint Margaret, where the saint emerges unharmed from the belly of a dragon, and in the epic "The Red Path" by Jim C. Hines.
The dialogue between the mean wolf and Little Red Riding Hood has its analogies to the Norse Þrymskviða from the Elder Edda; the giant Þrymr had stolen Mjölner, Thor's hammer, and demanded Freyja as his bride for its return. Instead, the gods dressed Thor as a bride and sent him. When the giants note Thor's unladylike eyes, eating, and drinking, Loki explains them as Freyja not having slept, or eaten, or drunk, out of longing for the wedding.
Also The grandmother’s tale is an oral story that has been told in many parts of Medieval Europe and is open to many interpretations. The tale could be interpreted as a literal warning and moral tale, or as a symbolic journey from little girl to mature woman and the inevitable development of female sexuality.
During the medieval period many people lived in small towns or villages, making the threat of wolf (or "werewolf") attacks quite common, it could be that this story was simply one told to warn their daughters of the dangers of the forest, to behave as a proper young lady should. The simple style of the story: a straight forward linear plot, the lack of depth in characterization or setting, makes one of this folk tale’s meanings glaringly obvious. In one respect it was a simple warning to village people of medieval times against the dangers of the forest.
Although this meaning is the most obvious, there is a vast amount of symbolism in this story that implies a much deeper meaning. The grandmother’s tale symbolizes the medieval ideal of innocence and the deviation from this ideal as girls grow into women who can be easily tempted by ‘wolves’. The werewolf is a symbol of danger from both the animals in a forest, and men who lead girls and women to 'stray from the path'. The girl must choose a path to her grandmother’s house, the path of pins or the path of needles. These sewing tools are a symbol for the different stages of a woman’s life; pins are simple fastenings which are used temporarily, whereas a needle is used for the permanent fastening, and the act of threading a needle can be seen as sexual innuendo. The girl takes the path of pins, demonstrating her youth and yet to be corrupted innocence, the wolf travels by the path of needles highlighting his position as a sexual threat. So far, the girl is still the idealized picture of innocence and purity.
In this early version of the tale, the wolf is able to kill and eat the grandmother, and leaves her flesh and blood for
the young girl to eat. The, albeit unintentional, cannibalism of the girl's grandmother shows her development from young naive child to a mature, intelligent woman. As she eats the flesh and wine (blood) she takes a metaphorical step from child to adult hood, infusing her own mind and spirit with that of the grandmother, becoming a wiser, more powerful woman. This mental, spiritual development allows the young girl to be wary of the wolf and his threat to her.
This tale was most likely originally told by women, and it is noticeable in its plot. This fact is made exceedingly clear by the lack of a masculine ‘hero' and the fact that the wolf is eventually out witted by a group of female characters. The girl is clever and able to trick the wolf into letting her escape her grandmother’s house. After he has her strip and almost enter the bed, where she would most definitely be devoured, the girl excuses herself to go outside and ‘relieve herself’ and slips away. A second act of female cunning occurs when the women at the river manage to drown the wolf, saving the girls life and proving the strength and character women can possess.
‘The Grandmother’s Tale’ has many readings available to it, it is both literal and metaphorical. A warning against the dangers of the untamed world, a symbol of the transition from girl to woman and the power and intelligence women can posses. It reflects the minds of those who created the story, and projects its meaning onto the world around it.
These early variations of the tale differ from the currently known version in several ways. The antagonist is not always a wolf, but sometimes an ogre or a 'bzou' (werewolf), making these tales relevant to the werewolf-trials (similar to witch trials) of the time (e.g. the trial of Peter Stumpp). The wolf usually leaves the grandmother’s blood and meat for the girl to eat, who then unwittingly cannibalizes her own grandmother. Furthermore, the wolf was also known to ask her to remove her clothing and toss it into the fire.
In some versions, the wolf eats the girl after she gets into bed with him, and the story ends there. In others, she sees through his disguise and tries to escape, complaining to her "grandmother" that she needs to defecate and would not wish to do so in the bed. The wolf reluctantly lets her go, tied to a piece of string so she does not get away. However, the girl slips the string over something else and runs off.
In these stories she escapes with no help from any male or older female figure, instead using her own cunning. Sometimes, though more rarely, the red hood is even non-existent.
French images, like this 19th-century painting, show the much shorter red chaperon being worn
The earliest known printed version was known as Le Petit Chaperon Rouge and had its origins in 17th century French folklore. It was included in the collection Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals. Tales of Mother Goose (Histoires et contes du temps passé, avec des moralités. Contes de ma mère l'Oye), in 1697, by Charles Perrault. As the title implies, this version is both more sinister and more overtly moralized than the later ones. The redness of the hood, which has been given symbolic significance in many interpretations of the tale, was a detail introduced by Perrault.
The story had as its subject an "attractive, well-bred young lady", a village girl of the country being deceived into giving a wolf she encountered the information he needed to find her grandmother's house successfully and eat the old woman while at the same time avoiding being noticed by woodcutters working in the nearby forest. Then he proceeded to lay a trap for the Red Riding Hood. Little Red Riding Hood ends up being asked to climb into the bed before being eaten by the wolf, where the story ends. The wolf emerges the victor of the encounter and there is no happy ending.
