Ship Filled With Riches
When I was a child my grandma used to tell me fairy tales. My favorites were Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel but most of all Red Riding Hood. Ever since this story about a girl who meets a wolf captivated my imagination with its grim beauty. First literal mentions of Red Riding Hood are from the year 1000 from a manuscript called fecunda ratis, ship filled with riches. This was a collection of poems written by a French man called Hegbert Deliefe. His poems contained moral lessons and they were read in monasteries.
One poem especially stands out. It is a poem about a girl who receives a red dress as a baptizing gift from her godfather. When the girl is five years old she is walking in the woods and gets kidnapped by the wolf mother. The Wolf takes the girl into their cave where the little wolves start licking her face. The girl says to the wolves "I forbid you to tear my dress. It was a gift from my godfather". The poem is based around a Christian idea of god being the creator of predator animals and he is the only one who can tame their wild nature and so the girl is safe because she is baptized.
Charles Perrault´s Red Riding Hood
This poem was believed to be one of the inspirations for Charles Perrault when he wrote his own version of Little Red Riding Hood which first appeared Perrault´s famous fairy tale collection Tales from mother goose (1697). Perrault´s fairy tale has similarities to the French poem but he did not include Christian elements to the fairy tale.
In Perrault´s version a girl gets a beautiful red hood as a gift from her grandmother. In the beginning of the story the girl´s mother tells her to take piece of bread and jar of butter to her grandmother who is ill. Red Riding Hood meets a wolf on the road and tells him where she is going. The wolf says "I´ll go to see grandmother as well but I take the other road and I will meet you there".
Grandma opens the door and wolf gets in telling that he is Red Riding Hood and after that he kills the grandmother and eats her. The Wolf goes into bed pretending to be the grandmother. He tells Red Riding Hood to put bread and butter into the table and then he asks her to take off her clothes and come to the bed with him. She asks:
"Grandma why you have so strong arms?"
"So I can hold you better?" The wolf answers
"Grandma why you have such big feet?"
"So I can run faster"
"Grandma why you have such strange looking ears "
"So I can hear you better"
"Grandma why your eyes are so wide?"
"So I can see you better"
"Grandma why your teeth are so sharp?"
"So I can eat you"
The Wolf eats the girl and this is where Perrault´s story ends.
Fairytales for scaring purposes
There are many ways to analyse Perrault´s Red Riding Hood but first we need to categorize it. There are several ways to categorize fairy tales such as: Happily ever after - Underdog winning - fairy tales with moral teachings - Frightening/ shocking fairy tales Red Riding Hood belongs in the category of frightening fairy tales. These are fairy tales which are meant to be read or told out loud for the audience in the purpose of scaring them. In the original script Perrault’s edition it was written that the story teller must scream the last words of the wolf.
"SO I CAN EAT YOU"
Charles Perrault was the official fairy tale writer in 17th century France in the court of the Sun King Ludwig XIV. Many of his fairy tales were meant for aristocrat children and the teenagers of the court. Red riding hood is a disturbing fairy tale- the who gets eaten by the wolf has become an allegory of her being raped by a pedophile. Perrault´s fairy tale was quickly turned into a folk tale which was retold again and again. The use of the color red on her coat started to highlight femininity because of it’s connections to the menstrual cycle and so because of this the tale also depicts strict gender roles of the 17th century Europe.
Red Riding Hood of the Brothers Grimm
After its release, Perrault´s fairy tale was translated into several different languages. A writer called Ludwig Tüg translated story into German and created the character of the hunter. In his version the hunter kills the wolf but he cannot save the little girl and in the end there is only a hand left from poor Red Riding Hood.
The brothers Grimm most likely first became familiar with German translation and decided to add it into their collection of fairy tales. The Brothers gave their story a happy ending- the hunter was about to shoot the wolf but instead he took scissors and cut open the wolf´s stomach. Red Riding Hood and grandmother came out alive and girl said "it was so dark and I was so scared all the time". Wolf died and it´s stomach was filled with stones.
There is also a German folk tale version where the wolf drowned in a pool where the drinking water was kept for the farm animals. There are also folk tale versions of Red Riding Hood where the girl hides herself into grandmother´s closet. The hunter comes to look out for the wolf but it manages to escape.
