Saturday, December 27, 2008

little red riding hood unveiled

little red riding hood is a widespread and much loved fairytale, told to children today the way the brothers grimm wrote it in 1812. but do you know the truth about this little girl?
neither did i, until a few years back. sit back and enjoy.

once upon a time, there was a woman who had baked some bread. she told her daughter, a young girl, to go to her grandmother with a warm bread and a bottle of milk. the girl left. at a crossroad, she met the wolf, who asked her where she was going. 'i'm going to my grandmother with a warm bread and a bottle of milk'. 'which road will you take? this road, or that road?' asked the wolf. 'i will take this road', the girl answered. 'good, then i will take that one'.

the wolf gets to the grandmother first, kills her, puts some of her flesh in the pantry and a bottle of her blood on a shelf.
enters the girl.
the wolf asks her to eat the flesh and drink the wine (blood), which she does, unknowingly that she cannibalises her own grandmother.
the wolf then asks the girl to undress and get into bed with him. when she asks where to put her clothes, which is mentioned one by one item, she is told to throw them into the fire because she won't be needing them anymore.
well into bed, the girl questions grandma's unusual looks; hairy, broad shouldered. she asks why he has such a big mouth, and he gives the answer we all know; 'to better be able to eat you'.

these elements were more or less standard in the oral versions of this story, as it was told in france and italy up until 1697, when it was written down for the first time by charles perrault. no red hood, no hunter. the hood was added by perrault, the hunter by the brothers grimm. the ending wasn't always the same, though: in some versions, the wolf eats the girl and that's that. end of story. in others, the girl escapes through the woods chased by the wolf, slipping through the door of her own house right before the wolf's long nose.

there has been several attempts of interpretating this story, and they differ widely. some are: puberty ritual, the young girl literally taking up womanhood by cannibalising her grandmother; a warning against wolves (which in some oral versions were a werewolf); a warning against prostitution, as a red cloak was a sign of prostitution in 17th century france. this can not have been the original meaning, though, as the red hood was added in - yes, the 17th century.

even though the tale and it's meaning has varied with the times and places it has been told in, one thing seems to be common ground: the sexual nature of the encounter between the girl and the wolf. and this was also perrault's focus, who turned the story into a story about moral. the full title of his book is even Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals (better known as Tales of Mother Goose). in his version red riding hood was an attractive, well-bred young lady, not an innocent and sweet little girl. here's what he added to the ending:

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!

if we look past the moralising aspect of perrault's version, we are left with a story of awakening sexuality. when we also know that in present day france, the old parable for loosing one's virginity is 'being taken by the wolf', there's really not much doubt, is there?

so. have another look at the picture above again, and keep in mind, the next time you tell your children this fairytale, that someone quite fitting named the story 'the striptease of little red riding hood'. ;)


Anonymous said...

That was really interesting! Where did you learn all that? I think the analogy of big, grown, sexually eager men to wolves is very fitting, when you think of how young the girls were in the 15 and 1600s when they were married. Instead of teen pregnancy like it is today, parents let their girls be wooed into marriage by older men with jobs, as a way to "save" them. Think of all those men in their 20's and 30's, lusting after the fresh little 14 year olds. It would have been a good idea to worry about what things a man might say to convince a girl and her family.

Gloria said...

WOW! I never would have guessed that this is where this fairy tale comes from! But when you read this and think about it... makes a lot of sense!

Thanks for the bit of history for this history buff!


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