In almost all the traditional fairy tale tellings our Little Miss Red Riding Hood is the quintessential babe in the woods. Sweet, innocent and naive. She blissfully skips along the forest path, humming a tune and lost in daydream, as she travels towards Grandma’s house. She is not concerned about danger. She is not looking out for wolves. She is happy to be in the forest, the calming, sun-dappled forest.
She is alone on her journey. She is the protagonist of her own story. Is she symbolically moving from childhood to adulthood?
She is cloaked in red. Red is the colour of harlots, femme fatales, scandal and blood. For women, it is blood that heralds our transition from child to adult. It is blood that is noticed, by ourselves and others. It is blood that the wolves scent out. Once we bleed, we are no longer children, no longer sweet and innocent. The naivety, however, may continue for a lifetime.
The wolf is an evil animal. The wolf thinks only of himself. The wolf at the door prophecies poverty, hardship and hunger. The wolf is predator and tempter. He lures her off the path. This is his role. This is his job. One cannot tell Red Riding Hood’s story without mentioning the wolf!
His wolf whistle commands her attention and there she goes, off the straight and narrow path to gather posies. Flighty, fancy, pretty, unnecessary posies. Wouldn’t Grandma love some flowers? Do we not need both bread and roses to survive?
And wasn’t Red out there looking for fun? Why wasn’t she anticipating trouble? She was out there in her paint-the-town red cape, flaunting her charms – a sinful temptress looking for a wolf. Looking for trouble! The wolf made her feel both excited and scared.
Mother said stay on the path and don’t talk to strangers. But mother also raised her to be obedient and polite. Can’t you see the contradiction. The wolf said “Hello, little Girl.” It would have been impolite not to answer back. I’ve spent fifty years unlearning this habit. Sometimes, I want to be impolite. Sometimes, I want to follow my own path. Sometimes, I want to explore my own wild nature.
Sometimes, I want to be like the wolf thinking only of my own pleasure and enjoying my own fun. Sometimes, I want to talk to strangers and sometimes I don’t.
Have you ever noticed that of all the best known traditional fairy tale heroines only Red is unattached – Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, are all only seen as complete once their prince shows up in the picture. Only Red Riding Hood and Gretel (Hansel’s sister who saves him) never grow up and marry. They are proactive in the very earliest tellings of their stories. Gretel saves her brother from the witch and gets them home. Red escapes with no help from any male or older female figure, instead she uses her own cunning to outwit the wolf. She becomes a wolf herself.
It was the Grimm brothers who introduced the idea that Red needed a man/hunter to rescue her and her grandmother. Red could not become the wolf. If she did, her innocence would be lost and society needs Little Red Riding Hood to remain sweet, naive and innocent or all is lost.
Men commit crime, women sin and it is only the innocent who can save us all.
Fairy tales tell the truth side-ways. Childhood is nothing but sweet. Life ends at parenthood. Men are the masters of their own fate and women wait. Old women tempt others with the poison apples that they should be eating themselves for that swift surrender to death that we all deserve for daring to age!
Me, I’m trying to tell my own truth. As I age, every year I know myself better. There was a time I was but a babe in the woods. There was even a time I was the wolf at the door.
Now, I only want the freedom to explore my own voice and live my own life on my own terms. No more babe in the woods. No more wolf at the door. No more maiden, mother, crone. Only me.
This week’s synchronicitic finds:
Red 1 – 2 – 3: In the familiar cautionary tale about the little girl and the big bad wolf, the child wears a red hood. In Katzenbach’s skillful contemporary version, red hair attracts the predator.
Fingersmith (DVD): Please don’t touch me, stifle me, smother me, pretend to love me…