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History of Little Red Riding Hood

By maaliwalas01 Oct 14, 2012 3193 Words

There are numerous popular children’s stories that have deep roots in folk traditions. Storytellers have adapted and retold tales, using both words and illustrations, to entertain and educate both children and adults at different times in many cultures. Historians tried to trace the roots of these folk tales but as what they found out that it is almost impossible to trace where this stories originated. One of the most used theory by historians is that folk tales are passed down orally by generation to another generation usually the aim is to teach moral or to scare the little children or for entertainment, merchants who travelled to different places to trade for goods occasionally would sit around the campfire and trade stories just like in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury tales.

The story of Little Red Riding Hood is one that almost everyone is familiar with. It is a childhood story told and retold by parents before bedtime to sleepy children, but the story goes much deeper than just an innocent fairytale. We explore the different versions and adaptations of Little Red Riding Hood and see how the story changes as a result of the advances in morals and social norms. The story of a young protagonist, who encounters malevolent creature, which varies depending from where the story is from, some monstrous creatures commonly depicted was a tiger from the same story in China, ogres in some part of Europe but wolf are the most consistent. These stories can be traces back during Nordic tales that are over 900 years old (Joy, 3) while some was saying that it was originated in China. (Power, 22)

The age of the young girl who encounters a wolf while going to visit her grandmother also varies depending on the version. Storytellers rarely mention the age of the young protagonist in words, but illustrators portray her as being anywhere from about three or four but older oral versions of the story tells that the little red riding hood was somewhat older (Librarian).  The red riding hood is a popular and familiar symbol to much of Europe and North America. In the height of portraiture in the nineteenth century, many young daughters of wealthy families were painted wearing red capes or hoods. Scarlet or red is a sexually vibrant and suggestive colour. At one time, it was not worn by morally upright women thanks to its sinful symbolism. 

Wolf was used in the versions of the brothers Grimm’s Rotkäppchen (Little red cap) and Perrault’s Le petit chaperon rouge (Little red riding hood) and some other versions. The wolf in the story proposed human features which lead Historians to conclude that these wolves were related to werewolves which is said to attack towns and kidnap children at night (Powers, 4). During the sixteenth and seventeenth century depictions of wolves in the stories or paintings was like the devil that always sees mankind as prey and circles the sheepfold of the. The fears expressed in the fables and fairy tales, especially in Europeans countries was probably because of beliefs. A lycanthrope is a person who assumes the human-wolf form. These half-human/half-wolf creatures were seen as manifestations of the Devil. Legend tells us that these dark, evil creatures of the night would come into villages under cover of darkness to feed upon mortals which was commonly connected to stories. The wolf has become a popular image in fairy tales thanks to this tale and The Tale of the Three Little Pigs. The wolf is a common predator in the forest and thus is a natural choice for the story unlike the witch, ogre or troll found in other tales. The wolf is often a metaphor for a sexually predatory man.

The critical theories used in this research are Historicism and Structuralism using Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the folktales. The aim of this research is to find out the social historical influence of The Little Red Riding Hood during its time. Historism’s aims to find out the destructive developments of ideology of capitalism due to this, Marxism is also be found in some part of this paper. Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the folktales uses the 31 function which is based on his study is present in different folktale.

History of Little Red Riding Hood

There are several popular version of this Fairy but I decided to compare three of them, and these versions are: Le petit chaperon rouge by Perrault, Rotkäppchen by Brothers Grimm and version which is said to oral version of little red riding hood

The Grandmother.

There was this woman who had made some bread. She said to her daughter: “Go carry this loaf and a bottle of milk to my granny.” So the little girl departed. At the crossway she met bzou, the werewolf, who said to her: “Where are you going?”

“I’m taking this hot loaf and a bottle of milk to my granny.” “Which path are you taking”, said the werewolf, “the path of needles or the path of pins?” “The path of needles”, the little girl said.

“All right, then I’ll take the path of pins.”
The little girl entertained herself by gathering needles. Meanwhile the wolf arrived at the grandmother’s house, killed her, put some of her meat in the cupboard and a bottle of blood on the shelf. The little girl arrived and knocked at the door. “Push the door”, said the werewolf, “it’s barred by a piece of wet straw.” “Good day, granny. I’ve brought you a hot loaf of bread and a bottle of milk.” “Put it in the cupboard, my child. Take some of the meat which is inside and the bottle of wine on the shelf.” After she had eaten, there was a little cat which said: “Phooey!… A slut is she who eats the flesh and drinks the blood of her granny.” “Undress yourself, my child,” the werewolf said, “and come lie down beside me.” “Where should I put my apron?”

“Throw it into the fire, my child, you won’t be needing it anymore.” And each time she asked where she should put all her other clothes, the bodice, the dress, the petticoat, and the long stockings, the wolf responded: “Throw them into the fire, my child, you won’t be needing them anymore.” When she laid herself down in the bed, the little girl said: “Oh Granny, how hairy you are!”

