We all know the story of “Little Red Riding Hood”, right? WRONG! No, you know the tamed edition which is nice and child friendly where Red escapes with the help of a friendly woodcutter, and they manage to cut Grandma out of the wolf’s stomach and everyone lives happily ever after.
Well…while the Brothers Grimm did a great job of cleaning this up but this folk story can be traced back to the 10th century and didn’t really start with a wicked wolf, although this seems to have been added during the 1600s by Charles Perrault, but this simply replaced an ogre and he kept the rest of the gory details that I will get to very soon.
The version that you probably know very well, gets scholars all excited as it symbolises a female rite of passage and is strong in feminist connotations (despite the friendly woodcutter coming to save the day). There is all sorts of talk about Red Riding Hood having wine in the basket and it meaning that she is coming of age, and the strong warnings about not talking to strangers and her communicating with the wolf showing that she is overcoming the wiles and charms of men, but the original really is a torturous tale of cannibalism and rape, and has some links
The version I am going to tell you originates from Italy and is called “The False Grandmother” or “La Finta Nona”, there are several variations on this (as there are with many folk stories) and appears to have spread from France, but this is possibly the most disturbing version (so obviously I am going to go with this one).
Once upon a time there was a woman and her granddaughter working in the field. The woman said to the girl, who wore a little red cap, “Red, I am going back to the house as I am tired, you can finish up here and then come home when you are ready. Be sure not to talk to strangers on your way back”.
A while later, Red finished her work in the field, and started to head home. There were two ways to get to the house she shared with her grandmother one over stones and one over thorns. As she approached the fork in the road, she met a Ogre. The Ogre asked “where are you going Little Red Cap?” and Red responded “I am on my way home”. “Which way are you going? Over the stones or over the thorns?” asked the Ogre. “Over the stones” said Red. “I shall go over the thorns then” said the Ogre and he hurried off.
Red made her way over the stones, but on the way back was a field filled with beautiful flowers, so she stopped to pick some. Meanwhile the Orge had made his way to their house, broken in and eaten the grandmother, with the exception of her intestines, which he used to latch the door, her teeth which he put in a jar in the cupboard, her jaw bone which he placed in the pantry and some of her blood which he put in a bottle on the side in the kitchen. The Orge then put on some of the grandmothers clothes and got into bed.
When Red returned home, she knocked on the door, and the Ogre told her to push the door open, as she reached for the handle she realised it was soft, but the Ogre told her to just come on in, so she did.
Red busied herself arranging the flowers she had picked, but started to feel hungry. The Ogre told her, there is some rice in a jar in the cupboard, she should eat that. Taking the jar of teeth, Red commented that the rice was very hard, but the Ogre encouraged her to eat, so she did.
A little time later, Red was still hungry and the Ogre told her that there was some meat in the pantry. Red commented on how red the meat looked, but again the Ogre told her to eat up, so she did.
Soon Red was thirsty, and the Ogre pointed her in the direction of the bottle of blood, saying that it was wine. When Red commented on how thick the wine was, she was just told to shut up and drink it.
With Red fed and watered from the reminisce of her grandmother, she was now feeling sleepy. The Ogre told Red to take off her clothes and get in bed with him. Red asked where she should put her clothes, and the Ogre responded to put them on the fire as she wouldn’t be needing them anymore.
Red did what she was told, and climbed into bed next to the Ogre. “Why Grandma! You are so hairy!” Red exclaimed. “That is to keep me warm, my dear” responded the Ogre. “Grandma, your legs are so long!”, “that is from all the walking, my dear.” “Grandma, you have such long nails!”, “that is for scratching”. “Grandma, you have such big ears”, “all the better to hear you with, my dear”…”And Grandma, you have such big teeth”, “all the better to eat you with, my dear”. With that, the Ogre had his wicked way with Red and then ate her.
The moral of the story is to never talk to strangers.
I always found this moral a little odd, as if I never spoke to a stranger, I would never meet anyone new, but who am I to mess with the teachings of a bygone era.
You can see from this version, there is no help and no escape for the young girl or the grandmother, and the fact that Red eats her grandmother prior to being raped and eaten herself is pretty gruesome, but then this story was never actually intended for children.
It all gets a bit hazy around when the wolf was added and the ogre removed, but there does seem to be some links to the werewolf trials (much like the witch trials), notably the case of Peter Stumpp in 1589, prior to his execution he was put on the rack and he confessed to practicing black magic since the age of 12 and the devil had given him a magic belt which enabled him to change into a wolf. He confessed to killing and eating 18 people, 14 of which were children. Stumpp was eventually executed in the same year on a catherine wheel. Stories such as this sparked the imaginations of storytellers to perhaps incorporate the wolf as it was scarier than the ogre.
I have chosen the picture “Here Comes the Wolfman” by Avya Yordanova for this article as I really like how it incorporates elements from many different versions of the story. The wolfman for example isn’t a wolf, also isn’t a man, but is a being of the forest which is terrifying and much like an ogre. There are flowers in the horns of the wolfman and around the path that Red is hovering over which are the things which distracted her from getting home promptly. Red’s cloak looks like flames which is where her clothing ended up and her eyes are covered, as if something has taken away her innocent view. This is a digital art concept which Yordanova has captured the essence of the story so well in. The dark atmospheric nature of the piece, alluding to the grim fate of little Red, she is even looking like she is due to be sacrificed.
I find it very interesting how this story is still evolving. The story has moved from the horror story that I have told, to a story of bravery and courage, coming of age allegory and now it has evolved again to Red and the wolf having some intrinsic romantic relationship in a feminist twist to the story which I am not sure really how much I appreciate but there are several versions, and lets say… these aren’t suitable for children either.
What do you think of the story of “Little Red Cap”? Why not tell me in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?