My students tell me Little Red Riding Hood is their favourite fairy tale. It used to scare them silly, they say. They adored the refrain with its shiver-inducing climax: “The better to eat you with, my dear!” Plus, there’s something untamed about it, they add. Disney hasn’t touched it.
In class we read an early variant of LRRH first, called “The Story of Grandmother.” The wolf puts Grandmother’s blood in a bottle and her flesh on a plate in the larder. When the girl shows up, he invites her to eat and drink, and the only comment in the story on this cannibalistic act is from a cat who saunters by and says, “A slut is she who eats the flesh and drinks the blood of her grandmother.” The wolf directs the girl to take off one article of clothing at a time and throw it into the fire. Naked, she climbs into bed with him. Then we get the refrain about the big ears, eyes, teeth–but she tricks him into letting her go outside to urinate and thus saves her own hide.
Fascinating, isn’t it, how the blood-drinking and the strip tease are transmuted over the centuries (formalized by Charles Perrault in his 1697 anthology) into the main character’s signature red hood/cape.
The girl gets younger, more naive, and eventually (in the Grimm brothers‘ collection) needs rescuing by a passing huntsman. The takeaway of the tale changes, too, from Use your wits to Obey your parents.
But no matter how sanitized it has become, the edginess of the story still isn’t lost on us. The metaphor of the path (life path, Path of Righteousness) and the dangers of straying off it are still current. The gender roles (male=predator, female=victim) certainly continue to haunt.
The urge to rewrite the story is strong in my classroom: last semester, at least 30% of students’ “Fairy Tale Redux” assignments tackled variants of Little Red, reinterpreting them into gansta rap songs, watercolour illustrations, stop-motion animation shorts, Instagram accounts, vlog rants, celebrity-scandal magazine stories, self-defence school advertisements, and digital flipbooks.