Allison's Book Bag

A Cannibalistic and Sexual Fairy Tale

Posted on: November 26, 2014

Another fairy tale which you could probably easily recount right now is that of Little Red Riding Hood. A maiden in the woods, a talking wolf, a grandmother, a huntsman or lumberjack, and maybe a laundress…. Again, thanks to Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, these motifs are pretty well woven into our literary heritage.

The origins of the Little Red Riding Hood story can be traced to various versions from European countries, some which are significantly different from our modern version. Variants also pop up in oral traditions in Asia and Africa. In the 20th century, the popularity of the tale snowballed, with many new versions being written and produced in the wake of Freudian analysis.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyers is a modern version and the second title in The Lunar Chronicles. As a prelude to my review of it, I’m sharing some of the origins of Little Red Riding Hood. Tomorrow, I’ll be back with origins of Rapunzel. Then on Friday, I’ll review the titles based on these two fairy tales. Save the date: November 27-28!


Little_Red_Riding_HoodMany sources contend an 11th-century poem written in Latin by a cleric in Liege (now part of Belgium) is an early ancestor of Little Red Riding Hood. Medievalist explains that between the years 1010 and 1026, Egbert, decided to make a book called The Well-Laden Ship for his students. The resulting poem retells various proverbs, fables and folktales. It was designed to teach grammatical rules and give moral lessons. While many of the stories that Egbert gives in his book are based on the Bible, he also gives several that he first heard from peasants, including one about a girl with a tunic woven from red wool who is attacked by a wolf.

Several other versions exist from various countries. A couple, including the famous “The Wolf and the Kids,” are summarized by Discovery. From ancient European oral traditions comes a story dubbed “The Wolf and the Kids”. In it, a nanny goat goes out in the field but first warns her kids not to open the door. A wolf who overhears her warning impersonates the nanny goat, tricks the kids into letting him inside and eats them. From ancient Asian tradition comes “The Tiger Grandmother”. In it, a group of children unknowingly spend the night in bed with a tiger dressed as their grandmother. After the youngest sibling is eaten, the children get the tiger to let them outside to use the toilet and they escape. Africa also has oral variants.

As you can see, these early variations differ from the currently known version in several ways. A few of these differences are noted by Wikipedia. First, the antagonist is not always a wolf, but is sometimes another kind of predator. In some versions, there is no adult who miraculously shows up to help; instead Red Riding Hood must rely on her own cunning. For example, the wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood after she gets into bed with him, and the story ends there. In others, she sees through his disguise and tries to escape, complaining to her “grandmother” that she needs to use the bathroom. The wolf reluctantly lets her go, tied to a piece of string so she does not get away. However, the girl slips the string over something else and runs off.


One of the earliest known printed versions is known as Le Petit Chaperon Rouge and may have had its origins in 17th-century French folklore. It was included in the collection Histoires et contes du temps passé, avec des moralités in 1697 by Charles Perrault. The redness of the hood, which has been given symbolic significance in many interpretations of the tale, is a detail which has been long-credited to Perrault.


The_Wolf_and_the_Seven_Young_KidsIn the 19th century, two separate German versions were retold to the Brothers Grimm. The brothers turned the first version to the main body of the story and the second into a sequel of it. The story was included in the first edition of their collection Kinderund Hausmärchen in 1812. The earlier parts of the tale agree so closely with Perrault’s variant that it is almost certainly the source of the tale. However, the Brothers Grimm modified the ending; this version had the little girl and her grandmother saved by a huntsman who was after the wolf’s skin; this ending is identical to that in the earlier mentioned ancient tale, The Wolf and the Kids. Undoubtedly, it is thanks to them that Little Red Riding Hood is well-known to Westerners.


The tale of Little Red Riding Hood has inspired countless renditions in print, theatre, music, and art. Over time Little Red Riding Hood has been changed and tweaked by different people and in different countries. What I found of most interest in my research is the reminder of how dark the original versions were. io9 points out that several European versions replace the wolf with an ogre, who imitates Little Red Hat’s grandmother while feeding the maiden her grandmother’s remains. Red mistakes granny’s teeth for rice, flesh for steak, and blood for wine. She’s then gobbled alive after disrobing and jumping into bed with the ogre…. Some of these details do find their way into Scarlet, Marissa Mayer’s version of Little Red Riding Hood.

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