What You Should Know About Red Riding Hood

Why is Red Riding Hood so important?


We recently came across an article in The Star by Lynda Hurst, called “Red Riding Hood’s Not Out of the Woods Yet.” Hurst sheds light on an academic debate about how old the Red Riding Hood story is, and whether the story’s variations in different parts of the world fit into the “fairy tale” category. Both sides of the argument make interesting points, but as Cornelia Hoogland points out, they’re missing what makes Red Riding Hood so significant. Read Hoogland’s response to Hurst’s article below.

(The real question is, where did Catherine Hardwicke get the idea it was 700 years old?)

Canadian heroine makes it out of the woods

Wonderfully provocative article, Lynda. Thanks for both sides of the longevity coin. As a scholar and poet I’d like to look beyond the age of the tale or whether it’s from an oral or literary source. Red Riding Hood is a profoundly important tale whose roots are buried deep within the cultures of people in countries around the world.

To me the question is moot. Whether the tale is 400 years old or 4000, the fact is that it is a very old tale. It has very powerful and dark origins, and resonant symbols such as the colour red, a basket (what does Little Red Riding Hood carry in her basket?) a path, the wolf, the woods, and a young girl alone. We don’t much like our young girls to be alone.

A girl, a wolf, a meeting in the woods – this is the quintessential story frame. Like Goldilocks, Red is alone, but not in a domestic setting, she’s in the woods. Little Red Riding Hood is one of the first stories many people hear, and one they tell their children. This has been going on for hundreds of years. Herein lies the power of the fairy tale – it’s a story that we all more or less know, and 2) we’re still reinterpreting and retelling it in our own ways. Of what other common story can we say this?

Little Red Riding Hood is arguably the world’s most popular, and its most retold, tale. Anne Sexton is perhaps the best-known poet to take up the fairy tale for adults, as is Angela Carter in fiction, but it has also been told following the conventions and codes of western, horror, picture and comic book, and has been adapted to theatre, cartoons, poster, advertisements, musicals, films, animated films, video games, television, and more recently, the Internet, anime, avatar, manga, and digital games. Major bookstores sell more than one hundred different editions, and the tale is told on every continent, in every major language1.

In my book Woods Wolf Girl my goal was to set these Red Riding Hood in the Canadian woods, in BC’s rainforest, where I grew up. Woods Wolf Girl not only leads into the woods, it returns the woods and mountains to the wild. Canada’s wolves are an increasingly unique phenomenon in a world we’ve stripped of wildness. Research for this book took me to Haida Gwaii and to Bella Bella on B.C.’s west coast, as well as to the Rocky Mts. in Banff, Alberta, to study wolves and record their voices. My concerns are ecological.

Embedded within this seemingly simple story are complex human concerns about how people deal with the unknown, how people, especially good girls, grow up, what they need to become mature adults, how girls set out on their own into the big bad world, the relationships within families – in my book, particularly the relationship between mother and daughter.

But perhaps the strongest counter argument to the scholarly debate you describe in your article is that fairy tales – while they are interesting fodder for scholarly text and debate in which I too am involved — are meant to be read in the way that children read. The cover of Woods Wolf Girl by the American artist Kiki Smith captures the spirit of the poems, which are not scholarly or analytical, but, rather, experiential. Children read not from an analytical point of view but from a feeling or experiential point of view. Children feel the fright of meeting the wolf on the path, they feel the scariness of setting out alone, and the pride of responsibility of delivering cake and ale to grandmother. This approach guided my writing of this Canadian telling of a Canadian heroine who goes into the woods but also comes out again.

1 In Catherine Orenstein (Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale. 2002. New York: Basic Books. p.3)

  1. April 23, 2011 at 2:23 am

    This was novel. I wish I could read every post, but i have to go back to work now… But I’ll return.

  2. April 23, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    With all the doggone snow we have gotten recently I am stuck indoors, fortunately there is the internet, thanks for giving me something to do. 🙂

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: