Friday, April 6, 2012

Little Red Riding Hood: A Lesson in Recognizing and Avoiding Temptation

An online article from The Telegraph, February 12, 2012 (http://www.telegraph. reported the top ten fairy tales that parents avoid sharing with their children. Previous posts have considered the tenth most objectionable tale through the fifth. Today’s post is about the fourth, Grimm’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” available for you to read at /short-stories/UBooks /LittRed.shtml.

This tale is about temptation, seduction, and murder, but I assure you that your children will not recognize the sexual suggestions. Just as many of Shakespeare’s most bawdy jokes elude high school students, the sexuality in “Little Red Riding Hood” will go unnoticed by children. First, let me tell the tale.

Little Red Riding Hood, so called because she wears a bright red cloak, embarks on a journey to deliver fresh bread and wine to her ailing grandmother. Red’s mother, as any good mother would, reminds Red to stay on the path and not wander into the dark woods.

As Red walks the 'righteous' path, she meets a wolf that sizes her up as a tasty morsel, ripe for the taking, but when he discovers that she is on her way to her grandmother’s house, he decides that he might enjoy two meals if he is clever. He tempts Red by telling her what lovely flowers and delightful birdsong she will hear if only she will leave the path, and she does, but not until the wolf has learned where the grandmother’s house is and has left Red alone.

Of course, the wolf hurries to Grandmother’s house, pretends to be Red, and devours poor, sick Grandma. When Red remembers her mission and her mother’s words, she returns to the path and rushes to her grandmother’s house, surprised to find the door open wide.

Red enters and remarks upon her grandmother’s big eyes, big hands, and big mouth. The wolf, wearing Granny’s cap and lying in bed under covers, reassures Red, telling her that her big eyes help her see her granddaughter, her big hands are for big hugs, and her big mouth perfect for eating up Red, and he does. Then he falls into a deep sleep, his belly full, his appetites sated.

The woodsman happens by and hears terrible snoring coming from Grandmother’s house in the woods. He enters and finds the wolf. His first reaction is to shoot and kill the wolf, but then he wonders if Grandmother might be inside the wolf’s belly so he cuts open the wolf and saves Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. In an act guaranteed to exact a slow revenge upon the wolf, the woodsman fills the sound-sleeper’s belly with stones. Upon awakening and seeing mortal enemies close by, the wolf tries to flee, but falls dead.

The woodsman takes the wolf’s hide, Granny eats the bread and wine, recovering from her illness with good food, and Red learns a lesson: she vows never to stray from the path again, and she keeps her vow for later, when she again encounters temptation, she stays on the path to her grandmother’s house where, together, they lock the door against a second wolf. But this one persists, climbing on the roof to wait until Red emerges then follow her until he can attack her. Granny knows what is in the mind of the wicked wolf, and she entices him to fall to his death by directing Red to pour sausage water in the trough. The wolf smells the rich, meaty smells, and in tracking the scent, overreaches and falls  from the roof to his death. He drowns in the trough of sausage water.

Finally, Red skips happily home and is never troubled by temptation or wickedness again.

In that red cloak, Red Riding Hood, though little, is a stand-out in a dark forest, and wolves take note, one using his clever wiles to lead Red astray and hurt Red’s grandmother, then Red herself. But wolf gluttony leads to their deaths and the woodsman’s profit. What then are the big ideas in this little classic?

·      Stay on the public path, a path of righteousness and duty.
·      Avoid the dark forest, full of enticing pleasures that endanger life and joy.
·      Do as your mother tells you.
·      Excess appetites, including a wolf's appetite for sausages, will lead to danger and possibly death.
·      Choices and decisions may jeopardize happiness and life itself.
·      Grandma is wiser about the ways of wolves than are little girls.

A child’s world is sometimes a dark forest, full of unknowns and possible dangers, but these are more apparent to the adults who have walked the path ahead of them. Children don’t conceive of monsters in the form of wolves or harms that might come their way. Parents teach children to be wary of danger and strangers, of wolves in plain clothing, wearing the faces of ordinary people. This tale is one way to teach that lesson, but judge wisely, parents. Very young children do not need to know that monsters exist. Tell your children about them when you believe they need to know.

Reading Challenge:


Read two different versions of Red Riding Hood, told from the wolf's point of view: 


The Wolf's Story: What Really Happened to Little Red Riding Hood by Toby Forward and illustrated by Ishar Cohen 


Honestly, Red Riding Hood Was Rotten: The Story of Little Red Riding Hood as Told by the Wolf (The Other Side of the Story) by Trisha Speed Shaskan and illustrated by Gerald Guerlais


As both titles suggest, these books tell the fairy tale from the wolf’s point of view. Using them in conjunction with the original tale is a way of ameliorating the dread and a means to a fair and balanced lesson about events. You may also open a discussion about point of view. You may also ask your child to write another ending for the tale. Doing so gives your child power over the story in the same way that re-imagining a nightmare to end happily can let us drift off to sleep without worrying about things that go bump in the night.


One final reading challenge is to "read" the film Red Riding Hood (2011), starring Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman. It's rated PG-13 so watch it without your little ones and take note of the twists in the tale.

Writing Challenge:

Tell Red’s tale from the mother’s or the grandmother’s point of view.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): Complacent and Complaisant

If Red had not been complaisant or willing to please herself with flowers, she might have escaped harm. If the Wolf had not been complacent or smug and self-satisfied about his conquests, he might have lived.

These words may sound alike, but they are spelled differently and have very different meanings.