Little Red Riding Hood Overview


Little Red Riding Hood, also known as “Little Red Cap”, is a European fairy tale about a young girl and a wolf.

Its origins can be traced back to the 10th century by several European folk tales, including one called “The False Grandmother”. The best-known versions were written by Charles Perrault and Brothers Grimm. The story has been changed considerably in various retellings and subjected to numerous adaptations.

Author: Best-known versions by Grimms and Charles Perrault

First published: Unknown

Edition: KHM I

AT Number: 333 – Little Red Riding Hood

Alternate names: Little Red-Cap, Rotkäppchen

Protagonist: Red Riding Hood

Antagonist: Wolf

Other characters: Grandmother, Hunter / Woodcutter

Story Synopsis


Little Red Riding Hood is walking through the woods to visit her grandmother when a wolf approaches and asks where she’s going. She tells him, and he suggests that she pick some flowers, which she does. In the meantime, the wolf goes to the grandmother’s house and swallows her whole, then waits for the girl in disguise.

When the girl arrives, she notices that her grandmother looks strange. She says, “What a deep voice you have!” (“The better to greet you with”, responds the wolf), “Goodness, what big eyes you have!” (“The better to see you with”), “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 and eats her.

In Perrault’s version, the tale ends here. In later versions, a woodcutter comes to the rescue and cuts open the wolf. Little Red and her grandmother emerge unharmed. They fill the wolf’s body with stones, and when he tries to flee, the stones cause him to collapse and die.

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Little Red Riding Hood Commentary

Commentary from Wikipedia, reposted under Creative Commons


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 10th century and recorded by the cathedral schoolmaster Egbert of Liege.

In Italy, the Little Red Riding Hood was told by peasants in the fourteenth century, where a number of versions exist, including La finta nonna (The False Grandmother), written among others by Italo Calvino in the Italian Folktales collection. 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”).

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. 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 2013, it was revealed from scientific research that the tale originated in the 1st century in the Middle East and not, as previously assumed, in China. The scientists analysed the storylines and characters from 58 versions of the tale from different areas. By means of a computer model they then determined how the different versions of Little Red Riding Hood are related.

The story has been changed considerably in various retellings and subjected to numerous modern adaptations and readings. Variations of the story have developed, incorporating various cultural beliefs and regional dialects into the story. An example of this is “Kawoni’s Journey Across the Mountain: A Cherokee Little Red Riding Hood”, which introduces Cherokee myths and language into the traditional story. Another such example is “Petite Rouge Riding Hood”, which approaches the story from a Cajun perspective.

A very similar story also belongs to the North African tradition, namely in Kabylia, where a number of versions are attested. The theme of the little girl who visits her (grand-)dad in his cabin and is recognized by the sound of her bracelets constitutes the refrain of a well-known song by the modern singer Idir, A Vava Inouva.

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 another Grimm tale The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids, but its general theme of restoration is at least as old as the biblical story, Jonah and the Whale. The theme also appears in the story of the life of Saint Margaret, wherein the saint emerges unharmed from the belly of a dragon, and in the epic “The Red Path” by Jim C. Hines.

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, instead using her own cunning.

In other tellings of the story, the wolf chases after Little Red Riding Hood. She escapes with the help of some laundresses, who spread a sheet taut over a river so she may escape. When the wolf follows Red over the bridge of cloth, the sheet is released and the wolf drowns in the river.

The earliest known printed version was known as Le Petit Chaperon Rouge and may have 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 of the tale, 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 seventeenth-century French court of King Louis XIV. This audience, whom the King entertained with extravagant parties, presumably would take from the story the intended meaning.

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.

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.

Natural cycles: 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 the dawn. In this interpretation, there is a connection between the wolf of this tale and Sköll, the wolf in Norse mythology 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.

Rite: The tale has been interpreted as a puberty rite, stemming from a prehistoric origin (sometimes an origin stemming from a previous matriarchal era).[32] The girl, leaving home, enters a liminal state 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.

Rebirth: Bruno Bettelheim, in The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (1976), recast the Little Red Riding Hood motif in terms of classic Freudian analysis, that shows how fairy tales educate, support, and liberate children’s emotions. 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.

Erotic, romantic, or rape connotations: A sexual analysis of the tale may also include negative connotations in terms of rape or abduction. In Against Our Will, Susan Brownmiller describes the fairy tale as a description of rape. However, many revisionist retellings choose to focus on empowerment, and depict Little Red Riding Hood or the grandmother successfully defending herself against the wolf.

How dark is Little Red Riding Hood?

Little Red Riding Hood contains many dark elements, especially in earlier versions. In some of these variations, Little Red removes her clothes before getting into bed with the wolf; in others, she’s eaten and that’s the end of the story.

Number of deaths: 1 or 2, depending on version

Ending: Happy or dark, depending on version

Dark elements: consumed by wolf, disembowelment, murder, rape, drowning

Gore Score: 8/10

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Little Red Riding Hood: Original Story

Original story published by the Brothers Grimm | English translation by Margaret Hunt


ONCE UPON A TIME there was a sweet little girl. Everyone who saw her liked her, but most of all her grandmother, who did not know what to give the child next. Once she gave her a little cap made of red velvet. Because it suited her so well, and she wanted to wear it all the time, she came to be known as Little Red Riding Hood.

