Little Red Riding Hood

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A picture by French illustrator Gustave Doré

"Little Red Riding Hood" (or "Little Red Cap") is a fairy tale for young children. It is a story about a young girl and a wolf. The story comes from a folktale which means that it was a spoken story for a long time before it was a written story. It was first written down in the late 1600s, by Charles Perrault.[1] The best-known version (the way the story is told) is Rotkäppchen by the Brothers Grimm and dates from the 19th century (1800s).

Story[change | edit source]

The most common version of the story is the one written by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century.[source?] The Brothers Grimm listened to many traditional stories from old people and wrote them into a book.[source?] Many "fairy stories" as they are usually called, were made better known by the Grimm's book.[source?] The title of the story is properly translated as "Little Red Cap" even though it is usually known in English as "Little Red Riding Hood".[2]

In this German picture-book, Red Riding Hood has poured a glass of beer for her Grandmother.

A girl has been given red cap (or cloak and hood) to wear. Her mother sends her to take food to her sick grandmother. The mother tells her she must not stop on the way. A wolf sees the girl walking through the woods and makes a plan to eat her. The wolf politely asks the girl where she is going. The girl answers him, because he seems friendly. The wolf tells the girl to pick some flowers for her grandmother. While she is picking flowers, the wolf goes to grandmother's house and eats her. He puts on the grandmother's night-cap and gets into her bed. When the girl arrives at her grandmother's house, she gets into bed with the wolf.

In the Perrault version, the girl is surprised to see what her "grandmother" looks like without her clothes. "What big arms you have, granny!" she cries. "The better to hug you with, my dear!" the wolf responds. The dialogue continues, with the child remarking upon other body parts until she notes the wolf's big teeth. "What big teeth you have, granny!" she cries. "The better to eat you with, my dear!" the wolf responds.

The wolf leaps upon the child and eats the girl. In the Grimms' version, a woodcutter (lumberjack) comes and cuts opens the wolf's body. He saves the grandmother and the girl who are still alive in the wolf's stomach. Then, stones are put in the wolf's body to kill the wolf.

History of the story[change | edit source]

The story of Little Red Riding Hood seems to have been told for hundreds of years in different countries, under different names. In France, the story has probably been told for at least 700 years. In Italy, there are several versions. One is called The False Grandmother.[3] There is also a story from China which is like this, called The Grandaunt Tiger.[4]

In the old versions of the story the wolf is sometimes a monster or a werewolf. In one version of the story, the wolf gives the girl some food to eat. It is part of the body of her grandmother. The wolf tells the girl to throw all her clothes in the fire, and get into bed. She says that she needs to use the toilet first. The wolf ties her with a long string so that she cannot run away without him knowing. But the girl puts the rope around something else, and escapes.

Charles Perrault[change | edit source]

The story was first written and published in a book from 1697 by the French writer Charles Perrault. The name of the book, in English, is Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose. The story is called The Little Red Cap (Le Petit Chaperon Rouge).[5] Perrault's version of the tale is the original printed version, but it is likely based on an older oral tradition. It is uncertain if Perrault knew a folk tale from the south of France about a girl who cleverly escapes a werewolf occupying her grandmother's bed.[6]

Perrault wanted to make a strong point about wise and foolish behaviour.[source?] He wanted to show that a beautiful young woman was in danger of having men with bad morals try to trick her into "wrong behaviour". In Perrault's story the girl is eaten and there is no happy ending.

The story has been changed many times in the centuries following its publication. It is a little different from the way that the Brother's Grimm tell it.[7] In their version, a huntsman slays the child-devouring wolf. He then frees the heroine from the animal's stomach.

An English illustration from the 1920s

Telling the story for young children[change | edit source]

Little Red Riding Hood often appears as a picture book or in collections of stories for very young children. Like a folktale, these books are for telling and listening, not for reading alone.[source?] In many re-tellings of the story for very young children, having grandmother get eaten is thought of as too frightening.[source?] So grandmother hides in the cupboard. In these tellings, Red Riding Hood is rescued by a hunter or the woodcutter just as the wolf is catching at her apron.[source?]