Compared to the original French poem where the girl seems to be more self-conscious Perrault´s Red Riding Hood is more weak and helpless. This story is a model example of the class system of the time as children were seen more naive innocent and considered little people who were created to this world to amuse the adults. In 18th century children gain more individual status and childhood became sacred. Now it was parents job to protect the child and teach them moral lessons.
In the brother´s Grimm version, there is a moral teaching us that curiosity is deadly. Her Mother gives Red riding hood a cake and wine to take to her grandma. She says to Red Riding Hood "Don´t break the bottle and when you meet grandma be polite and don´t run around" "I can do it" says the girl and they shake hands. In the end of the fairy tale after girl was saved by the hunter she is thinking by herself: "From no on I will never look away from the road neither I will talk to strangers".
All these gruesome details that Brother´s Grimm added into their stories are one of the reasons why I´m not huge fan of them. If Perrault´s fairy tale had twisted suggestions to pedophiles the Brother´s Grimm story has much more bloody and sadistic details. The idea that the stomach of the wolf is cut open and gets filled with stones presents an unpleasant image.
Many of the folk tales and fairy tales of the 17th century before the arrival of industrial revolution were cautionary tales. They were warnings for children not to go too far away from home because wild animals could take them. Most of the time wild animals avoided people but predator animals such as bears and wolves did sometimes kill farm animals which caused great anger and created fear towards untamed nature.
In 18th century in Sweden, Norway and Finland Lutheran church started to pay extra for people for killing wolves. This so called "wolf hate" was part of the church process of "taming nature" and done to get rid of pagan totemic beliefs of the people. Before the spread of Christianity the wolf was not demonized but it was one of the most respected animals of the ancient world. Among Romans, Etruscan's, several native american tribes, Slavs, Vikings and many more cultures wolves were worshiped as divine beings.
In Finland the wolf was the sacred animal of Louhi- the goddess of shamans. When Christianity spread and female goddesses were demonized Louhi was turned into a representation of Christian Satan. Wolves were described to be "devil´s children". Wolf propaganda that was originally started by the church has been very harmful for wolves in Nordic countries where they are endangered species.
Meghan Ory as Ruby/Red in ABC`s Once Upon A Time
Was she a werewolf?
The story of Red Riding Hood is often connected to folk tales told about were-wolves. A person who had ability to shape shift itself into a wolf was a widely seen mythical creature in folk tales all over Europe. Werewolves of the 16th and 17th centuries were part of the witch-hunt phenomenon (Accusations of lycanthropy however were small part of the witchcraft trials). Shape sifting from an animal to a man and back was a common part of shamanic rituals and it is likely that by demonizing the wolf which was a sacred spirit animal among several tribes was just one more way for the church to convert people from their pagan beliefs to Christianity.
Wolves generally avoid people. They live in packs and are very family-oriented animals. While writing one of his most famous fairy tales Charles Perrault unfortunately also participated on wolf hunts and suspicion which still takes place today. Within past years there have been several film adaptions made of Red Riding Hood which show Red as a werewolf. In ABC`s Once Upon A Time character of Red goes through several physical and spiritual transformations before she can fully accept herself.
Amanda Seyfrid as Valerie in the movie Red Riding Hood.
Amanda Seyfried played the part of Red Riding Hood in a movie made in 2011. This movie is one of my personal favorite fairy tale adaptations and it is filled with hauntingly beautiful landscapes with mysterious captivating atmosphere
Little bit of Red
You might be surprised to find out that one of the reasons why the story of Red Riding Hood is still very popular is because of the color red. For centuries in Europe red was seen as an unholy color. It was connected to love, power, attention, sex and sexuality. Red was the color of blood and therefore it was the color of life. Red hood has several meanings in the fairy tale. Red can represent life whereas wolf can represent death. If girl is seen as a werewolf red hood can represent rebirth. It can represent girl´s awakening or suppressed sexuality and her ability to shape shift herself as a wolf is another metaphor for person owning their body. In the end Red Riding Hood is not just a fairy tale about a wolf and a girl. It is a metaphor how we can face our own fears and how we react to them. The magic and the thrill of the story make it one of the most exiting, visually appealing and horrifying fairy tales ever told.
Artist and Illustrator. Mythology and Folklore enthusiastic. Keen traveler. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea, and such.