The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairytales: Little Red Riding Hood
In today's installment of The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairytales we are covering Little Red Riding Hood. The story of Little Red Riding Hood is pretty much common knowledge at this point, however it should be repeated in its more well-known version before diving into its original telling. Red Riding Hood is a little girl nicknamed such for the red jacket she always wears. On her way to bring food to her sick Grandmother’s house, she meets a cunning wolf who inquires about her business, learning from the innocent little girl where her grandmother lives. He then distracts the girl by encouraging her to pick flowers while he rushes to the Grandmother’s house and devours her, taking her place in bed. Red Riding Hood arrives and discovers the ruse too late, before she is either swallowed whole as well or is chased through the forest by the wolf. In the end, she and her grandmother are both rescued by a woodcutter in the area and live happily ever after. However the original Charles Perrault story is way weirder. The other notable version of this story is by The Brothers Grimm.
Charles Perrault Version
The earliest known printed version was known as Le Petit Chaperon Rouge and may have had its origins in 17th-century French folklore. It was included in the collection Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals. Tales of Mother Goose (Histoires et contes du temps passé, avec des moralités. Contes de ma mère l'Oye), in 1697, by Charles Perrault. As the title implies, this version is both more sinister and more overtly moralized than the later ones. The redness of the hood, which has been given symbolic significance in many interpretations of the tale, was a detail introduced by Perrault.
The story had as its subject an "attractive, well-bred young lady", a village girl of the country being deceived into giving a wolf she encountered the information he needed to find her grandmother's house successfully and eat the old woman while at the same time avoiding being noticed by woodcutters working in the nearby forest. Then he proceeded to lay a trap for Red Riding Hood. Little Red Riding Hood ends up being asked to climb into the bed before being eaten by the wolf, where the story ends. The wolf emerges the victor of the encounter and there is no happy ending.
Charles Perrault explained the 'moral' at the end of the tale so that no doubt is left to his intended meaning:
From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!
This, the presumed original version of the tale was written for the late seventeenth-century French court of King Louis XIV. This audience, whom the King entertained with extravagant parties, presumably would take from the story the intended meaning.
Upon learning of Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, the wolf rushes to the house, kills the grandmother and then slices the corpse into meat cuts as well as gathering her blood in a bottle. Red Riding Hood arrives soon after with bread and milk. The wolf, disguised as the grandmother, urges the girl to eat the “meat and wine” in the cellar. Though it is only implied, a cat notices and calls out Red Riding Hood for eating her grandmother naming her an insensitive epithet. The wolf then encourages Red Riding Hood to enter the bed with him after throwing her red jacket into the fireplace, insisting she won’t need it anymore. Red Riding Hood complies and is devoured. Where is the woodcutter? He’s not in this story. That is how it ends. Rather horrifying in today’s standards wouldn’t you say?