One day her mother said to her: “Come Little Red Riding Hood. Here is a piece of cake and a bottle of wine. Take them to your grandmother. She is sick and weak, and they will do her well. Mind your manners and give her my greetings. Behave yourself on the way, and do not leave the path, or you might fall down and break the glass, and then there will be nothing for your sick grandmother.”

Little Red Riding Hood promised to obey her mother. The grandmother lived out in the woods, a half hour from the village. When Little Red Riding Hood entered the woods a wolf came up to her. She did not know what a wicked animal he was, and was not afraid of him.

“Good day to you, Little Red Riding Hood.” – “Thank you, wolf.” – “Where are you going so early, Little Red Riding Hood?” – “To grandmother’s.” – “And what are you carrying under your apron?” – “Grandmother is sick and weak, and I am taking her some cake and wine. We baked yesterday, and they should give her strength.” – “Little Red Riding Hood, just where does your grandmother live?” – “Her house is a good quarter hour from here in the woods, under the three large oak trees. There’s a hedge of hazel bushes there. You must know the place,” said Little Red Riding Hood.

The wolf thought to himself: “Now there is a tasty bite for me. Just how are you going to catch her?” Then he said: “Listen, Little Red Riding Hood, haven’t you seen the beautiful flowers that are blossoming in the woods? Why don’t you go and take a look? And I don’t believe you can hear how beautifully the birds are singing. You are walking along as though you were on your way to school in the village. It is very beautiful in the woods.”

Little Red Riding Hood opened her eyes and saw the sunlight breaking through the trees and how the ground was covered with beautiful flowers. She thought: “If a take a bouquet to grandmother, she will be very pleased. Anyway, it is still early, and I’ll be home on time.” And she ran off into the woods looking for flowers. Each time she picked one she thought that she could see an even more beautiful one a little way off, and she ran after it, going further and further into the woods. But the wolf ran straight to the grandmother’s house and knocked on the door.

“Who’s there?” – “Little Red Riding Hood. I’m bringing you some cake and wine. Open the door for me.” – “Just press the latch,” called out the grandmother. “I’m too weak to get up.” The wolf pressed the latch, and the door opened. He stepped inside, went straight to the grandmother’s bed, and ate her up. Then he took her clothes, put them on, and put her cap on his head. He got into her bed and pulled the curtains shut.

"...The wolf pressed the latch, and the door opened. He stepped inside, went straight to the grandmother’s bed, and ate her up."

LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD had run after flowers, and did not continue on her way to grandmother’s until she had gathered all that she could carry. When she arrived, she found, to her surprise, that the door was open. She walked into the parlor, and everything looked so strange that she thought: “Oh, my God, why am I so afraid? I usually like it at grandmother’s.”

Then she went to the bed and pulled back the curtains. Grandmother was lying there with her cap pulled down over her face and looking very strange.

little red riding hood“Oh, grandmother, what big ears you have!”

“All the better to hear you with.”

“Oh, grandmother, what big eyes you have!”

“All the better to see you with.”

“Oh, grandmother, what big hands you have!”

“All the better to grab you with!”

“Oh, grandmother, what a horribly big mouth you have!”

“All the better to eat you with!” And with that he jumped out of bed, jumped on top of poor Little Red Riding Hood, and ate her up.

As soon as the wolf had finished this tasty bite, he climbed back into bed, fell asleep, and began to snore very loudly. A huntsman was just passing by. He thought it strange that the old woman was snoring so loudly, so he decided to take a look. He stepped inside, and in the bed there lay the wolf that he had been hunting for such a long time.

“He has eaten the grandmother, but perhaps she still can be saved. I won’t shoot him,” thought the huntsman. So he took a pair of scissors and cut open his belly. He had cut only a few strokes when he saw the red cap shining through. He cut a little more, and the girl jumped out and cried: “Oh, I was so frightened! It was so dark inside the wolf’s body!” And then the grandmother came out alive as well. Then Little Red Riding Hood fetched some large heavy stones. They filled the wolf’s body with them, and when he woke up and tried to run away, the stones were so heavy that he fell down dead.

The three of them were happy. The huntsman took the wolf’s pelt. The grandmother ate the cake and drank the wine that Little Red Riding Hood had brought. And Little Red Riding Hood thought to herself: “As long as I live, I will never leave the path and run off into the woods by myself if mother tells me not to.”

References

Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsCarl Larsson [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsChildhood's Favorites and Fairy Stories, by Various.Felix Summerly [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsFleury François Richard (1777-1852). Painting of ''Little Red Riding Hood''. Louvre Museum. [Public domain].From Childhood's Favorites and Fairy Stories, by Various. Project Gutenberg etext 19993. [Public domain].George Routledge and Sons, Kronheim, Joseph Martin, 1810-1896, Leighton Bros. (Printer), Weir, Harrison, 1824-1906. Little Red Riding-Hood picture book : containing Little Red Riding-Hood, The three bears, Dash and the ducklings, & The three little kittens. Public domain.Gustave Dore. Little Red Riding Hood, via Wikimedia Commons [Public domain].

Henry Leverseege (Life time: 1802–1832) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsIsabel Naftel [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsJacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1884) Household Tales (English translation by Margaret Hunt), “Little Red Riding Hood".John Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons."Little Red Riding Hood." Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Red_Riding_Hood.The Traditional Faëry Tales of Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, & Jack and the Beanstalk, 1845. Public domain.Warwick Goble. Vintage public domain illustration.William Creswell from Seattle, Washington, USA [Public domain or CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.