Academia Interlude: On Little Red

Those who enjoy werewolves have likely been exasperated in recent years with the two releases of god-awful “Little Red Vs Werewolves” films Red Riding Hood and Red: Werewolf Hunter. Red Riding Hood, after all, is a children’s cautionary tale, and the wolf is merely a wolf.

Supposedly.

In actuality, the standard Little Red Riding Hood story has changed quite a bit since it first began to be told. The modern-day rendition comesfrom the brothers’ Grimm book on fairy tales, Children’s and Household Tales (A.K.A. Grimm’s Fairy Tales), and their rendition of the story, “Little Red Cap.” The brothers Grimm, however, specialized in fairy tales that were prominent in Germany. Many of Little Red’s roots lie in France.

In fact, in some French variations, the tale is so different that there is no heroic woodsman, and the wolf is no longer a wolf at all. In The Grandmother’s Tale, one such variation collected in 1885, it is a bzou—a werewolf.

 

The Grandmother’s Tale, while sharing many similarities to the modern Little Red Riding Hood story, differs greatly in that it appears to have been written for a more adult audience. The tale begins as usual—a girl is taking a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk to her grandmother, is waylaid by the bzou on the way, and the bzou beats her to the grandmother’s house. Here the tale takes a subtle shift towards the macabre. The werewolf kills and eats the grandmother, as usual, and then puts a piece of the grandmother’s flesh and a bottle of her blood in the pantry, which he beseeches the girl to eat and drink, calling it meat and wine. After eating and drinking her grandmother’s remains, the werewolf, acting as the girl’s grandmother, urges her to undress and join “her” in bed.

With every article of clothing the girl strips off, she asks the werewolf what to do with it, only to receive the same response each time: to throw it in the fire, because she won’t be needing it anymore.

Once all her clothes are gone, she gets into bed with the werewolf and briefly the tale turns back to its usual formula: “little red” begins making observations on the bzou’s appearance, and the bzou in turn explains it away:

“Oh grandmother, how much hair you have!”

“It keeps me warm, my dear.”

At last, appearing to realize the danger she’s in, the girl pleads to be let outside to relieve herself. The bzou, annoyed, complies, tying a string around her foot to let her outside. Once out, she ties the string to a tree and runs away. By the time the bzou realizes that she’s tricked him and runs after her, the girl is already arriving safely at home.

Further reading:

  • Orenstein, Catherine. Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale. New York: Basic Books, 2002. 63-106. Print.
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