What big eyes you have!
September 19, 2004 7:22 AM   Subscribe

Little Red Riding Hood's wayward past revealed: "Once upon a time, (the story) was a seduction tale. An engraving accompanying the first published version of the story, in Paris in 1697, shows a girl in her déshabille, lying in bed beneath a wolf. According to the plot, she has just stripped out of her clothes, and a moment later the tale will end with her death in the beast’s jaws — no salvation, no redemption. Any reader of the day would have immediately understood the message: In the French slang, when a girl lost her virginity it was said that 'elle avoit vû le loup' — she’d seen the wolf."
posted by feelinglistless (32 comments total)

A lot of people would be surprised to see how the Brothers Grimms' tales really end, as opposed to what happens in the Disneyfied versions that they're used to.
posted by clevershark at 7:29 AM on September 19, 2004

... And he made me feel excited.
Well, excited and scared.
When he said, 'Come in,' with that sickening grin,
How could I know what was in store?
Once his teeth were bared, though, I really got scared.
Well, excited and scared.
But he drew me close, and he swallowed me down,
Down a dark, slimy path, where lie secrets that I never want to know,
And when everything familiar seemed to disappear forever,
At the end of the path, was Granny once again,
So we wait in the dark, until someone sets us free,
And we're brought into the light,
And we're back at the start..
And I know things now, many valuable things,
That I hadn't known before.
Do not put your faith in a cape and a hood.
They will not protect you the way that they should.
And take extra care with strangers, even flowers have their dangers,
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good....
--Into the Woods: I Know Things Now
posted by amberglow at 7:36 AM on September 19, 2004

Very nice link; thank you, feelinglistless! Though it's odd to refer to Angela Carter as a playwright: the film referenced is from a screenplay Carter derived from her short story "The Company of Wolves." If this link intrigues at all, read The Bloody Chamber, which contains it as well as story after story that aim at the sexual metaphors driving many fairy tales.

I really miss Angela Carter. She and Margurerite Duras were the most knowing and sensual writers about sexuality I've ever encountered.
posted by melissa may at 7:37 AM on September 19, 2004

So, I'm guessing then that the "red hood" ain't her frock coat either, eh?
posted by RavinDave at 7:43 AM on September 19, 2004

I highly recommend a definitive volume on children's tales, Iona and Peter Opie's "The Classic Fairy Tales". It, along with their classic "The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren" are among my more prized books and give me that warm fuzzy Mr. Smarty Pants feeling that I love so much. (A little self-deprecating humor there. Please don't use it against me.)

You'd be amazed at how incredibly graphic and gruesome most of these tales were until recently, when they've been sanitized. Also, sexual.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:57 AM on September 19, 2004

Oh, and the linked article mentions Freeway, which I think is a gem of a little film.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:59 AM on September 19, 2004

clevershark, the point of the article is that the Grimms themselves bowdlerized Perrault, who may themselves have bowdlerized traditional folk tales, in which the heroine cleverly escapes her "fate". So there's levels within levels of Disneyfication, or re-telling.
posted by Turtle at 7:59 AM on September 19, 2004

Incidentally, I have no doubt that the author's primary source for that article was the Opie book, though it's not cited. It's the authority.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:08 AM on September 19, 2004

They figured out that lLittle Red Riding Hood was a sex story?

I think Sam The Sham beat 'em to it, 30-odd years ago....
posted by jonmc at 8:15 AM on September 19, 2004

I think you mean "almost 40 years ago". Which does, in fact, beat the Opies' book, first published in 1974...thirty years ago.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:39 AM on September 19, 2004

Tex-Mex Rock and Rollers 1. Academic Wanks 0.

Un, dos, tres, quatro....Wooly Bully....
posted by jonmc at 8:51 AM on September 19, 2004

In the original Little Red Riding Hood, Grandma shoots first!
posted by jozxyqk at 9:03 AM on September 19, 2004

A testament to persistence of meaning in the symbolism of the tale. Even after the action of the story was changed, the meaning implied by the woods, the little girl, the wolf, and the red hood remained strong enough to be implied.
posted by wobh at 9:05 AM on September 19, 2004

...and both the girl and the grandmother are eaten, but a woodsman cuts both of them out of the wolf's stomach and they're not the worse for wear.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:10 AM on September 19, 2004

Also, the Prince rapes Sleeping Beauty while she sleeps, impregnating her. It wasn't a "kiss".
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:11 AM on September 19, 2004

EB, the notes at the end of the article indicate that the author wrote a whole book about the subject of the article. I'd have to guess her book is rather more likely the source - in any case, it would suggest she didn't just read a book you happen to have also read and crib from there.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:13 AM on September 19, 2004

No, the Opie's book is the scholarly work on the subject. So it's a source of hers one way or the other.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:22 AM on September 19, 2004

Oh, you're right. The Opie book doesn't appear in her bibliography. Which seems pretty odd to me. Perhaps my impression of the status of that particular book is inflated. The other one I mention, however, essentially is the seminal text on children's folklore and the Opies were regarded as the experts on children's folklore so I figured the fairy tale book was of a very high stature.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:39 AM on September 19, 2004

