Little Red Riding Hood Stories from Different Cultures

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson takes a broad look at versions of ''Little Red Riding Hood'' across history and cultures. We will learn about ancient Asian, early modern European, and some other contemporary versions of the tale and investigate ways it changes in each telling.

Folktales and Fairy Tales

Little Red Riding Hood the fairy tale, as we know it today, tells a simple story of a little girl who ventures into harm's way and suffers the consequences when she gets eaten by a hungry wolf. Well, you might be interested in learning that the story exists in many, many variations, and it has changed over time, as it has circulated across cultures.

Fairy tales and folktales have a common ancestry. Before the printed word, in a largely illiterate world, people would memorize stories to tell each other. In each telling, the story would change slightly. Storytellers performed folktales orally. A common repertoire of stories circulated among cultures across the world, which is how we have today inherited so many versions of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and much more.

In early modern times, Little Red functioned as a cautionary tale; it warned children, young virginal girls especially, to keep out of the dark, dangerous woods at night. Things changed during the Renaissance when a vogue in literary fairy tales swept Europe. Authors like the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault recorded stories from folk traditions and retold the tales in new contexts. The objective of the literary fairy tales was to entertain and educate.

Little Red and the Wolf
little red

Little Red Riding Hood the cautionary tale then transformed into a morality tale. France's Perrault stated it most overtly: ''Moral: Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf.''

Little Red the Folktale

The oldest surviving versions of what we might recognize today as Little Red include some peculiar details or lack thereof.

In his study of 18th century French cultural history, folklorist Robert Darnton relates an archaic version that is short and simple. On her way to grandmother's house, a little girl meets a bzou (werewolf) at a crossroad. He asks her which trail she is taking, the path of needles or the path of pins? The girl takes the path of pins. The wolf takes the path of needles and gets to grandmother's house first. The wolf slaughters the grandmother, drains her blood, and slices her flesh onto a platter. When the girl arrives, she discovers the wolf disguised as her grandmother. He offers her the meat and 'wine'. The house cat chastises the girl for eating the flesh of her grandmother, but Little Red ignored the admonition. In the folktale tradition, the commentary of animals provides opportunities for the storyteller to interject.

After dinner, the wolf invites the girl to take a nap. She undresses, hops into bed, and the wolf eats her. Some literary historians believe that the pins and needles relate to the labor that young women performed in early modern Europe associated with the production of textiles, clothing, spinning. Versions of Needles and Pins have been found all across Europe.

Even older versions hail from Asia. Japanese, Chinese, and Korean versions of Little Red can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Asian storytellers were weaving yarns about 'The Wolf and the Kids', Tale of the Tiger Grandmother, and The Grandmother's Story some 1000 years before the Brothers Grimm popularized the tale.

Literary Fairy Tales

Other versions, across cultures and forms, folkloric as well as literary, embroider on the tale, adding dialogue and plot elements. Modern versions usually cast the villain as a wolf rather than as a bzou.

France

Charles Perrault was one of the early popularizers of the literary fairy tale trend. He made a legacy for himself out of taking the mystery out of folktale and fairytale interpretation. At the end of each of his tales, he appended a distinct moral.

Perrault published Le Petit Chaperon Rouge in his 1697 collection Histoires ou contes du temps passé (Stories or Fairy Tales from Pasttimes). Perrault dresses little red in a chaperone, a hat fashionable at his time of writing in the late 17th century. The author also alters the tale in other ways, such as transforming the bzou into a common wolf and redacting some of the more grotesque details that would displease his upper class, literate reading audience.

wolf

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