Charles Perrault explained the 'moral' at the end so that no doubt is left to his intended meaning:
From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!This, the presumed original, version of the tale was written for late 17th century French court of King Louis XIV. This audience, whom the King entertained with extravagant parties and prostitutes, presumably would take from the story the intended meaning.
Wilhelm (left) and Jacob Grimm (right) from an 1855 painting by Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann.
In the 19th century two separate German versions were retold to Jacob Grimm and his younger brother Wilhelm Grimm, known as the Brothers Grimm, the first by Jeanette Hassenpflug (1791–1860) and the second by Marie Hassenpflug (1788–1856). The brothers turned the first version to the main body of the story and the second into a sequel of it. The story as Rotkäppchen was included in the first edition of their collection Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales (1812)).
The earlier parts of the tale agree so closely with Perrault's variant that it is almost certainly the source of the tale. However, they modified the ending; this version had the little girl and her grandmother saved by a huntsman who was after the wolf's skin; this ending is identical to that in the tale The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids, which appears to be the source.
The second part featured the girl and her grandmother trapping and killing another wolf, this time anticipating his moves based on their experience with the previous one. The girl did not leave the path when the wolf spoke to her, her grandmother locked the door to keep it out, and when the wolf lurked, the grandmother had Little Red Riding Hood put a trough under the chimney and fill it with water that sausages had been cooked in; the smell lured the wolf down, and it drowned.
The Brothers further revised the story in later editions and it reached the above mentioned final and better known version in the 1857 edition of their work. It is notably tamer than the older stories which contained darker themes.
After the Grimms
Numerous authors have rewritten or adapted this tale.
Andrew Lang included a variant called "The True History of Little Goldenhood" in The Red Fairy Book (1890). He derived it from the works of Charles Marelles, in Contes of Charles Marelles. This version explicitly states that the story had been mistold earlier. The girl is saved, but not by the huntsman; when the wolf tries to eat her, its mouth is burned by the golden hood she wears, which is enchanted.
James N. Barker wrote a variation of Little Red Riding Hood in 1827 as an approximately 1000-word story. It was later reprinted in 1858 in a book of collected stories edited by William E Burton, called the Cyclopedia of Wit and Humor. The reprint also features a wood engraving of a clothed wolf on bended knee holding Little Red Riding Hood's hand.
In the 20th century, the popularity of the tale appeared to snowball, with many new versions being written and produced, especially in the wake of Freudian analysis, deconstruction and feminist critical theory. (See "Modern uses and adaptations" below.) This trend has also led to a number of academic texts being written that focus on Little Red Riding Hood, including works by Alan Dundes and Jack Zipes.
Red Riding Hood by George Frederic Watts
Besides the overt warning about talking to strangers, there are many interpretations of the classic fairy tale, many of them sexual. Some are listed below.
Folklorists and cultural anthropologists such as P. Saintyves and Edward Burnett Tylor saw "Little Red Riding Hood" in terms of solar myths and other naturally-occurring cycles. Her red hood could represent the bright sun which is ultimately swallowed by the terrible night (the wolf), and the variations in which she is cut out of the wolf's belly represent by it the dawn. In this interpretation, there is a connection between the wolf of this tale and Sköll, the wolf in Norse myth that will swallow the personified Sun at Ragnarök, or Fenrir. Alternatively, the tale could be about the season of spring, or the month of May, escaping the winter.
The tale has been interpreted as a puberty ritual, stemming from a prehistorical origin (sometimes an origin stemming from a previous matriarchal era). The girl, leaving home, enters a liminalstate and by going through the acts of the tale, is transformed into an adult woman by the act of coming out of the wolf's belly.
Bruno Bettelheim, in The Uses of Enchantment, recast the Little Red Riding Hood motif in terms of classic Freudian analysis, that shows how fairy tales educate, support, and liberate the emotions of children. The motif of the huntsman cutting open the wolf, he interpreted as a "rebirth"; the girl who foolishly listened to the wolf has been reborn as a new person.
Red Riding Hood has also been seen as a parable of sexual maturity. In this interpretation, the red cloak symbolizes the blood of menstruation, braving the "dark forest" of womanhood. Or the cloak could symbolize the hymen (earlier versions of the tale generally do not state that the cloak is red). In this case, the wolf threatens the girl's virginity. The anthropomorphic wolf symbolizes a man, who could be a lover, seducer or sexual predator. This differs from the ritual explanation in that the entry into adulthood is biologically, not socially, determined.
The poem Þrymskviða from the Poetic Edda mirrors some elements of Red Riding Hood. Loki's explanations for "Freyja's" (actually Thor disguised as Freya) strange behavior mirror the wolf's explanations for his strange appearance.
The red hood has often been given great importance in many interpretations, with a significance from the dawn to blood.
