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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?

Brothers Grimm Version

In the 19th century two separate German versions were retold to Jacob Grimm and his younger brother Wilhelm Grimm, known as the Brothers Grimm, the first by Jeanette Hassenpflug (1791–1860) and the second by Marie Hassenpflug (1788–1856). The brothers turned the first version to the main body of the story and the second into a sequel of it. The story as Rotkäppchen was included in the first edition of their collection Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales (1812) - KHM 26). The earlier parts of the tale agree so closely with Perrault's variant that it is almost certainly the source of the tale.

However, they modified the ending; this version had the little girl and her grandmother saved by a huntsman who was after the wolf's skin; this ending is identical to that in the tale "The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids", which appears to be the source. The second part featured the girl and her grandmother trapping and killing another wolf, this time anticipating his moves based on their experience with the previous one. The girl did not leave the path when the wolf spoke to her, her grandmother locked the door to keep it out, and when the wolf lurked, the grandmother had Little Red Riding Hood put a trough under the chimney and fill it with water that sausages had been cooked in; the smell lured the wolf down, and it drowned. The Brothers further revised the story in later editions and it reached the above-mentioned final and better-known version in the 1857 edition of their work. It is notably tamer than the older stories which contained darker themes.

The traditional Brothers Grimm tale of a young girl in a red cape who travels to her grandmother’s house, only to find a wolf masquerading as her dear grandmother who eats them both. Thankfully, a burly huntsman comes along to save the day by cutting open the wolf’s stomach and freeing them both before disposing of the vicious beast.


Both of these versions are really weird with the Charles Perrault version being the weirdest. There is also one really good movie that definitely weird like the stories.

I have seen this movie it is really good.


Hope you enjoyed today's post. This one was a little harder to do because finding the original stories is really hard. I couldn't actually find the links to the stories this time, but you may be able to find them yourselves.


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