An important part of the story is the questions and answers. A young child can learn and say these parts with the person who is reading the story. In the story, the wolf knocks at the grandmother's door.[source?] The story goes:

"Knock! Knock!"
"Who's there?"
"Little Red Riding Hood!"
"Lift up the latch and walk in!"

The second section of repeating parts of the story happens when Red Riding Hood sees the wolf in her grandmother's bed.

Red Riding Hood says "Oh Granny, what big eyes you've got!" and the wolf replies "All the better to see you with, my dear!"
Red Riding Hood says "Oh Granny, what big ears you've got!" and the wolf replies "All the better to hear you with, my dear!"
Red Riding Hood says "Oh Granny, what big teeth you've got!" and the wolf replies "All the better to eat you with, my dear!"

These lines are the best-known part of the story and are often quoted. They are thought of as an important part of good "story-telling" which makes the story more exciting for young children.[source?]

This has led to a series of jokes which are called "Knock, knocks!"[source?] It has also led to a feeding-time game for little children in which the parent opens the child's mouth by using the nose as a "latch", and pops a spoonful of food in the child's mouth at "walk in!"

Stories with some of the same ideas[change | edit source]

There are many[source?] stories in which a hungry wolf threatens a young person or animal. In most of these stories, the young one escapes by cunning (cleverness). One story is the Russian folktale Peter and the Wolf. The Brothers Grimm told the story of the Little Kids and the Wolf. Another story like this is The Three Little Pigs, first published by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps.

There is a Norse Legend which has a question and answer part that is like the questions that Red Riding Hood asks the wolf. In this story Thor is pretending to be a giant's beautiful bride. The giant asks the same sort of questions about Thor, who is really a man in disguise.

Meanings[change | edit source]

As with many fairy tales, hidden messages can be found in Little Red Riding Hood.[source?] People have very different interpretations (ways of understanding the hidden meanings).[source?] There are two main ways that the story of Little Red Riding Hood can be interpreted.[source?]

The first type of interpretation is about morality. It is about what is right and what is wrong.

In this picture the wolf is having very bad thoughts about the little girl.
  • The easiest message for children to understand is that it can be dangerous to trust strangers.
  • A more adult interpretation is about sexuality.[8] Some people think that the story of the girl being "eaten" is really a symbol for rape. Susan Brownmiller wrote a book about it, called Against Our Will. Some of the other versions of the story seem to be more about rape than the way that the Brothers Grimm wrote it, which was for children.[9]
  • Charles Perrault makes his meaning quite clear. At the end of the story he writes:
"From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers.... all wolves are not of the same sort.... there is one kind [that is not] noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! .... these gentle wolves are ... the most dangerous!"
Perrault was not just writing about rape, but about having sex before marriage which would cause terrible dishonour for the girl and her family.[source?]
  • Erich Fromm based his ideas only on the story the Brothers Grimm wrote. He sees the red cap of Little Red Riding Hood as a symbol for menstruation.
  • Some people who are feminists (supporters of the rights of women) do not like this story and say that it does not show women in a good way. This is because, through the story, Red Riding Hood does not think or act for herself. She does not do any of the actions of the story; she only does what she is told to do by a male character, and has things done to her male characters. She does what wolf tells her to do, even though it is against the advice of her mother. She comes near the male wolf when he tells her, against her own fear. She is eaten by the male character. She cannot help herself and is saved only because a strong male character comes along at the right time. Feminists believe that stories like this do not help girls to be independent.
  • In old French and Italian versions of the story, the girl is independent and clever. She tricks the wolf and escapes without any help.

The second way of seeing the stories has nothing to do with peoples' behaviour or feelings. These interpretations have to do with the cycle of the sun and the seasons, and with the cycle of life, with people dying and being born.