Modern uses and adaptations
There have been many modern uses and adaptations of Little Red Riding Hood, generally with a mock-serious reversal of Red Riding Hood's naïveté or some twist of social satire; they range across a number of different media and styles. Multiple variations have been written in the past century, in which authors adapt the Grimms' tale to their own interests.
The tale can be told in terms of Little Red Riding Hood's sexual attractiveness. The song "How Could Red Riding Hood (Have Been So Very Good)?" by A.P. Randolph in 1925 was the first song known to be banned from radio because of its sexual suggestiveness. The 1966 hit song "Lil' Red Riding Hood" by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs takes the Wolf's point of view, implying that he wants love rather than blood. In the short animated cartoon Red Hot Riding Hood by Tex Avery, the story is recast in an adult-oriented urban setting, with the suave, sharp-dressed Wolf howling after the nightclub singer Red. Avery used the same cast and themes in a subsequent series of cartoons.Allusions to the tale can be more or less overtly sexual, as when the color of a lipstick is advertised as "Riding Hood Red".
This sexual analysis may take the form of rape. In Against Our Will, Susan Brownmiller described the fairy tale as a description of rape. Many revisionist retellings depict Little Red Riding Hood or the grandmother successfully defending herself against the wolf.
The story may also serve as a metaphor for a sexual awakening, as in Angela Carter's story "The Company of Wolves", published in her collection The Bloody Chamber (1979). (Carter's story was adapted into a film by Neil Jordan in 1984.) In the story, the wolf is in fact a werewolf, and comes to newly-menstruating Red Riding Hood in the forest in the form of a charming hunter. He turns into a wolf and eats her grandmother, and is about to devour her as well, when she is equally seductive and ends up lying with the wolf man, her sexual awakening. Such tellings bear some similarity to the "animal bridegroom" tales, such as Beauty and the Beast or The Frog Prince, but where the heroines of those tales transform the hero into a prince, these tellings of Little Red Riding Hood reveal to the heroine that she has a wild nature like the hero's.
As they often did with fairy tales and children's classics, Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoon unit made frequent use of Red's story for satirical purposes. One of the most famous was "Little Red Riding Hoodwinked," featuring Sylvester chasing Tweety---who's the gift Red is bringing to Grandma's house---concurrent to the wolf hunting Red after throwing Grandma out of the house.
Little Red Riding Hood is also one of the central characters in the 1987 Broadway musical Into the Woods by Steven Sondheim and James Lapine. In the song, "I Know Things Now" she speaks of how the wolf made her feel "excited, well, excited and scared," in a reference to the sexual undertones of their relationship. Red Riding Hood's cape is also one of the musical's four quest items that are emblematic of fairy tales.
Publishers like BeeGang and So Out maintained unaltered the original story written by Charles Perrault mainly adding interactivity or educational content to their book apps; Other publishers like BlueQuoll, an Australian publishing group, have pushed further the boundaries of the narration and re-invented the story even in the title, Mr. Wolf and the Ginger Cupcakes that puts the wolf at the center of the narration. In their version the element of good vs evil is removed from the story and the wolf is not portrayed as a negative character that deserves to die miserably at the end of the story.
A recent adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood has been seen in the ABC new hit series Once Upon a Time. In this version, Little Red Riding Hood (played by Meghan Ory) goes by 'Red' and she is no innocent little girl. Red is given a mature, fiery attitude but lives with her grandmother because she was told her parents were killed in a hunting accident. As the story elaborates, we find out Red is actually the wolf that threatens the forest and if she does not keep her magic, red cloak on she turns into the wolf on the night of a full moon. Later, Red finds her mother, who is in fact not dead, but part wolf as well, and is the leader of a group of other half-wolf people who have learned to embrace the wolf inside them instead of fear it. Her mother teaches Red to embrace the wolf as well, and Red learns to accept who she is instead of seeing herself as a monster.
Numerous variants of The Grandmother's Tale were collected by French folklorists in the 19th and 20th centuries in the Loire basin, the Nivernais, the Forez, the Velay, the northern Alps, and the Italian Tyrol. Italo Calvino published a version from Abruzzo in his collection Italian Folktales(1956). Called The False Grandmother, in this story a hungry ogress takes the place of the wolf - but in other respects, the story is quite similar to the French folktale. Just as in the French story, the girl is offered a grisly meal — beans (really teeth) boiled in a pot and fitters (really ears) in a frying pan; and she, too, escapes by feigning the need to relieve herself outside. Calvino had doubts that The False Grandmother actually came from the Italian oral tradition, suggesting it may have derived instead from published versions by Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. Yet the Abruzzo tale contains elements that link it clearly to the older folk tradition: the cannibal meal, the toilet ruse, the heroine who plots her own escape... all things that disappeared as the tale moved from oral transmission to print.
