"Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived on the outskirts of the forest. She was lovely and bright, and she wore a red cloak, for that way if she ever went astray she could easily be found…"
-The Book of Lost Things, Chapter IX
"Little Red Riding Hood" is a story of consumption with sexual undertones. The first incarnation of the myth can be found in an eleventh century Latin story, "Fecunda Ratis," which tells of a girl, garbed in red, that was found in a pack of wolves. The first literary adaptation of the Little Red Riding Hood came in 1697, by the Frenchman Charles Perrault. This version strays from later adaptations, as Little Red Riding Hood is consumed and digested by the wolf. Although Little Red Riding Hood meets a grim end in the Perrault version and earlier adaptations, Little Red Riding Hood is portrayed as a plucky, intelligent heroine. Little Red Riding Hood uses her wits to avoid the wolf, and at one point even strips naked to distract him, and goes outside to relieve herself before scampering away. The moral of Perrault's tale is for women and girls to be careful with their chastity, and to be wary of the men (or wolves) who are pursuing it. The real danger to Little Red Riding Hood, and to all girls on the cusp of womanhood, is their sexuality. Perrault's poem at the end of his interpretation leaves little to the imagination:
"From this story one learns that children,
Especially young girls,
Pretty, well bred, and genteel,
Are wrong to listen to just anyone,
And it's not at all strange,
If a wolf ends up eating them.
I say a wolf, but not all wolves,
Are exactly the same.
Some are perfectly charming,
Not loud, brutal, or angry,
But tame, pleasant, and gentle
Following young ladies into their homes, into their chambers,
But watch out if you haven't learned that tame wolves
Are most dangerous of all."
The Brothers Grimm took away much of Little Red Riding Hood's agency in their adaptation of the tale. Little Red Riding Hood is now a shallow girl, who toddles away from the path to chase butterflies or view flowers after being told repeatedly not to. This allows the wolf plenty of time to plot against both Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. The overt eroticism from the earlier versions is also removed in the Grimm's retelling, although it does not take much of a stretch to place the eroticism back into the story.
One of the more modern adaptations of the "Little Red Riding Hood Tale" can be found in Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber. The short story is entitled "The Company of Wolves." Little Red Riding Hood has just begun her woman's cycle. Carter elaborates:
"She stands and moves within the invisible pentacle of her own virginity. She is an unbroken egg, she is a sealed vessel; she has inside her a magic space the entrance to which is shut tight with a plug of membrane, she is a closed system: she does not know how to shiver. She has her knife and she is afraid of nothing."
Little Red Riding Hood goes along the path, and hears the eerie sing-song howl a wolf. Her hand on her knife, Little Red Riding Hood is poised to kill, but in lieu of a wolf, a Huntsman goes stumbling onto the path. A very handsome Huntsman at that. They walk together, and eventually the Huntsman bets Little Red Riding Hood that he will make it to her Grandmother's house first. If the Huntsman does, he asks for a kiss in return. Little Red Riding Hood blushes. She decides to dawdle on the path, so the handsome Huntsman can win their wager.
The Huntsman arrives at Grandmother's House, and imitates Little Red Riding Hood to gain entrance. Yet the Huntsman is not what he seems.
"You can tell them by their eyes, a beast of prey, nocturnal, devastating eyes as red as a wound; you can hurl your Bible at him and your apron after, granny, you thought that was a sure prophylactic against these infernal vermin…now call on Christ and his mother and all the angels in heaven to protect you but it won't do any good."
The last thing the Grandmother sees before she expires is a naked man, with huge genitals and eyes like cinders, approaching her bed. The Wolf, who was previously in his human guise as the Huntsman, devours the Grandmother, dresses himself in her clothes. He crawls in her bed. He waits.
When Little Red Riding Hood enters the cabin, she knows that immediately, something is amiss. Not fooled by the charade of the wolf for a second. Little Red Riding Hood begins to hear wolves howling outside the cabin.
"Now a great howling rose up all around them, near, very near, as close as the kitchen garden, the howling of a multitude of wolves; she knew the worst wolves are hairy on the inside and she shivered, in spite of the scarlet shawl she pulled closely and round herself as if it could protect her although it was as red as the blood she must spill."
Yet it is not the blood of the Wolf/Huntsman that Little Red Riding Hood is talking about. Little Red Riding Hood strips naked, throws her clothing into the fire and approaches the Wolf/Huntsman. When Little Red Riding Hood admires the size of the Wolf/Huntsman's teeth, the wolf, saliva slathering his mouth, utters, "All the better to eat you with." At that remark, Little Red Riding Hood takes control:
"She burst out laughing. She knew she was nobody's meat. She laughed at him full in the face, she ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire, in the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing…Carnivore incarnate, only immaculate flesh will please him."
Blood is spilt, but it is not the blood of Little Red Riding Hood's assailant. The blood is that of her own maidenhead. Carter ends the story with this idyllic sentence:
"See! Sweet and sound she sleeps in granny's bed, between the paws of the tender wolf."
Carter's Little Red Riding Hood is control of her sexuality, and uses her wits and wiles to save her life.
Little Red Riding Hood as a seducer can also be found in John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things. In The Book of Lost Things, this Little Red Riding Hood is beautiful, and clever. In Connolly's interpretation of the myth, Little Red Riding Hood becomes the sexual aggressor, seducing the wolf that does his best to avoid her, turning typical gender roles on their head. The fruit of Little Red Riding Hood's union (and the other women that came willingly to lie with wolves) are the "loups," the evil protagonists that the main character, David, battles against.
Some argue that "Little Red Riding Hood" is a story about obeying your elders and not straying from a pre-ordained path. I believe the more compelling argument is that "Little Red Riding Hood" is about controlling the sexuality of women. Regardless of gender, it would behoove humanity to remember that tame wolves are the most dangerous wolves of all, and that some wolves are hairy on the inside.
Image (Photographed by Chris Anthony) via