LifestyleUnmasking Red Riding Hood: How societal evolution reshaped a classic fairy tale

Unmasking Red Riding Hood: How societal evolution reshaped a classic fairy tale

"Little Red Riding Hood" was initially a very dark story.
"Little Red Riding Hood" was initially a very dark story.
Images source: © Freepik

3:02 PM EST, January 5, 2024

Some may claim that the following information might shatter their childhood memories, while proving that relatively few fairy tales culminate in a joyous resolution. "Little Red Riding Hood" is an enduring classic, narrated as a bedtime story across generations. A lesser-known fact is that the content of the fairy tale has altered over time in response to societal evolution and increasing awareness. This timeless narrative about Little Red Riding Hood has its dark facets, and the protagonist is not entirely blameless.

How has the content of "Little Red Riding Hood" evolved over time?

Most of us are familiar with this story where the woodsman miraculously rescues the grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood from the wolf's belly. This is the conclusion confined to our memory, unsuspecting of the fact that it is an embellishment. The history of Little Red Riding Hood stretches back to the 14th century. Originally an oral tradition, it was eventually documented in written form by Charles Perrault in 1697. It embodies elements typical of Enlightenment literature, infused with a moralizing tone. The author intended to caution young maidens against persistent wooers through the protagonist's character.

However, it wasn't until the 19th century that the "Brother's Grimm" transcribed the tale about Little Red Riding Hood, merging two distinct oral versions into a single text. Their adaptation garnered immense popularity and provided a foundation for future reinterpretations throughout the 20th century. Among Polish writers, Jan Brzechwa wrote a less dramatic version than the one penned by the Grimm Brothers. In his rendition of "Little Red Riding Hood", upon the woodsman's request, the wolf regurgitates the protagonist and her grandmother. Subsequently, he's transported to a zoo in Warsaw.

What is the authentic version of "Little Red Riding Hood"?

Contemporary literary scholars invest research in fairy tales, principally focusing on their original versions, which often tend to be unnerving. Themes of violence, murder and sexual exploitation of principal characters are not uncommon. Little Red Riding Hood's story is no exception. The version from the 17th century bears more resemblance to a horror film than the fairy tale imprinted in our childhood memories.

You won't find a hero in this story, such as a woodsman. Instead, terrifying scenes that could make your blood run cold. In the initial segment, the wolf reaches the grandmother's house before Little Red Riding Hood, and instead of eating her, he murders her. He fills bottles with her blood and stuffs the dismembered corpse of the grandmother into a jar. He then dresses in grandma's clothes and lies in wait for the protagonist.

Little Red Riding Hood is not at all a nice and light bedtime story.
Little Red Riding Hood is not at all a nice and light bedtime story.© Pixabay | GDJ

Disguised as the grandmother, the wolf serves Little Red Riding Hood wine, which is, unnervingly, the grandmother's blood, and meat formed from her body parts. The innocent girl relishes the feast , fulfilling her role as a dutiful granddaughter. Following the meal, an erotic scene ensues, with the wolf instructing Little Red Riding Hood to discard her apron as well as the rest of her clothing into the fire. Ultimately, the hapless girl lies next to the wolf naked, only to be devoured by him. This gruesome conclusion sums up the original fairy tale about Little Red Riding Hood, scarcely conducive to sweet dreams.

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