In the oral tales, the girl must chose between two paths of needles and pins. In some versions she chooses pins, in other versions she chooses needles, and in a few versions the bzou chooses the path for her. Folklore scholars have different theories on what precisely these paths are meant to represent. Sewing and spinning terms are ones we find often in fairy tales, for the making of cloth and clothes was a constant part of women's labor prior to the 20th century. Such work was often done communally, in spinning rooms and around the evening fire, when gossip was shared and tales were told to relieve the monotony of the tasks at hand. Small wonder then that needles, pins, distaffs, spindles, and other symbols of women's work make frequent appearances in folk stories largely told by female storytellers, and some folklorists attach no more significance to the two different paths than this. Paul Delarue and Marc Soriano viewed the choice between pins and needles as a nonsense question, a false choice (for both are equally prickly), a deliberate absurdity. Yvonne Verdier disagreed in her fascinating essay "Le petit chaperon rouge dans la tradition orale," first published posthumously in 1995. Verdier had extensively recorded and studied the folklore, traditions, and rituals of rural women in remote areas of France, and she brought her wider understand of traditional women's stories to her examination of The Grandmother's Tale.
In villages Verdier studied, she found that girls were sent at puberty to spend one winter with local seamstresses — a passage of time that marked a girl's change from child to young woman. Writing about a village in the Châtillonnais, she noted "This had less to do with learning to 'work,' to sew and use needles, than with refining herself, with polishing herself and learning to adorn herself, to dress up. The seamstress expressed this by saying of her young apprentices, 'They have been gathering pins.' When they reached the age of fifteen, both the winter with the seamstress and the ceremonial entry into the age group consecrated to St. Catherine signified their arrival at maidenhood (la vie de jeune fille), that is, permission to go dancing and to have sweethearts, of which the pin seemed to be the symbol. It was by offering them dozens of pins that boys formerly paid court to girls; it was by throwing pins into fountains that girls assured themselves a sweetheart."
While pins marked the path of maidenhood, needles implied sexual maturity. "As for the needles," wrote Verdier, "threaded through its eye, in the folklore of seamstresses it refers to an emphatically sexual symbolism." Indeed, in some parts of Europe, prostitutes once wore needles on their sleeves to advertise their profession. The versions of The Grandmothers Tale where the girl chooses to take the Path of Needles might well imply that the heroine is trying to grow up a bit too quickly.
At the end of the path, the werewolf awaits, disguised as the heroine's grandmother. We assume that he's wearing his human shape now, which makes the deception a bit more convincing, and yet — as Marina Warner points out in her fairy tale study From the Beast to the Blonde — it's odd that the granddaughter can't tell the difference. Perhaps, Warner suggests, it's because there's a similarity between the wolf and the crone. The grandmother lives apart in the forest — an unusual place for a helpless old woman, but a common dwelling for wise-women, witches, herbalists, and otherfemmes sauvage. Warner writes, "In the witch-hunting fantasies of early modern Europe they [wolf and crone] are the kind of beings associated with marginal knowledge, who possess pagan secrets and are in turn possessed by them. Both dwell in the woods, both need food urgently (one because she's sick, the other because he hasn't eaten in three days), and the little girl cannot quite tell them apart."
We're not surprised when the bzou slaughters the grandmother-that is, after all, what werewolves do. But the granddaughter's gruesome meal is shocking-particularly in those versions of the tale where the method of cooking and seasoning is elaborately described. Yvonne Verdier likens this ritual meal to a sacrificial act, a physical incorporation of the grandmother by her granddaughter. Such a scene is reminiscent of a wide variety of myths in which a warrior, shaman, sorcerer, or witch attains another's knowledge or power through the ritual ingestion of the other's heart, brain, liver, or spleen. But Verdier looks at this part of the story in more symbolic terms. "What the tale tells us," the scholar conjectures, "is the necessity of the female biological transformation by which the young eliminate the old in their own lifetime. Mothers will be replaced by their daughters and the circle will be closed with the arrival of their children's children. Moral: grandmothers will be eaten."
The slow striptease then demanded by the wolf hints at another kind of appetite, as does the fact that the bzou is not just a wolf, but also a man. Though focusing on those aspects of the tale that speak the language of female initiation, Verdier also acknowledges the powerful role of the wolf at the center of the story. He is more than just a symbol of the dangers of sexual deception; he is the agent of change. "At the crossroads when she chooses the pins, he is at the origin of the choice; it is when she is face to face with him, under his gaze and at his demand, that she incorporates her grandmother and undresses. This is as much to say that he leads the game...." He leads, but he does not win-for in the folktale (unlike Perrault's retelling), she is not eaten by the wolf. She sees through the bzou's tricks at last, takes his measure, and shrewdly escapes him.
The werewolf is finally destroyed not by a passing woodsman or hunter, but by a group of women engaged in traditional women's labor. Verdier comments: "This double role held by the laundresses — on the one hand allowing the girl to pass, thereby rescuing her, on the other drowning the wolf, killing him — is consistent with their role in the social reality of village life. In fact the job of assisting in 'passages,' of helping in childbirth and helping people to die, is held-at least in the Châtillonnais-by one and the same person, an aged woman, a woman who can at the same time handle the swaddling and the shroud, who washes infants as she washes the dead....If the laundresses bring about the death of the wolf, they bring about the [re-]birth of the girl."
