The Gruesome History of Little Red Riding Hood
By Marissa Meyer
Once upon a time, there was a nice young woodsman who stumbled across a sleeping big bad wolf. Thinking surely this wolf was up to no good, the woodsman decided to cut open the wolf’s stomach with his axe—and lo and behold! Out popped a little girl in a red cape and her grandmother, both alive and well. After a fair amount of rejoicing at their miraculous rescue (and the fact that the wolf didn’t chew his food very well), they filled up the wolf’s stomach with rocks and sewed him back up. When the wolf awoke, he was so heavy that he couldn’t even walk, and he fell down dead.
Chances are, if you grew up reading fairy tales or having them read to you, your version of Little Red Riding Hood ended something like that. Heroic woodsman (or hunter). Dead wolf. Rescued little girl and grandmother.
But as with most fairy tales, the history of the story goes back farther than many of our children’s books acknowledge, and there have been countless versions of this story told and retold for hundreds of years.
In the research I did for writing SCARLET: Book Two of the Lunar Chronicles, I read my share of old versions of Little Red Riding Hood, and I was quite surprised to find that some elements of the old stories were even creepier than cutting off one’s toes to squeeze into a fancy shoe. (Yes, that was a Cinderella reference. I couldn’t help it!)
Not that popping out of a wolf’s stomach isn’t eerie enough, but even that’s pretty tame compared to things like…
In some versions of the tale, after the wolf has devoured the Grandmother (or perhaps… while he’s devouring her? I’m not sure of the logistics here…), he put her blood into a wine decanter and wrapped up her organs and put them into the pantry. When Little Red showed up and complained of hunger, what do you suppose he offered her to eat and drink? In fact, one version of the story takes it a step further by specifying which parts the girl was eating, including the old woman’s intestines, teeth, and jaws.
Although, cannibalism aside, I actually like this version of the tale, because after Little Red has eaten her grandmother’s flesh, she recognizes the wolf for what he is and outsmarts him by complaining that she needs to use the bathroom. As this was before indoor plumbing, she was able to run outside and get away. What can I say? There aren’t too many tales in which girls are able to rescue themselves, so this one appeals to me.
It’s probably not much of a surprise to many readers that this tale comes with a thinly-veiled warning. Little Red = innocent little girl. Big Bad Wolf = male predator. Moral = don’t talk to strangers or bad things will happen to you.
Well, one version of the tale makes the sexual connotations even more blatant when the wolf, dressed up as the grandmother, asks Little Red to come into bed with him. But oh, one can’t just hop into bed fully dressed, can they? So the tale commences with a literal strip-tease in which the reader is given an itemized account of the little girl’s wardrobe as each piece is tossed into the fire (because, according to the wolf, she “won’t need them anymore”). *shudders*
WHOLESOME LITTLE MORALS
The first recorded version of this tale came from Charles Perrault in 1697, and Mr. Perrault had a knack for being, well… depressing. Although his version of the tale isn’t the most gruesome, I find the moral he includes at the end of the tale (after both Little Red and her grandmother are gobbled up and the wolf goes on his merry way) to be creepy in its own right:
“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.”
He continues on to warn about how even the most sweet, gentle, kind men—er, wolves—are not to be trusted. So essentially, marry the man your father chooses and be happy about it? Hmmmm…
(To be fair, it was 1697.)
If you’re interesting in reading some of these versions of the tale, I suggest the sources below.
Or, if you want to read an all-new version of Little Red as a spaceship pilot, well… I hope you’ll enjoy SCARLET!
SurLaLune Fairy Tales: The Annotated Little Red Riding Hood: http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/ridinghood/index.html
Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale by Catherine Orenstein: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/114476.Little_Red_Riding_Hood_Uncloaked
And make sure to check out my review of Scarlet!
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