On Little Red Riding Hood

The story seems so simple, yet, of course, it is so complex. We read it to children, this horrifying story of violence and death. A wolf is loose, a wolf who can talk, and he is interested in eating Little Red. An odd name, that one, Little Red Riding Hood. Today, it’s just a red hoodie. The young girl does not have a name, not a real name anyway, and she lives in a rural area of farms and trees and isolated country cottages. She is carrying a basket of goodies to her grandmother, but of course her grandmother lives in a cottage in the woods, and by this we understand such things as fear, loneliness, and danger. After all, it is off the beaten path in the woods, and who knows what you might run into out there. Little Red is, of course, just a metaphoric player in this family drama about coming of age, sex, and awakenings. There is no talking wolf, but the wolf does eat grandmother, a tradition that doesn’t seem to alarm listeners, but it does scare me, being at times rather wolf-like myself. The most frightening part of the story is the conversation between Little Red and the wolf who has now put on the grandmother’s nightdress and hopped into bed. I imagine there are still little drops of blood on his whiskers, but let’s skip that ugly detail. “My, grandmother, what big teeth you have.” ” My grandmother what hairy hands you have, and you also need a manicure.” “My, grandmother, what big ears you have and they are pointy and hairy as well!” Why Little Red cannot see the wolf in grandmother’s clothing is a little beyond me unless Little Red is a little simple in her ways. The wolf attacks her, of course, and she runs, seeking the help of another wolf, the axe man/lumberjack who happens to be near grandmother’s cottage. Using his ever present phallic ax he proceeds to disembowel the wolf, saving Little Red and the grandmother from certain death. The goodies probably go to the trusty young handsome woodsman, and everybody is happy–the wolf has been defeated. Life seems to be all about defeating the wolf, who represents all sorts of unmentionable things that we really want to ignore in life–sex, violence, adulthood, coming-of-age. We would all like Little Red to remain a child forever, caught in a strange vortex or stasis where she is forever ten years old, innocent, unknowing, pristine, unmarked, virginal. The father of Little Red is strangely absent from the story, leaving things unsettled and the entire story is disquieting and problematic. The wolf, who is not a wolf, is only a person dressed in wolf’s skins. That is all the wolf has ever been–a person. How else could it talk? There are unanswered questions about the violence that Little Red witnesses, the fear she experiences at the hands of the wolf, and that strange red cloak that defines her very identity. Yet she is condemned to stay ten forever, never arriving at womanhood, forever trudging through the woods to her grandmother’s cottage. I hope there is snow in the version you have read because that will make her red cloak that much redder. She epitomizes womanhood and femaleness as a paradigm of innocence pursued by evil, a relentless evil that takes the form of a wolf, a violent carnivorous animal bent on destroying her. I have never completely understood the story, and perhaps I never will.