You’re Everything a Big Bad Wolf Could Want

I doubt I’ll be seeing the upcoming Little Red Riding Hood movie, despite the general cuteness of Amanda Seyfried.

The idea of making the classic fairy tale into a thriller is an interesting one, but I’m not sure I trust the director of Twilight with it. (“Why, Grandma, what sparkly skin you have! Why, Grandma, what a blue filter is on that camera!”) Actually, the thing is, the story as it was originally told is pretty dark in and of itself. Putting aside the fact that Red Riding Hood is apparently so unobservant that she mistakes a wolf for her own grandmother (a plot element James Thurber cleverly mocks in his retelling), the idea of a ravenous creature tricking a little girl into thinking it’s her relative is kind of a scary concept. And in Charles Perrault’s version, the wolf eating the girl is the end of the story. The Grimms made it somewhat more palatable by having a hunter save the two victims and weigh the wolf’s belly down with stones, an element that might well have been borrowed from the quite similar ending of “The Wolf and the Seven Goats.” These victims are just lucky that wolves in fairy tales apparently never bother to chew.

Anyway, one reason I bring up this topic is that I’m currently reading through The Annotated Brothers Grimm, and I’ve found that a lot of different sorts of symbolism have been associated with the tale over the centuries, perhaps because it’s really such a simple story that just about any interpretation will work. Tex Avery’s “Red Hot Riding Hood” was certainly not the first take to add a sexual element to the story. Apparently, some oral versions of the tale that predated the Grimms’ written take had Red basically performing a striptease for the wolf.

The Grimms themselves add in bits of moralizing, as is their wont, highlighting the fact that Red gets in trouble because she talks to strangers and wanders off the path. I’ve even seen a mythological interpretation that made Red into the Sun, as unlikely as this sounds.

I’m kind of curious as whether the now-ubiquitous cognomen for fairy tale wolves, “The Big Bad Wolf,” originated with the song in Disney’s “Three Little Pigs,” or it occurred prior to that.

Certainly, the wolf is a pretty common foe in folk tales, usually coming off as ravenous, but also quite cunning. The choice of the wolf as predator seems to be largely European, and perhaps ties in with werewolf legends. The Annotated Brothers Grimm mentions that fear of wolves was abnormally high in the seventeenth century, but of course wolf-related stories date to long before that. Wolves were villains in some of Aesop’s fables as well, for instance, and both Greco-Roman and Norse mythology feature wolves. I’ve heard that some early versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” have an ogre instead of a wolf, so I’m sure it varied from one culture to another.

Incidentally, the Grimms’ version of the tale is called “Rotkäppchen,” which technically means a little red CAP, rather than a hood. In Perrault’s French, however, it was “Le Petit Chaperon rouge,” or “The Little Red Hood.” A riding hood has that name because it was traditionally what women wore when riding horses, although of course Little Red doesn’t do any riding in the story.

Several of the images in this post come from Red Project on Tumblr

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10 Responses to You’re Everything a Big Bad Wolf Could Want

  1. vilajunkie says:

    Thanks for the links to the James Thurber and Tex Avery versions! I don’t imagine “Red Hot Riding Hood” getting on TV today while kids are up watching cartoons.

    Do you know what book or artist the “How to Recognize a Wolf in the Forest” illustration comes from? I like the style used for the art.

    Probably one of the earliest Big Bad Wolf characters in French and English stories (via Medieval Latin) is Isengrim from the Reynard cycle of tales. Isengrim is one of the few, maybe only, animals in the forest that see through the Fox’s schemes and reveal the truth at the end. Reynard is a lot like Anansi the Spider in that there are so many tales about his tricks played on the other animals that we might never discover them all. I’m fairly certain the Reynard cycle was the inspiration for Disney’s animated version of “Robin Hood”, which has many of the same animals in the same roles, even down to King Richard being a noble (in both sense of the word) lion. I even see some influence of the Reynard cycle in “The Jungle Books” (not the Disney version), which Rudyard Kipling probably read as a kid while growing up in India during the British Occupation.

  2. ACK! I haven’t, luckily, heard that awful song in ages and this is the THIRD place I’ve seen it quoted this week! (Granted, the second place was referring to the same book that is the first place, but the fact that we were both reading that same book this week was a coincidence, so it still counts as three separate incidences, no?) AAAAGGHHHHHHHHH!

    …okay, sorry, I’ll go now.

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