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Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood is a folktale that has changed much in its history. It may be a children's story, but it contains within it themes of sexual intercourse, violence and even cannibalism. The tale makes the clearest contrast between the safe world of the village and the dangers of the forest, conventional antitheses that are essentially medieval, though no versions are as old as that.

The origins of the Little Red Riding Hood story can be traced to oral versions from various European countries and more than likely preceding the 17th century, of which several exist, some significantly different from the currently-known version. It was told by the French peasants in 14th century. For example in La finta nonna (The False Grandmother), an early Italian version, the young girl uses her own cunning to beat the wolf in the end. It has been noted that she does so with no help from any male or older female figure. The later added woodcutter would limit the girl to a relatively passive role. This has led to criticisms that the story was changed to keep women "in their place", needing the help of a physically superior man such as the woodcutter to save them.

In any case the earliest known printed version was known as Le Petit Chaperon Rouge and had its origins in 17th century French folklore. It was included in the collection Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals. Tales of Mother Goose (Histoires et contes du temps passé, avec des moralités. Contes de ma mère l'Oye), in 1697, by Charles Perrault. As the title implies, this version is both more sinister and more overtly moralized than the later ones. The story had as its subject an "attractive, well-bred young lady", a village girl of the country being deceived into giving a wolf she encountered the information he needed to successfully find her grandmother's house and eat the old woman while at the same time avoiding being noticed by woodcutters working in the nearby forest. Then he proceeded to lay a trap for the Red Riding Hood. The latter ends up eaten by the wolf and there the story ends. The wolf emerges the victor of the encounter and there is no happy ending.

Charles Perrault explained the 'moral' at the end so that no doubt is left to his intended meaning:

From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition - neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!

In the 19th century two separate German versions were retold to Jakob Grimm and his younger brother Wilhelm Grimm, known as the Brothers Grimm, the first by Jeanette Hassenpflug (1791-1860) and the second by Marie Hassenpflug (1788-1856). The brothers turned the first version to the main body of the story and the second into a sequel of it. The story as Rotkäppchen was included in the first edition of their collection Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales - 1812). This version had the girl and her grandmother saved by a huntsman who was after the wolf's skin. The sequel featured the girl and her grandmother trapping and killing another wolf, this time anticipating his moves based on their experience with the previous one.

The Brothers further revised the story in later editions and it reached its final and better known version in the 1857 edition of their work. This widely known version is about a girl who travels through the woods to deliver food to her grandmother. The girl is approached by a wolf on the way, who eventually tricks her, and eats her and her grandmother. A woodcutter, however, comes to the rescue and cuts the wolf open. Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother emerge unharmed. It is notably tamer than the older ones which contained darker themes. Modern scholars and audiences have often dismissed it as a mere watered-down version of the older story. Bruno Bettelheim, in The Uses of Enchantment, recast the Little Red Reding Hood motif in terms of classic Freudian analysis, perhaps with unintentionally hilarious effect to a post-Freudian reader.

The theme of the ravening wolf and of the creature released unharmed from its belly is reflected in the Russian tale 'Peter and the Wolf,' but its general theme of restoration is at least as old as the Book of Jonah.

Modern Uses

Modern uses have been made of Little Red Riding Hood, generally with a mock-serious reversal of Red Riding Hood's naïveté or some twist of social satire; they range from Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods to cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny in drag. One of the most famous is the short animated cartoon, Red Hot Riding Hood by Tex Avery where the story is recast in an adult oriented urban setting.

More recently, Neil Gaiman worked a darker, more erotic, and supposedly pre-Perrault version (according to Gaiman's fictional character Gilbert/Fiddler's Green) of the Red Riding Hood tale into an issue (entitled "Collectors") of the Sandman series of comics.

Also, the Japanese animated film Jin-Roh, about a secret society within an anti-terrorist unit of a post-war, German-occupied Japan, makes several literary and visual references to the Grimm story (most notably a book purchased by one of the characters and the young female bomb couriers, called "red riding hoods"), but follows the Perrault version of the tale, with an anti-terrorist commando as the wolf (the title is literally "Man-wolf" in Japanese, or, better still, could be translated as "a Wolf as a Man"), and a mysterious woman as the young lady.

The Fighting game Darkstalkers has a twisted take on the story: A girl named B.B.(Baby Bonnie) Hood (called Bulletta in Japan), a young girl who is actually a bounty hunter(and a serial killer of wolves). She carries an Uzi, hides land mines underneath her dress, and her basket conceals a variety of weapons, from knives to a built-in rocket launcher and a flamethrower disgused as a wine bottle.

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