“The better to keep myself warm, my child!”
“Oh Granny, what big nails you have!”
“The better to scratch me with, my child!”
“Oh Granny, what big shoulders you have!”
“The better to carry the firewood, my child!”
“Oh Granny, what big ears you have!”
“The better to hear you with, my child!”
“Oh Granny, what big nostrils you have!”
“The better to snuff my tobacco with, my child!”
“Oh Granny, what a big mouth you have!”
“The better to eat you with, my child!”
“Oh Granny, I’ve got to go badly. Let me go outside.” “Do it in the bed, my child!”
“Oh no, Granny, I want to go outside.”
“All right, but make it quick.”
The werewolf attached a woolen rope to her foot and let her go outside. When the little girl was outside, she tied the end of the rope to the plum tree in the courtyard. The werewolf became impatient and said: “Are you making a load out there? Are you making a load?” When he realized that nobody was answering him, he jumped out of bed and saw that the little girl had escaped. He followed her but arrived at her house just at the moment she entered.

This is the copy of Delarue’s version, which is said to be the oral version of little red riding hood and Perrault’s source for his Le petit chaperon rouge though it was released many years after Perrault’s version was released. Delarue gathered this version from people from the folk tales that had been past down orally by the people in Germany. It is noticeable the difference between the version we are all aware. This version was said to be the “pure” version of the story, other noticeable details are (1) the story doesn’t mention anything about a red hood or cap. (2) The grandmother was slaughtered and fed to the little girl. Gore, violence and lack of morality were said to be common in folk tales. The common setup for the heroine on this kind of story is that they are pure (Powers, 27). The cannibal figure or metaphor is that which threatens the system and attempts to dissolve whatever borders are constructed. The well-loved and pretty (desirable) Little Red should not count cannibalism among her charms (3) The wolf asked the little girl to throw away her clothes to the fire since she’s not going need it, and idea of rape is highly evidential to this version of the story and the message is sent clearly to the audience. During the old times the people believes that werewolf attacks or cases of children being abducted and killed were rampant in during the seventeenth century in France which could explain the grandmother story was constructed. According to the research of Amanda Power people relate the brutal crimes and animalistic human behaviour into werewolf attacks just like when they blame witches for the plagues and famine

Le petit chaperon rouge by Perrault

Charles Perrault is said to be the first one to write down his own version of little red riding hood and have it published in his book which is titled Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé: Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye or  Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose. Charles Perrault was born in Paris to a wealthy bourgeois family, the seventh child of Pierre Perrault and Paquette Le Clerc. He attended good schools and studied law before embarking on a career in government service, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother Jean. In 1669 Perrault advised Louis XIV to include thirty-nine fountains each representing one of the fables of Aesop in the labyrinth of Versailles in the gardens of Versailles. The work was carried out between 1672 and 1677. In 1695, when he was 67, Perrault lost his post as secretary. He decided to dedicate himself to his children. In 1697 he published Histories ou Contes du Temps passes. Its publication made him suddenly widely-known beyond his own circles and marked the beginnings of a new literary genre, the fairy tale, with many of the most well-known tales, such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. (Wiki)

At the start of Le petit chaperon rouge, he describes little red as a pretty little village girl. The village girl’s grandmother made her a little red hood that suited her so well that’s why she was called little red riding hood. The mother sent little red to her sick grandmother to check on her and bring her cake and a little pot of butter. Little red on his way met a wolf who wants to eat her but he can’t because there is a woodcutter working near the area. The wolf asked little red where is she going, then little red gullibly answers the wolf. The wolf hurried to grandmother’s house then pretends to be her grand-daughter and devours her. When little red reached her grandmother’s house, the wolf then pretends to be grandmother and eats up Little Red Riding Hood. This version of the little red was said to be more of a moral tale, a lesson for little girls to not to talk to strangers. It is said that Perrault’s fairy tales is highly affected by Aristocrat morals. Jack Zipes suggest that Perrault’s version were inspired by stories from her mother’s province. During the reign of king Louis XIV the salons before was a place where intellectual people gather up and talk about politics and other moral things which could suggest the reason why Perrault changed the original content of the story then removed the cannibal and other direct sexual parts in the story.