Looking at The Grandmother's Tale within the context of rural French history, we should also remember that the story comes from a time when wolves were still a real danger, and when people of all classes still believed in the existence of werewolves. As German folklorist Marianne Rumpf has documented, France was positively rife with werewolf trials in the 15th to 17th centuries — a masculine counterpart to the witch hysteria of the time. In werewolf trials, men stood accused of shape-shifting, killing and devouring children, as well as of incest and other unnatural acts. These men transformed into wolves, it was said, with the help of salves purchased from the Devil. Any man might be a wolf in disguise, and any wolf, a man. In 1598, to give just one example, a man named Jacques Raollet was tried as a werewolf in Angers, Touraine — which was a time and place when Perrault's own mother might have witnessed these events. Raollet was eventually declared insane and placed in a metal hospital, but other men were hung and burned for crimes supposedly committed as wolves. Rumpf points out that the regions of France where folklorists found The Grandmother's Tale being told were also the very regions where werewolf trials had once been widespread.
By the end of the 17th century, when Perrault published his Little Red Riding Hood, popular belief in werewolves had dwindled, at least among the upper classes. Educated people generally disdained the "backwards" folklore of the countryside-but that was about to change, due to a group of Parisian writers. These writers, congregating in the influential literary salons of Paris, created a vogue for magical stories, for which they coined the name contes des fées, or fairy tales. The salon writers drew inspiration from peasant tales of magic and enchantment—but they reworked this material, dressing it up in rococo language and aristocratic clothes, penning stories that commented on life in the court of Louis XIV. In many respects, the salon fairy tale movement was the fantasy genre of its day—lively, inventive, popular with readers, and held in suspicion by the literary establishment (in particular because it was a movement dominated by outspoken women authors). The salon tales proved to be so popular that they were eventually collected in forty-one volumes in the Cabinet des fées, and were also reprinted and translated in smaller editions across western Europe. Simplified versions of the stories reached the lower classes in the pages of the Bilbliotheque Bleue—inexpensive chapbooks sold by traveling booksellers-and many tales then filtered back down into the groundwater of the oral tradition.
Although not the first or the only successful fairy tale writer to emerge from the Paris salons, Charles Perrault is the author whose tales were most often reprinted, and are still read and loved today. Perrault was an influential civil servant in the court of Louis XIV, as well as a prolific writer on a variety of subjects and a member of the French Academy. He wrote his fairy tale collection, Histoires ou contes du temps passé, during the final years of a busy life-and probably little dreamed that this is what he'd be remembered for three hundred years later. Like the other salonnières, Perrault used themes and characters drawn from peasant tales, turning them into droll little stories for adult readers of the upper classes. Unlike a number of the other salon writers, however (including his niece, Marie-Jeanne L'Héritier), Perrault maintained traditional ideas about the role of women, and his tales demonstrated the "correct" behavior expected of women of his class. His heroines are uniformly beautiful (whereas we know nothing of the appearance of the granddaughter in The Grandmother's Tale); they also tend to be hapless creatures — either passive saints or active fools.
The heroine of Little Red Riding Hood, one of the eight stories in Perrault's Histoires, is a pretty, naive child, doted on by her mother and grandmother. Perrault gives her a redchaperon to wear — a fashionable little hat, not a hood, that was generally made out of velvet or satin. Red would have been an unusually flamboyant color choice for an unmarried girl; more modest attire, the text implies, might not have attracted the attention of the wolf. But attract him she does, and worse, she stops to talk with him, "not knowing any better." She tells him where Grandmother lives, whereupon he suggests a race to the house. He runs, while she foolishly dawdles, amusing herself with butterflies and flowers. (Here again the text implies that the heroine's fate is her own blessed fault.) Perrault eliminates the cannibal meal, and the details of the girl's striptease, merely telling us that the girl undresses and climbs into bed beside the wolf. When she says, "Grandmother, what big teeth you have," the wolf gives his well-known reply: "All the better to gobble you up!" And then he pounces, eats her up, and there the story ends. Perrault finishes with a moral, making the point of his story crystal clear. "Now there are real wolves, with hair pelts and enormous teeth," he writes, "but also wolves who seem perfectly charming, sweet-natured and obliging, who pursue young girls in the street and pay them the most flattering attention. Unfortunately, these smooth-tongued, smooth-pelted wolves are the most dangerous of all."**
Once again, let's look at this tale within an historical context, for it was published in 1796 for a very particular audience: aristocratic readers in the court of Louis XIV. The Sun King's court was famed for its wealth, its intrigues, and its sexual excesses, particularly as practiced at the King's sumptuous playground of Versailles. (Read the letters of the Marquise de Sévigné for a glimpse of this fascinatingly decadent society.) At the same time, virginity in young brides was absolutely insisted upon — for marriage was a business arrangement contracted between two families, and a girl's market value decreased sharply if her virginity was compromised. Perrault's story addressed the subject of seduction and rape — but rape as it was understood at the time, not as we define today. Fathers had the absolute legal to right to determine whom their daughters would marry — and a man who seduced or married a young woman without her father's consent was guilty of rape, regardless of the wishes of the woman in question. To avoid this occurrence, daughters were often kept locked in convents until they married in order to avoid romances and elopements. Perrault's own wife had been raised in a convent, emerging shortly before their marriage, and Perrault had laid eyes on her only once before the wedding.
