Fairy Tale: Little Red Riding Hood

Most people know this story. Or think they know.

Little girl in a red coat goes to visit grandma through the woods. On the way, a wolf shows up and convinces her to wander off the path to pick flowers so that he can get to her grandma’s house first, where he eats grandma and then confronts the little girl. She is suspicious because of his big eyes and teeth, but the wolf eats her, too. A huntsman arrives, killed the wolf, slits its belly and grandma and little girl both pop out. Everyone (but the wolf) lives happily ever after.

In the last hundred years this has been interpreted a hundred different ways: as a cautionary rape tale, a Freudian metaphor, a seasonal metaphor, a metaphor for menstruation, and your basic morality story, to name a few.

BUT, like many fairy tales, Little Red has been changed over the years to make it more palatable. I blame the Victorians, usually, and in this case it was the Grimm Brothers who made the story safer. Yes, the people who brought you the wicked step-sisters sawing off their own heels and toes gave Little Red Riding Hood its happy ending.

The older version of the tale goes like this: Little girl goes to visit grandma through the woods. On the way, a wolf shows up and convinces her to wander off the path to pick flowers so that he can get to her grandma’s house first, where he eats grandma and then confronts the little girl. She is suspicious because of his big eyes and teeth, but the wolf eats her, too. THE END.

Some are deliciously worse: Instead of eating the girl, the wolf eats grandma but leaves her meat out on the table. The little girl arrives and thinks it looks yummy, so she unwittingly cannibalizes her own grandma (yes, this means I get to use our cannibalism tag again!)

Occasionally, the wolf is an ogre or troll, or explicitly a werewolf.

And did I mention that in some of the oral versions, the wolf asks the little girl to take off her clothes and get into bed with him? When she does, he eats her. (Pun no doubt very much intended.) Hey, I never said fairy tales were subtle. Most times, they’re the opposite.

“Hello, Little Girl,” from the original Broadway cast of INTO THE WOODS:

16 thoughts on “Fairy Tale: Little Red Riding Hood

  1. *sigh*

    I hate the fact that I can’t stand Sondheim. It’s a personal failing, I know. But most of his songs just make me want to claw out my eardrums. Ugh. I can’t help it. I like a straightforward melody.

    That said, from this particular musical, I do like “I Know Things Now.” In order to sing it, obviously Red has to escape from the wolf’s belly, so that’s kind of a downer. But the lyrics are so wonderful.

    They were off my path so I never had dared
    I had been so careful I never had cared.
    And he made me feel excited…
    well, excited and scared.

    (the song doesn’t start until 2:22)

  2. LOL – really? Ok. I’ve heard, um, mixed reviews. But I do think the short story it’s based on is pretty nifty.

  3. I won’t hold your anti-Sondheim against you. He’s totally hit or miss for me. I happen to love this particular show. My favorite is Agony and its reprise.

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