Rotkäppchen by Brothers Grimm

This version of little red by the Grimm Brothers was one of the most famous versions due to the brothers’ dedication to their work. The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, named their story collection Children's and Household Tales and published the first of its seven editions in Germany in 1812. The table of contents was composed of famous fairy-tale characters like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, the Frog King. Dozens of other characters—a carousel of witches, servant girls, soldiers, stepmothers, dwarfs, giants, wolves, devils—spin through the pages. Drawn mostly from oral narratives, the 210 stories in the Grimms' collection represent an anthology of fairy tales, animal fables, rustic farces, and religious allegories that remains unrivalled to this day. (O’Neil)

As young, workaholic scholars (because they are poor they really need to work for them to be able to support their study), the Brothers Grimm undertook the fairy-tale collection with the goal of saving the endangered oral tradition of Germany. It has been argued that the Grimm’s Little Red Cap has political implications. It is said to contain “socio-political anxieties”. At the time the Grimms were assembling their folklore the French army had invaded Germany. The French troops were referred to as wolves in the descriptions of their attacks (Jäger 97). With the combination of the red hats and the wolf symbol for the French, Little Red Cap at least in the first edition intended for adults was potentially a covert warning of the dangers of the French. However, the red hat in the tale has been associated with several meanings.

In the Grimm’s version the little girl was described as a sweet little maiden, everyone loved her, which explains how she got her name. Grandmother made her a present which was a small red velvet cap and she always wore it. The little girl was task to deliver piece of cake a bottle of wine to her sick Grandmother. Wolf pretends to be Little Red Cap and swallows grandmother up. When she got to her grandmother house she swallowed up by the wolf. Huntsman passed by and is suspicious about old lady’s house she saw the wolf sleeping with bulging stomach and cuts open the wolf to save Little Red Cap and Grandmother – she fills him up with stones to kill him. Grimm's major change in the story is the addition of a male character that comes in, divines the problem, and rescues the two women from the wolf's belly. The Grimms here illustrate a movement from a primarily female identified (oral) story to a tale ending with insertions of male power during in the. The hunter then kills the wolf by stuffing his open cavity with stones which causes him to fall down dead. The hunter gets the wolf pelt for his troubles and the women go home happy. The ideology present in “Little Red Riding Hood” like nearly all other fairytales wherein the women are always damsels in distress while the men are always there to come to their rescue. In this case, the story is resolved by the appearance of the woodcutter who kills the wolf and saves Little Red Riding Hood. A politically correct ending can easily be achieved in another way yet it predictably ended with a man as the hero. Like most fairytales, there is no idea of women empowerment that they can take care of themselves and that they can rely on each other. Jacob and Wilhelm viewed themselves as patriotic folklorists, not as entertainers of children. They began their work at a time when Germany was under the control of France. The new rulers were intent on suppressing local culture.

Little Red Riding Hood as propaganda

There were accounts that the tales have also fallen prey to ideologies and propagandists. Theorists of the Third Reich in Germany turned Little Red Riding Hood into a symbol of the German people, saved from the evil Jewish wolf. At the end of World War II, Allied commanders banned the publication of the Grimm tales in Germany in the belief that they had contributed to Nazi savagery. (O’Neil) Otto von Bismarck the statesman from Germany used fairytales and folk tales like little red riding hood during the great unification of Germany (Wiki) In the Nazi film version of "Little Red Riding Hood", the child wears a swastika-emblazoned cloak as she skips through the woods and is saved from the Big Bad Wolf by a man wearing an SS uniform in a style favoured by the Führer. Snow White's father, a minor character in the Brothers Grimm tale, is portrayed in the Nazi film as the leader of a mighty army advancing on the "eastern" enemy. The film's premier, in October 1939, came one month after Germany launched its attack on Poland. Josef Goebbels, the propaganda genius of the regime, was quick to seize on the potential to promote Hitler to a hero and plant the seeds of racial superiority in the minds of German children, according to a new study "Red Riding Hood in the Third Reich: German fairy tale movies between 1933 and 1945". Fairy tales especially little red riding hood shows significant influence to the development of the history of Germany all thanks to effort made by the Grimm Brothers. Works cited

Amanda Power,"The girl and the big bad wolf: The connection between Werewolves, killers, childs death, and little riding hood in history and story. Department of History Memorial University of Newfoundland,"April 2006. Ashliman, D.L. "Little Red Riding Hood." University of Pittsburgh. Web. Feb.-Mar. 2011. angsty librarian, “Little Red Riding Hood and Social Change”,, April 4th, 2008, Gwen Thurston Joy, "How Old is Little Red Riding Hood: Tale Over Time", 2003. Hall, Allan., "Nazi fairy tales paint Hitler as Little Red Riding Hood's saviour", , Apr 15, 2010. O'Neill, Thomas, "Guardians of the Fairy Tale: The Brothers Grimm",, 1999, Wikipedia contributors. "Charles Perrault",Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.Web, 1 October 2012, Wikipedia contributors. "Grimm's Fairy Tales." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 03 Mar. 2011.ärchen. Wikipedia contributors. "Otto von Bismarck",Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.Web, 10 October 2012, Jäger, Hans-Wolf. “Is Little Red Riding Hood Wearing A Liberty Cap?”. Ed. Alan Dundes. Little Red Riding Hood: A Casebook. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.

Zipes, Jack. “ ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ as Male Creation and Projection”. Pg 121-128. Ed. Alan Dundes. Little Red Riding Hood: A Casebook. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.

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