At the same time, certain women were agitating for greater freedom for their sex — particularly the influential women who hosted the Parisian salons. Within the salons, men and women could mix more casually than was possible at court; they could converse about art and politics, and meet on more equal terms. Perrault himself was a frequenter of the salons (one of them run by L'Héritier); and as an academician, he championed Modern culture, which was generally more favorable to women. But in his tales he consistently stripped folk heroines of the power of self-determination, holding up modesty and demur good manners as the feminine ideal. By lacking these things, Red Riding Hood walks blindly into the jaws of the wolf; and her fate is as merciless as that of girls seduced by wolves in human skin. The wolves are only doing what comes naturally; it's female behavior that is under scrutiny here. As Catherine Orenstein writes in Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked, "Perrault's 'girls' are bien faites andgentilles: of the aristocracy. His warning is not simply to girls, but to the well-bred, educated women of high society who, in inviting men and women together in mixed company, set a dangerous precedent. Perrault's wolf is the dapper charmer of Parisian high society, seducer of young women and a threat to the family patrimony-he is, as one folklorist has called him, the 'unsuitable suitor," who insinuated his way into the best beds in town, deflowering young women and robbing their value as virgin pawns in the marriage de raison."
Little Red Riding Hood was a popular tale, and it soon spread beyond the borders of France. As it became well known, elements from Perrault's story (such as the redchaperon and the foolish heroine) slipped into the oral tradition just as though they'd always been there. When the Brothers Grimm published their version of the story, Little Red-cap, one hundred years later, they convincingly proclaimed it as part of the oral folk tradition of Germany. Contrary to public perception, however, the stories published by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm in their famous collection of German folktales did not come straight from the mouths of stout German peasants. Many tales came from their circle of middle class friends, who had heard them from nursemaids and governesses (some of whom were French), and whose re-tellings bore the influence of literary tales from France and Italy. The Grimms collected Little Red-cap from Marie Hassenpflug, an educated woman of French Huguenot ancestry; it's a tale complete with red hat and gobbling wolf that clearly derives from Perrault. They then altered the story for publication, as they did with many of their tales — particularly in the later editions of the collection, aimed more and more at children. (The first edition had been geared toward scholars.) The Grimms begin their tale with a warning from the mother instructing Little Red-cap to stay on the path, which subtly shifts the emphasis of the story to the girl's disobedience. Whereas Perrault had warned girls to be modest and chaste lest they be gobbled up by the wolf, the Grimms warn them to mind the rules and stay on the straight and narrow. They also changed the ending, adding a hunter who comes to save the day. He cuts the wolf's belly open, and out steps Grandmother and Little Red-cap, as good as new. The wolf's belly is then filled with stones, which causes him to fall down dead. Just in case we don't get the point, there's a second ending appended to the Grimms' re-telling in which Little Red-cap encounters a second wolf, but this time she's a good little girl. She stays on the path and reaches her Grandmother's house in safety.
Little Red Riding Hood became popular with English language readers in the middle of the 19th century when the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm took Victorian England by storm. The red cap then became a red cloak and hood like those worn by English country women, and it's in this guise that the heroine of the tale has been known to us ever since. Advances in printing methods led to the rise of the children's book industry, and Victorian editors-following in the footsteps of the Grimms-continued altering fairy tales to make them suitable for younger and younger children. Some publishers found even the Grimms' edited renditions of fairy tales too harsh, and soon there were versions of Little Red Riding Hood in which the huntsman comes to the rescue before the wolf pounces on the girl. "In England and America," notes folklore scholar Jack Zipes, "sweet, innocent, and helpless Little Red Riding Hood suffered through hybrid adventures. That is, the Perrault and Grimms versions were often mixed together, and, whether the plot was developed in verse, prose, theatrical scenes, or illustrations, there was a general tendency to make Little Red Riding Hood into a Victorian middle-class lass whose virtue is threatened because she forgets to control her sensual drives and disobeys her super-ego mother."
With a few exceptions, it was not until after World War I that writers began to examine the fairy tale anew-whereupon we begin to see it used in literary works that were not expressly aimed at younger readers, such as Charles Guyot's The Granddaughter of Little Red Riding Hood (1922), Milt Gross's Sturry from Rad Ridink Hoot (1926), and James Thurber's wonderful, wry tale The Girl and the Wolf (1939.) [For an in-depth look at early 20th century versions of the tale, see The Trials of Little Red Riding Hood by Jack Zipes.] By the end of the 20th century, the pendulum had fully swung, and fairy tales could be found once again on the shelves of adult literature. Echoing the fairy tale movement of 17th century France, the writers of the new contes des fees were largely (but not exclusively) women, using the stories to comment on life in the 20th/21st centuries. Two primary texts of the new movement were Transformations by Anne Sexton (1971) and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (1979), both of which contained powerful re-workings of Little Red Riding Hood. In Transformations — a volume of seventeen poems based on the themes of Grimms' fairy tales — Sexton used Little Red Riding Hood to explore the subject of deception—the lies we tell and the lies we believe. In The Bloody Chamber, Carter's "The Company of Wolves" was a sensual fever-dream of a story that skillfully manipulated the themes, the symbols, the very language of Little Red Riding Hood. In "The Werewolf," in the same collection, Carter re-examined the fairy tale from a different angle, taking a more historical, less psychoanalytical approach in this dark rendition.