She mentions him in passing, but Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment is another seminal book on fairy tales.
posted by muckster at 11:30 AM on September 19, 2004

Did anyone else see David Kaplan's Little Red Riding Hood, with a circa 16-yr.-old Christina Ricci? The writer director commented:
I wanted to make a version... that delved full-on into the provocative subtext. This particular [version] comes from the Brittany region of France and is considered... to be closest to the oral story before it was translated into literature by men like Charles Perrault or the Brothers Grimm. What appealed to me about it was that instead of the usual story about sexual punishment wherein a little girl strays from the path and gets eaten up, this is a story about adolescent sexual flirtation and experimentation. It's fun and scary and sexy.
posted by Zurishaddai at 11:38 AM on September 19, 2004

There's this very good and dark anime, Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade, which references Little Red Riding Hood everywhere. One reviewer likened his feelings after watching it to "having your soul run over by a bus", which describes it well enough.
posted by azazello at 11:48 AM on September 19, 2004

I like the Cinderella story better. The dude looks all over the kingdom for a babe whose foot size will fit the GLASS shoe she left behind. If he can squeeze her into it, will she bust the shoe and bleed?
posted by Postroad at 12:42 PM on September 19, 2004

in some versions, the 2 sisters actually cut parts of their feet off to make them fit, Post.
posted by amberglow at 12:44 PM on September 19, 2004

Cinderella's crystal slipper was actually fur, of course.
posted by twine42 at 1:37 PM on September 19, 2004

Cinderella's crystal slipper was actually fur, of course.

Nope -- I used to think that too (vair > verre), but it's an urban legend.

Oh, and Freeway is a great movie. (Warning: very black humor.)
posted by languagehat at 3:34 PM on September 19, 2004

Zurishaddai: I saw that short at the Seattle International Film Festival, must have been 1997 or 98. Really beautiful. You don't know where it can be obtained, do you?
posted by bingo at 4:36 PM on September 19, 2004

Sorry—I have no idea, I saw it before a feature film in Berkeley when it first came out.
posted by Zurishaddai at 4:47 PM on September 19, 2004

Woodsman. Heh heh.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:30 PM on September 19, 2004

I always thought that the tale pre-dated Perrault. Having a quick look around, there's an older oral version which doesn't appear to have too much to do with wolves. As always, wikipedia delivers the goods.
posted by seanyboy at 2:56 AM on September 20, 2004

After reading the wikipedia link, it looks like LRRH has nothing to do with sex. It's about the difference between being polite to strangers and providing sensitive information to potential enemies.

Those French, they'd put that lacey underwear on anything.
posted by ewkpates at 7:28 AM on September 20, 2004

Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella and all such stories were orginally oral tales, and so they changed with every retelling. I have a copy of the original Grimm stories, and they are incredibly violent and brutal in places i.e., wicked stepmothers are punished by being forced into a barrel with nails studding the insides and rolled down a long hill into the river. Also removed are the stories about priests who sent husbands on day pilgrimages so the priests could spend the day in bed with the wives.
posted by orange swan at 8:40 AM on September 20, 2004

No doubt you are aware of this, EB, but there is a very interesting discussion of the Red Riding Hood story in Robert Darnton's essay 'Peasants Tell Tales' (in The Great Cat Massacre, 1984). Darnton challenges the theory that the story is about adolescent sexuality. Instead, he argues, it's a story about the arbitrary cruelty of the world:

More than half of the thirty-five recorded versions of 'Little Red Riding Hood' end with the wolf devouring the girl. She had done nothing to deserve such a fate .. She simply walked into the jaws of death. It is the inscrutable, inexorable character of calamity that makes the tales so moving, not the happy endings that they frequently acquired after the eighteenth century.

In other words: 'Red Riding Hood' is not really a moral tale at all; that is to say, it has no moral, other than 'life is unfair'. But if life is unfair, then you have to look out for yourself; you have to be prepared to lie, cheat and deceive in order to survive. In other versions of the Red Riding Hood story, the girl escapes by tricking the wolf into letting her go outside in order to relieve herself. And so the story gradually does acquire a moral, or a sort of moral: be smart, be cunning, and you might be lucky.

This is where it really gets interesting -- because Darnton argues that the moral of the Red Riding Hood story reflects something basic about French culture:

Frenchness .. is a distinct cultural style; and it conveys a particular view of the world -- a sense that life is hard, that you had better not have any illusions about selflessness in your fellow men, that clear-headedness and quick wit are necessary to protect what little you can extract from your surroundings, and that moral nicety will get you nowhere. Frenchness makes for ironic detachment. It tends to be negative and disabused. Unlike its Anglo-Saxon opposite, the Protestant ethic, it offers no formula for conquering the world. It is a defence strategy, well suited to an oppressed peasantry or an occupied country.

Some of this finds its way into the Ms Magazine article; the writer seems to agree with Darnton's interpretation of the Red Riding Hood story as a trickster narrative, but then tries to give it a feminist spin by presenting it as a story about female empowerment. I don't have a problem with rewriting the story as a feminist parable, but to suggest that that is what it has always been about does make my historical hackles rise slightly.
posted by verstegan at 10:18 AM on September 20, 2004

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