Little Red Riding Hood is possibly one of the most recognizable fairy tales in the world, which may seem a little strange considering how gruesome the story is. Depending on your version a grandmother, a wolf, Red Riding Hood, or any combination of all three characters end up dead in the end all because a young girl gets a bit chatty with the wildlife. There have been plenty of interpretations of the tale, from focusing on the morality of keeping on the straight and narrow to some more disturbing interpretations about awaking sexuality (older versions of the story have Red Riding Hood hopping in bed with the wolf after doing a strip tease…all things that you might have trouble explaining to your preschool after reading THAT version to them).
So what’s the deal? Why does a story about a girl talking to a wolf have so many different versions? Why is this theme so universal (there are 58 different versions of the story from around the world, some much older than the Grimm version)? Maybe the appeal is the ultimate truth that people and situations are often not what they appear to be and one needs to be cautious before dealing with (or hopping in bed with) a slick tongued stranger. No matter how hard we try we’re more than likely going to come across a wolf at some point and a bit of discretion should be applied lest we end up as lunch. Perhaps that is the message that humans anywhere can relate to. We’ve sanitized it and made it more palatable to our children in modern times, but the urgency of the warning remains. Be careful who you trust.
For a recent spin on Red Riding Hood and other fairy tales, try Elizabeth Paulson’s Dead Upon a Time, a book that reinserts a bit of the nastiness of the original fairy tales it borrows from.