In the years since Sexton's and Carter's ground-breaking volumes, the field of fairy tale literature has become a lively one-but to seek out its treasures, readers must travel to many different parts of the bookstore. Due to the idiosyncrasies of the modern publishing industry, this type of literature is published under a variety of labels: mainstream fiction, fantasy fiction, historical fiction, horror fiction, feminist fiction, and young adult fiction. A number of novels and stories make use of the themes of Little Red Riding Hood, including the following:
Note by Wratslaw:"Little Red Hood," like many folklore tales, is a singular mixture of myth and morality. In Cox's Comparative Mythology, vol. ii., p. 831, note, Little Redcap, or Little Red Riding Hood, is interpreted as "the evening with her scarlet robe of twilight," who is swallowed up by the wolf of darkness, the Fenris of the Edda. It appears to me that this explanation may suit the color of her cap or hood, but is at variance with the other incidents of the story. I am inclined to look upon the tale as a lunar legend, although the moon is only actually red during one portion of the year, at the harvest moon in the autumn. Red Hood is represented as wandering, like Io, who is undoubtedly the moon, through trees, the clouds, and flowers, the stars, before she reaches the place where she is intercepted by the wolf. An eclipse to untutored minds would naturally suggest the notion that some evil beast was endeavoring to devour the moon, who is afterwards rescued by the sun, the archer of the heavens, whose bow and arrow are by a common anachronism represented in the story by a gun. Though the moon is masculine in Slavonic, as in German, yet she is a lady, "my lady Luna," in the Croatian legend no. 53, below ["The Daughter of the King of the Vilas"]. In the Norse mythology, when Loki is let loose at the end of the world, he is to "hurry in the form of a wolf to swallow the moon " (Cox ii., p. 200). The present masculine Slavonic word for moon, which is also that for month, mesic, or mesec, is a secondary formation, the original word having perished. In Greek and Latin the moon is always feminine.
Novels: Wolf by Gillian Cross (1990), winner of the 1991 Carnegie Medal, is a rich, engrossing novel set in contemporary London, involving wolves, IRA terrorism, and the complexities of family relationships. Little Red Riding Hood in the Red Light District by Manlio Argueta (1998) is another award winner, this one set on the streets of El Salvador. It's a brutal, haunting political novel with tenderness at its heart. Darkest Desire: The Wolf's Own Tale by Anthony Schmitz (1998), is a quirky little novel in which the wolf meets the Brothers Grimm and tells them his story.
Short Stories: "Wolfland" by Tanith Lee, first published in her fine story collection Red as Blood (1983), is a deliciously gothic tale set in 19th century Scandinavia. "I Shall Do Thee Mischief in the Woods" by Kathe Koja, from Snow White, Blood Red (1993), is a dark, sharp story that forces us to re-examine the roles of predator and prey. "Little Red" by Wendy Wheeler, from Snow White, Blood Red (1993), is a disturbing contemporary tale about wolves whose skin is on the inside, and the ways that young girls can be preyed on. "The Apprentice" by Miriam Grace Monfredo, from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (November, 1993), mixes fantasy, mystery, and fairy tales in a poignant exploration of the subject of child abuse. "The Good Mother" by Patricia Galloway, from Truly Grim Tales (1995), reworks the fairy tale into a post-nuclear-disaster science fiction story. "Riding the Red" by Nalo Hopkinson, first published in Black Swan, White Raven(1997), is an extraordinary story about sex and female power, influenced — at least in the rhythm of the language — by the author's Caribbean background. "Wolf" by Francesca La Block, from her urban fairy tale collection The Rose and the Beast (2000), is another story using the fairy tale to explore the subject of childhood sexual abuse. "Little Red and the Big Bad" by Will Shetterly, from Swan Sister (2003), is a sly urban version of the story, street-wise and sassy.
