Well hello again my fellow fairy tale adventurers. In Disney just got Grimm I talked… in length… about Snow White and her many incarnations throughout the centuries. Again I’ll be using stories from my copy of The Classic Fairy Tales edited by Maria Tatar. This time I’m plunging into the dark wood home to grandmothers and frequented by wolves and little girls in red hoods. Just a warning though, Little Red Riding Hood is definitely no children’s story in it’s original format. To get straight to the point, it’s a tale about rape. So if the topic makes you uncomfortable you might want to give this one a pass and wait for my post on Hansel and Gretel instead.
Right now I’ve made use of my general knowledge on how to be a sensitive person I hope none of you will mind if I’m perfectly frank when talking about this story. I don’t want to hold back on the meanings of the tales because they certainly don’t. Now I think the oldest version of the tale I have is called The Story Of Grandmother, I assume it’s the oldest because it has no author… It’s a pretty short story in which a little girl (no red hood) is tricked into eating the flesh of her grandmother, drinking the blood of her grandmother, called a slut by her grandmother’s cat, tricked again into throwing all her clothes into a fire but eventually outsmarting the wolf and escaping with her life (and virginity). There’s even a poo joke in there, wahey. Moral of that story seems to be don’t trust your grandmother because she might be a wolf? Well obviously not but the moral of the story isn’t as blindgly obvious as it is in the next version I’ve got for you.
Charles Perrault, fairy tale collecting extraordinaire placed just a tiny bit more importance on the tales moral. And by that I mean at the end of the story he literally wrote ‘Moral’ before proceeding to tell us all about it. Charles’ story is called Little Red Riding Hood so you won’t be surprised to learn it is pretty much exactly the story you already know. Young girl sent off to granny’s by her really quite irresponsible mother, meets a wolf along the way who convinces her to take her time so that he has a chance to beat her to grandmother’s house. He’s a very charming wolf so why not trust him… He skips off ahead, eats granny and lays in wait for Red Riding Hood. When she gets there she goes through the whole rigmarole of my Gradnmother what big arms, legs, eyes, ears, teeth yada yada. And the story ends with ‘the wicked wolf threw himself on Little Red Riding Hood and gobbled her up.’ What a happy ending… Charles’ moral? Young girls, especially pretty ones (excuse my eye roll) shouldn’t be surprised when they get eaten (raped) if the go around trusting just anybody. Be especially careful of charming people. Wow Charles way to put the blame on women. Don’t you think maybe you could have perhaps made a statement to society about how wolves (rapists) should get their comeuppance? Me and you Charles, probably not going to ever be the best of friends.
Fortunately for us, and society?, the Grimm brothers were on hand a century later to give us Little Red Cap. These guys came up with not one but two happy endings (no pun is intended, because we are talking about rape you filthy minded animal). The Grimm brothers seem to essentially tell Charles Perrault’s story again only this time it doesn’t end at ‘gobbled her up.’ No, no. This time a Huntsman (good job they wonder aimlessly around the woods) was walking by and heard the wolf snoring during his post dinner nap. He checked in on Grandmother and found the wolf, pulled out his gun but used his brain (?) and realised he might still be able to save Grandmother if he cuts the wolf open (I don’t remember believing this crap even as a child). So he gets out a pair of scissors, cuts the wolfs stomach open and out pops Grandma and Red Riding Cap, who I guess decided she wanted some revenge because the next thing she did was fill his stomach up with rocks before sewing him back up. This unsurprisingly killed the wolf. The Huntsman went home with a wolf pelt, so he was pretty happy and grandmother and Red Riding Cap enjoyed a cake. But the Grimm brothers are keen to point out they also heard the tale end differently while on their travels around Europe. They also heard it end like this… Little Red Cap had not been so silly as to stray from the path and talk to a charming wolf this time. She was suspicious of him and kept right on going. She told Grandmother all about the shady character in the woods and they decided it best to lock the door. The wolf drops by not long later pretending to be Little Red Cap but of course they aren’t that dumb, she’s already in the room… So the wolf lays in wait on the roof of the cottage, hoping to “gobble” her up in the dark when she returns home. Grandmother has other ideas though, she has some water left over from boiling some sausages the day before and reckons she can lure the wolf off her roof with it. They fill up a big stone trough outside with the meaty water and it works… He is so distracted by the smell the wolf falls off the roof into the trough and drowns, hurrah! Seems like the moral there is that if your aim is to be a rapist you should get ready to drown in sausage water…(I’ll let that thought sink in).