  • One interpretation is about night and day. In this interpretation, Red Riding Hood's bright red cap is be a symbol for the sun. The sun is swallowed by the terrible night (the wolf). When she is cut out again, it represent the dawn.[10] This bears a resemblance to the Norse Legend of the wolf Skoll (or Fenrir) who swallows the sun at Ragnarök.[11]
  • Another interpretation is that the tale is about the season of spring, or the month of May, escaping the winter.[12] The story could be seen as a description of the May Queen ritual that represents the coming of Spring, with the crown of flowers replaced by the red hood.[13]

Adaptations[change | edit source]

Other re-tellings[change | edit source]

In this French painting by François Richard Fleury, the girl will perhaps escape.

François Adrien Boieldieu (1775 - 1834) made an opera from the story. The opera is called Le petit chaperon rouge. Its first performance was in Paris, in the year 1818.

In 1927, Sir Compton MacKenzie used Little Red Riding Hood as the central character of a novel for children "Santa Claus in Summer". Red Riding Hood, in this re-telling, is the daughter of a highway man called Riding Hood.

The story has been adapted to various media. Tex Avery made a cartoon out of it, Red Hot Riding Hood. He adapted the story to be more appealing to adults. Little Red Riding Hood works at a striptease club. The wolf, dressed in a suit, goes after the stripper (a stripper is a person who takes off his or her clothes in public).

Roald Dahl re-told the story in a funny poem about Little Red Riding Hood. It is in his collection Revolting Rhymes.

Lon Po Po is an ancient Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood which won the 1990 Randolph Caldecott Medal for its watercolour and pastel illustrations by Young.

Art[change | edit source]

Many paintings have been done of Little Red Riding Hood. Artists who have painted pictures of this story are George Frederick Watts, Samuel Albrecht Anker, and François Richard Fleury.

References[change | edit source]

  1. Bottigheimer, Ruth. (2008). "Before Contes du temps passe (1697): Charles Perrault's Griselidis, Souhaits and Peau". The Romantic Review, Volume 99, Number 3. pp. 175-189
  2. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, "Little Red Cap"
  3. Jack Zipes, In Hungarian folklore, the story is known as "Piroska" (Little Red), is still told in mostly the original version described above. The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, p 744, ISBN 0-393-97636-X
  4. Alan Dundes, ed. (1989) Little Red Riding Hood: A Casebook. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-029-912-0344, p. 21.
  5. Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales. p. 93. ISBN 0-19-211559-6
  6. Jacques Barchilon and Henry Pettit (1960) The Authentic Mother Goose Fairy Tales and Mursery Rhymes. Denver: Alan Swallow, p. 13.
  7. Harry Velten, "The Influences of Charles Perrault's Contes de ma Mère L'oie on German Folklore", p 966, Jack Zipes, ed. The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, ISBN 0-393-97636-X
  8. Jane Yolen, Touch Magic p 25, ISBN 0-87483-591-7
  9. Catherine Orenstein, Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale, p 145, ISBN 0-465-04125-6
  10. Maria Tatar, p 25, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, ISBN 0-393-05163-3
  11. Alan Dundes, "Intrepreting Little Red Riding Hood Psychoanalytically", p 26-7, James M. McGlathery, ed. The Brothers Grimm and Folktale, ISBN 0-252-01549-5
  12. Alan Dundes, "Intrepreting Little Red Riding Hood Psychoanalytically", p 27, James M. McGlathery, ed. The Brothers Grimm and Folktale, ISBN 0-252-01549-5
  13. Waller Hastings. "Little Red Riding Hood". Northern State University. Archived from the original on 14 February 2008. http://web.archive.org/web/20080215065359/http://www.northern.edu/hastingw/redhood.htm.
  • Jack Zipes, ed. (2000) The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. Oxford University Press, pp. 302–3.

Other websites[change | edit source]