This story is number 333 in the Aarne-Thompson classification system for folktales.
The story revolves around a girl called Little Red Riding Hood. In the Grimms' and Perrault's versions of the tale, she is named after the red hooded cape/cloak that she wears. The girl walks through the woods to deliver food to her sickly grandmother (wine and cake depending on the translation). In the Grimms' version, she had the order from her mother to stay strictly on the path.
A Big Bad Wolf wants to eat the girl and the food in the basket. He secretly stalks her behind trees, bushes, shrubs, and patches of little and tall grass. He approaches Little Red Riding Hood and she naïvely tells him where she is going. He suggests that the girl pick some flowers; which she does. In the meantime; he goes to the grandmother's house and gains entry by pretending to be the girl. He swallows the grandmother whole (in some stories, he locks her in the closet) and waits for the girl, disguised as the grandma.
When the girl arrives, she notices that her grandmother looks very strange. Little Red then says, "What a deep voice you have!" ("The better to greet you with"), "Goodness, what big eyes you have!" ("The better to see you with"), "What big ears you have!" ("The better to hear you with"), "And what big hands you have!" ("The better to hug/grab you with"), and lastly, "What a big mouth you have" ("The better to eat you with!"), at which point the wolf jumps out of bed, and eats her up too. Then he falls asleep. In Charles Perrault's version of the story (the first version to be published), the tale ends here. However, in later versions the story continues generally as follows:
A Huntsman (in the Brothers Grimm and traditional German versions, but in the French version, a Woodcutter) comes to the rescue and with his axe cuts open the sleeping wolf. Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother emerge unharmed. They then fill the wolf's body with heavy stones. The wolf awakens and tries to flee, but the stones cause him to collapse and die (Sanitized versions of the story have the grandmother shut in the closet instead of eaten, and some have Little Red Riding Hood saved by the Huntsman as the wolf advances on her rather than after she is eaten where the woodcutter kills the wolf with his axe). The tale makes the clearest contrast between the safe world of the village and the dangers of the forest, conventional antitheses that are essentially medieval, though no written versions are as old as that. It also warns about the dangers of not obeying one's mother (at least in the Grimms' version).
Relationship to other talesEdit
The theme of the ravening wolf and of the creature released unharmed from its belly is also reflected in the Russian tale Peter and the Wolf, and the other Grimm tale The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids , but its general theme of restoration is at least as old as Jonah and the Whale. The theme also appears in the story of the life of Saint Margaret, where the saint emerges unharmed from the belly of a dragon.
The dialogue between the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood has its analogies to the Norse Þrymskviða from the Elder Edda; the giant Þrymr had stolen Mjölner, Thor's hammer, and demanded Freyja as his bride for its return. Instead, the gods dressed Thor as a bride and sent him. When the giants note Thor's unladylike eyes, eating, and drinking, Loki explains them as Freyja not having slept, or eaten, or drunk, out of longing for the wedding.
The origins of the Little Red Riding Hood story can be traced to versions from various European countries and more than likely preceding the 17th century, of which several exist, some significantly different from the currently known, Grimms-inspired version. It was told by French peasants in the 10th century. In Italy, the Little Red Riding Hood was told by peasants in fourteenth century, where a number of versions exist, including La finta nonna (The False Grandmother). It has also been called "The Story of Grandmother". It is also possible that this early tale has roots in very similar Oriental tales (e.g. "Grandaunt Tiger").
These early variations of the tale differ from the currently known version in several ways. The antagonist is not always a wolf, but sometimes an ogre or a "bzou" (werewolf), making these tales relevant to the werewolf-trials (similar to witch trials) of the time. The wolf usually leaves the grandmother’s blood and meat for the girl to eat, who then unwittingly cannibalizes her own grandmother. Furthermore, the wolf was also known to ask her to remove her clothing and toss it into the fire. In some versions, the wolf eats the girl after she gets into bed with him, and the story ends there. In others, she sees through his disguise and tries to escape, complaining to her "grandmother" that she needs to defecate and would not wish to do so in the bed. The wolf reluctantly lets her go, tied to a piece of string so she does not get away. However, the girl slips the string over something else and runs off.
In these stories she escapes with no help from any male or older female figure, instead using her own cunning. Sometimes, though more rarely, the red hood is even non-existent.
In other tellings of the story, the wolf chases after Little Red Ridinghood. She escapes with the help of some laundresses, who spread a sheet taut over a river so she may escape. When the wolf follows Red over the bridge of cloth, the sheet is released and the wolf drowns in the river.
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 the 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 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.
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)).
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.
After the GrimmsEdit
Numerous authors have rewritten or adapted this tale.
Andrew Lang included a variant called "The True History of Little Goldenhood" in The Red Fairy Book (1890). He derived it from the works of Charles Marelles, in Contes of Charles Marelles. This version explicitly states that the story had been mistold earlier. The girl is saved, but not by the huntsman; when the wolf tries to eat her, its mouth is burned by the golden hood she wears, which is enchanted.
James N. Barker wrote a variation of Little Red Riding Hood in 1827 as an approximately 1000-word story. It was later reprinted in 1858 in a book of collected stories edited by William E Burton, called the Cyclopedia of Wit and Humor. The reprint also features a wood engraving of a clothed wolf on bended knee holding Little Red Riding Hood's hand.
Besides the overt warning about talking to strangers, there are many interpretations of the classic fairy tale, many of them sexual. Some are listed below.
Folklorists and cultural anthropologists such as P. Saintyves and Edward Burnett Tylor saw "Little Red Riding Hood" in terms of solar myths and other naturally occurring cycles. Her red hood could represent the bright sun which is ultimately swallowed by the terrible night (the wolf), and the variations in which she is cut out of the wolf's belly represent by it the dawn. In this interpretation, there is a connection between the wolf of this tale and Sköll, the wolf in Norse myth that will swallow the personified Sun at Ragnarök, or Fenrir. Alternatively, the tale could be about the season of spring, or the month of May, escaping the winter.
The tale has been interpreted as a puberty rite, stemming from a prehistoric origin (sometimes an origin stemming from a previous matriarchal era). The girl, leaving home, enters a liminal state and by going through the acts of the tale, is transformed into an adult woman by the act of coming out of the wolf's belly.
Bruno Bettelheim, in The Uses of Enchantment, recast the Little Red Riding Hood motif in terms of classic Freudian analysis, that shows how fairy tales educate, support, and liberate the emotions of children. The motif of the huntsman cutting open the wolf, he interpreted as a "rebirth"; the girl who foolishly listened to the wolf has been reborn as a new person.