There are also many good rewordings of Little Red Riding Hood over on the poetry shelves. Olga Brooms explores familial relationships between women in her "Little Red Riding Hood," from Beginning With O (1977). Roald Dahl's "Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf," from Revolting Rhymes (1983), is a hilarious poem in which the wolf is no match for a little girl with gun. Gwen Strauss's disturbing poem "The Waiting Wolf," from Trail of Stones (1990), is one that should not be missed. "Waiting in this old lady's ruffled bed, I am all calculation," says the wolf as he justifies his behavior and awaits his tender prey. Alice Wirth Gray's "On a Nineteenth Century Color Lithograph of Red Riding Hood by the Artist J.H.," from What the Poor Eat (1993), turns the tale into a police report, examined from multiple points of view. "In a tupperware wood, mix child and hood. Stir slowly. Add wolf," begins "Journeybread Recipe" by Lawrence Schimel, from Black Thorn, White Rose (1994). "....Serve swaddled in a wolfskin throw, cradled in a basket and left on grandmother's doorstep." In the same volume, the narrator of "Silver and Gold" by Ellen Steiber is asked how it was that she could not manage to tell her grandmother from a wolf. Perhaps, her doctor suggests in the poem, she was actually living with wolves all along. The heroine of Carol Ann Duffy's "Little Red-Cap" knows precisely why she followed the wolf. "The wolf, I knew, would lead me deep into the woods, away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place it by the eyes of owls." The poem comes from Duffy's splendid collection The World's Wife (1999). In Lawrence Syndal's "Grandmother," from Conjunctions #31 (1999), the old woman muses on her time in the belly of the wolf: "I lay me down between his ribs and let each sighing lung massage the ache from these old bones." Sinking happily into the dreams of the wolf, she is not pleased to be rescued. Other Little Red Riding Hood poems can be found the following two excellent collections: The Poets' Grimm, edited by Jeanne Marie Beaumont and Claudia Carlson, and Disenchantments, edited by Wolfgang Mieder.
Dramatic adaptations of Little Red Riding Hood include Tex Avery's wickedly salacious cartoons: Little Red Walking Hood (1937), Red Hot Riding Hood (1945), and Little Rural Riding Hood (1949), as well as Disney's first animated short,Little Red Riding Hood (1922). Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Little Red Riding Hood (1983) starred Malcolm McDowell as the Big Bad Wolf and Mary Steenburger as the heroine. Angela Carter's story "The Company of Wolves" became a wonderfully evocative film of the same title, directed by Neil Jordan in 1984. Carter wrote the screenplay with Jordan, and is reputed to have disliked the end. (In the film, a dreaming young girl is awakened when a pack of wolves bursts into her home. In the story, the heroine tames her wolf lover and sleeps safely in his arms.) Cannon Movie Tales: Little Red Riding Hood (1987), a rendition set sometime during the Middle Ages, tells the story of the daughter of a village lord, her evil uncle, and an enchanted wolf. Freeway (1986) is a rather dreadful film that turns the story into a contemporary serial killer flick. Rees Witherspoon plays the heroine, and Kiefer Sutherland plays the urban wolf. Far more worth seeing is Little Red Riding Hood, a short film directed by David Kaplan (1997) — a surprising and sensual version of the story that's definitely not for children.
If you are looking for good versions of the tale adapted for children, I recommend these three picture books: Little Red Riding Hood, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (1988);Little Red Cap, illustrated by Lizbeth Zwerger (1995); andLittle Red Ridinghood: A Classic Collectible Pop-up Book, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (2001).
If you'd like to know more about the history of Little Red Riding Hood, there are quite a few good books to chose from. For an introduction to the tale, including a primer on fairy tale history, I recommend Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale by Catherine Orenstein (2002). It's a lively, entertaining book, written for casual readers rather than folklore scholars. Jack Zipes presents numerous versions of the tale from Charles Perrault's to Angela Carter's, along with an excellent essay on the subject, in his useful book The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood (Second Edition, 1993). In Little Red Riding Hood: A Casebook (1989), Alan Dundes presents critical writings on the tale from a wide range of folklorists, including Wolfam Eberhard's essay on Asian variants, "The Story of Grandaunt Tiger". For a general history of fairy tales, including Little Red Riding Hood, try From the Beast to the Blonde by Marina Warner, Twice Upon a Time by Elizabeth Wanning Harries, and Touch Magic by Jane Yolen. Recommended articles: "Little Red Riding Hood in the Oral Tradition" by Yvonne Verdier, Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-tale Studies, Vol. 11, Numbers I-2 (1997); "Red Riding Hood: An Interpretation from Anthropology" by Mary Douglas, Folklore, #106 (1995); and (for fun)"Little Red Riding Hood Revisited" by Russell Baker, The New York Times Magazine (January 13, 1980).
The characters in familiar fairy tales have a way of sinking deep into our psyches. Charles Dickens claimed Little Red Riding Hood as his first love, and felt that if only he could have married her, he would have known perfect bliss. Yet Little Red Riding Hood was changed through the years, diminished, punished, literally gobbled up. By knowing and retelling older versions of her story, and by re-imagining her in fiction and poetry today, we reclaim the spirit of girls everywhere who can face down the wolves in their lives, and outwit them.
Endnotes* GreatAunt Tiger, a story found in various forms in China, Japan, and Korea, is clearly related to Little Red Riding Hood. Heinz Insu Fenkl will explore the Asian version of the story in a future Folkroots column, so for now we'll limit ourselves to the Western history of the tale.
** Translated by Marina Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde, pgs. 182-183.
collected from wikipedia, books, and other free stories from internet: Saga