We’re all familiar with the childhood favorite—Little Red Riding Hood. But what if I told you that it may actually be true? At least, partly. Find out what makes this tale one of the most terrifying yet.
Little Red Riding Hood is an excellent example of innocence lost and a tale that's been retold since the 10th century. We're all aware of the more popular Grimm story of the young girl and her grandmother who get eaten by the big bad wolf but are later rescued by the Huntsman. They then put stones in the wolf's belly, and he dies. The world forever rid of the terrible beast.
But what if the Huntsman never saved the girl and her grandmother? What if they…died? Not so happily ever after, huh?
In Charles Perrault's earlier version of the tale, published in 1697, the girl crawls in bed with the wolf, he then throws himself on her and "gobbles her up." Beyond the obvious sexual innuendo, the wolf wins. Evil prevails, and readers are left—jaw open, and as Perrault intended, girls' minds are racing with dark images associated with the dangers of being alone with a man.
In another version, the girl offers the wolf her fine silk clothing, her silver shoes, and even a golden crown, but he rejects them all—only wanting to devour her. She narrowly escapes him by climbing up an oak tree. The wolf then begins to dig up the tree by its roots, all the while, the girl screams for her beloved to rescue her. But when he finally arrives, all he finds is her bloody arm.
It's not hard to imagine people in dark corners of taverns on foggy nights sitting around and recounting their personal twist on the story… Then perhaps a lady breaks in, interrupting the men's fantasy with her own version of the tale in which the girl danced for the wolf, luring his affections, then excused herself to the bathroom where she escapes. Which follows the trickster archetype by exposing the girl's dawning consciousness of her own power and how to use it for survival.
Of all the fairy tales, this story lends itself to a dark and complex exploration that folklorists have been picking apart for years.
Let's step into an altogether different version, shall we?
Imagine a girl—no, a young woman—wearing a red cloak in a dark wood.
This story and the one we're all familiar with both hinge on one truth—people aren't always who they appear to be. We're the most vulnerable with people we trust. In this way, the story has a multi-cautionary element to it.
Be careful who you trust and how much you trust them.
Things and people aren't always what they appear.
Don't put yourself in dangerous situations (like being alone in a dark, dark wood).
Charles Perrault concluded his version of the tale with this explanation of its moral:
Children, especially attractive, well-bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say, "wolf," but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.
Clearly, this was a warning of pedophilia. And there's no doubt that the story eludes to a young woman's coming of age and experience with men. But there's even more to be found between the lines. There are age-old archetypes used to hint to readers about danger, purity, and exploration.
The forest in literature often symbolizes the unknown. Traveling away from the safety of relationship and community and going against the communal wisdom and safety in numbers, little red riding hood is in essence, going against the grain. In no way does she deserve her fate, in no way did she ask to become prey to the wolf. She was simply exploring.
Storytellers throughout time have used the forest as the setting to creepy tales of innocence lost like in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" where a man travels through a forest, as a sort of self-exploration of faith and person, only to find his wife being seduced by evil. But sometimes exploring is dangerous.
And during the time of origin, women who lived alone in the woods lent themselves to much talk amongst the townspeople. Even talk of witchcraft—which could leave folklorists with an even different interpretation of the grandmother. Was she just an innocent victim, after all? Or was there a bit of darkness in her, as well?
And then there's the color red—many psychoanalytic critics believe the color red is symbolic of passion, blood, sin, and sexuality. Modern day advertising has used these associations to create a sort of femme fatale character.
In the Grimm's version and in my own, Little Red is carrying a basket of bread and wine which may be a representation of the Christian communion—possibly further implying that ol' granny may have needed to get right with God.
Later in the story, the wolf eats Little Red. In most versions, Little Red doesn't make it out alive, but in the Grimm's version, a huntsman frees her from the beast's belly. And the girl comes out a new woman. She is now wiser and more aware of predators than she was at the beginning.
A few things are very clear:
The forest isn't safe.
And never underestimate your company. You never know. They may be a wolf wearing sheep's clothing.
Next time, we'll discuss an even darker element of the tale—the wolf.
UPDATE: Finish the story & hear about the wolf, here.