There are A LOT of variations of the Little Red Riding Hood and you are probably ready for me to move on (I’m sorry, moving on is hard, okay?). So I’ll skip straight to highlighting my two favourite versions. James Thurber gives the world a very short telling of the tale and a great line to sum up what we are all thinking. ‘She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.’ And his moral? I hear you ask. ‘It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.’ Whilst entertaining really the moral is that society has moved on and no longer wants to victim blame. We much prefer to have our stories end with the wolf (rapist) getting what he deserves than to suggest that well maybe such a pretty girl should have been more careful who she talked to…
Any Roald Dahl fans here? Goodo, me too. He wrote a poem about Little Red Riding Hood and it’s a cracker. I remember reading it as a kid and thinking he was some kind of comic genius. Just as the wolf declares he’s going to eat Red Riding Hood you get this magical bit of poetry.
The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.
Not many writers can get kids into poetry so you have to praise him for that much at least.
Okay so now that we’ve gone through how the story has morphed through the centuries maybe I should make some intelligent observations so you don’t think I did all this just to talk about poo jokes and knickers. Obviously, as with Snow White, my favourite versions are the ones with an active heroine. Red is a girl I can admire a lot more than Snow, (why don’t they have proper names?) story tellers have been a lot more comfortable presenting her as a character who is able to look after herself. She transforms from Charles’ victim (who apparently is to blame in the crime?) into a roguish and cunning young woman in Dahl’s poetry (she pops up again in his Three Little Pigs poem as somewhat of a wolf hunter).
I also think that our changing attitudes to the character of Red are representative of our changing attitudes to rape. We don’t (I’m glad to say) feel that it’s right to blame the victim anymore. And isn’t it interesting that Red (unlike that useless bint Snow White) doesn’t actually need a man to rescue her from the wolf. I’m not sure if that is because the tale tends to warn girls off strange men or not. But even when the Grimm brothers give us Red’s survival thanks to a man they provide us with an alternate where Red has done everything right (hasn’t trusted the wolf, sticks to the path, tells her grandmother) and she and her grandmother are able to rescue themselves.
It was quite some time ago so my memory is a little hazy on the subject, that I watched that terrible Red Riding Hood film starring Amanda Seyfried (If you want more Red Riding Hood but can’t be bothered to read don’t watch this film. Try this, Red Riding Hood instead, it’s weird but still worth the watch). Haven’t got anything against the actress, but the film rather turned her character into a pathetic young girl and if I remember rightly tried to have a beauty and the beast moment. I was sat on a plane at the time (and was going to be for another few hours at least) so I couldn’t actually shout at the screen. But my inner monologue went something like this…
AAAGGGGGHHHH!!!!!!! What have you done?! You have completely missed the point of the story!! AAAGGGHHH!!!!! Why are you making her such a passive heroine?! AAAAGGGHHHH!!! My one eyelid is certainly flickering right now!!
Quite tricky to remain calm in that situation I tell ya. But then again maybe that’s just me. Also it could be I feel asleep and missed an important, triumphant moment… As a feminist I would much rather see young women aspiring to be Red Riding Hood than Snow White. Encourage girls to be suspicious of charming wolves, have their wits about them, and perhaps most importantly not to rely on a nearby huntsman (prince… dwarf… any chap really) to come and save her. Also we should all hate wolves. That’s a very important message. Wolves, and by that I want to make clear I mean rapists, are the lowest most disgusting life forms imaginable. They should not be tolerated and they should not have excuses made for them.
Okay so that’s Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood checked off the list. Next up is Hansel and Gretel. I haven’t watched a film version of that yet, maybe I will before I write the post. It’ll probably annoy me though
S Hansen out.