Sunday, June 02, 2019

"Little Red Riding Hood" by The Brothers Grimm



Illustration by "KC" (uncredited artist from a 1923 anthology)

The Brothers Grimm add a rescue story to the end of Charles Perrault's horror version, but otherwise their point is more or less the same: "Don't talk to strangers." When Red Riding Hood's mother sends her to Grandmother's house, she instructs, "Look straight ahead like a good little girl and don't stray from the path." Excessive curiosity it apparently a problem for the child, because Mom also says that when Red get to Grandmother's, she shouldn't "go poking around in all the corners of the house."

Of course, Red's overly curious mind also makes her dangerously trusting and it's the squashing of these traits that the story is all about. In fact, the Grimms include an epilogue in which Red makes another trip to Grandmother's and is again accosted by a wolf, but reacts with confidence and sufficiency, leading to a much different result.

There's a lot more that can to be gathered from the story. It's simple enough that scholars have assigned endless meanings to it. Some of them are ridiculous, like how the wolf eats Grandmother and Red whole because he's got pregnancy envy. Others I quite like, for instance how the cakes and wine that Red carries to Grandmother might represent Christian Communion.

I don't want to read too deeply into that one, but even if Communion isn't the intended meaning of the meal, the Grimms clearly state that the food is intended to heal Grandmother in some way, with the most natural reading being physical. When the wolf gets to Grandmother's house, Grandmother can't come to the door, because she's too sick to get out of bed. For all her naivety, Red is an heroic figure out to rescue Grandmother.

If the cakes and wine do represent Communion, then it just adds a spiritual element to Grandmother's physical condition. She's also sick in her soul and Communion is supposed to help with that. Lending some support to this idea is the Grimms' changing the location of Grandmother's house. In Perrault, she lives in a village on the other side of the woods, so that Red has to go through the forest to get there. In the Grimms' version, Grandmother lives smack in the middle of the forest. She's part of the Wild, which suggests that she may be lost herself, in a spiritual sense.

There's so much to unpack with this story. I'm looking forward to watching some adaptations and see how they handle it.

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