Friday, April 5, 2013

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: So you think know the story of Little Red Riding Hood, the girl with the unfortunate name and the inability to tell the difference between her grandmother and a member of a different species? Well, then, try your hand at answering these questions:

-Which character (not including Little Red herself) is the most fashion challenged?

-Who (not including the wolf) is the scariest?

-Who (not including Granny) is the most easily scared?

-Who is the strangest? (Notice we're not "not including" anyone, because they're all a little off.)

-Who (no fair saying "the author") has stuffing for brains?

Vivian Vande Velde has taken eight new looks at one of the world's most beloved (and mixed-up) stories. You may never look at fairy tales in quite the same way again

Type of Adaptation: Retellings

So, as I stated before, I believe, Vivian Vande Velde is a writer after my own heart. I would love to sit in a room with her and talk about fairy tales and how silly some of them are, and if she continues to write short story anthologies on what I like to term the “Then I Found Five Dollars” fairy tales, I will be a very happy lady.

And in this anthology, like in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, she has tackled the issues she (and I) has with Little Red Riding Hood in eight short stories, so let’s just jump right in, yes? Yes.

Red Cloak

In this tale, Little Red’s real name is Meg, and Meg doesn’t like to stand out, which makes it a problem that her mother has suddenly decided to dye her cloak bright red. Meg is horrified, and immediately starts to figure out how she can get away with not wearing it really at all when Mum insists that she trot over to Granny’s to show it off (under the guise, of course, of returning a soup bowl).

Granny lives on the other side of the village, but there’s no way Meg is walking through the town square looking like a strawberry. So she decides to skirt through the woods on the far edge of the town instead, but she keeps almost meeting people, and so strong is her desire to avoid notice that she keeps venturing deeper and deeper into the woods until she is quite lost.

Quite lost, and carrying a soup bowl that still smells of chicken, which soon attracts the attention of a wolf. Like, a wild animal one. Not a talking one. Meg starts running, hoping to find someone who can help her, and she encounters a woodcutter. She tells him she’s lost and needs help finding the village.

But the woodcutter is less than savory, and he smells a chance to make some money, believing that if she has a find red cloak, she must be from a rich family. Thinking fast, Meg throws the soup bowl at the woodcarver and lets out her best wolf howl. The woodcutter thinks she’s crazy — until the wolf comes, following the sound of a challenging howl and the scent of the chicken. The wolf heads straight for the soup bowl – and the woodcutter, who has climbed up a tree.

Meg taunts him by talking about how long the wolf’s claws are, and how big its teeth are, and then she makes in the direction of the town, coming to the conclusion that maybe being noticed isn’t so bad, compared to the alternative.

Red Riding Hood Doll

In this tale, Georgette is a seamstress who works under her mother for rich, snobby folk who don’t appreciate the work she does and constantly complain to get out of paying. Georgette is tired of the life she leads, and what she wants more than anything is a child, though she has no interest in marrying.

And so, when a rich woman complains about the work Georgette has done on a fancy red cloak, despite the fact that it was made to the woman’s exact specifications, Georgette snaps a bit. She takes the offending article and cuts it down, using the material and other supplies from the shop to create a full-sized lifelike little girl doll in a red riding hood. She calls it her daughter, and refers to her mother as “Granny” and refuses to let the doll be sold. Period.

But the girl isn’t real, and Georgette knows it, but she desperately wants it to be, and so, on Midsummer Night, she takes it to a fairy’s hollow in the hopes that magic will help make her a daughter at last. Which it does — kind of. It turns the girl real, but holding all the humanity that the doll itself had. No heart, and a head full of muslin.

Though Georgette tries to school her, the girl goes off with the first swarm of young men who descend, praising the “big strong arms” they have and the “firm lips” they have, leaving Georgette behind to scoff at the trouble children can be, and wondering if she should just go get a cat.

Little Red Riding Hood’s Family

From a silly daughter in our last story to silly parents in this one, here we have Roselle, who is so exasperated by her parents and how they act because it’s so embarrassing. Case in point, the evening we enter the story, when Roselle’s parents are having a water fight in the kitchen and her mother ends up spraining an ankle.

This is a problem because Mother was supposed to visit Granny that night and take supper. Dad could do it, but he’s terrified of his mother-in-law, so Roselle, being the responsible one in the family, volunteers to go, even though the sun is setting and she’s never made the trip after dark.

But, she reasons, she’s a competent and responsible young woman, so she can make the trip without incident. Which she does, though when she gets to Granny’s, she’s concerned at the outset because Granny doesn’t come out to meet her or respond to Roselle’s calls. And Roselle can hear some disturbance coming from the bedroom. So she musters her courage to go and investigate, and what should she find, but a wolf in her grandmother’s clothing, rummaging through the wardrobe!

The wolf is, in fact, her grandmother, because it’s after dark and the moon is out and Granny happens to be a werewolf. She was on her way to go check on Roselle and family because no one had come, but she couldn’t find four matching shoes, and she wasn’t about to leave the house in a state of undress.

Roselle helps Granny find the fourth shoe, and as she’s doing so, a vampire shows up, looking for a meal, but he’s not into werewolves. The fur, you know. But Roselle will be a nice treat – except that she turns him into a frog before he gets a chance to do anything. Because you don’t mess with a witch.

Granny and the Wolf

This story focuses on Granny, whose name is Nelda, and who has spent some time fighting off the advances of an unwanted suitor. On her way home one day, she finds a wolf caught in a hunting trap. She releases the animal, who is relatively tame and well behaved, and leads her back to her home to bandage the wound.

So there she is with a wolf in the house when her twelve-year-old granddaughter stops by, because Nelda is making her a red dress for the festival and she wants to know if it’s ready. Knowing that if Scarlet sees a wolf in the house, she’ll tell her father who will fuss and worry, Nelda hides the wolf in her bedroom.

And then, in a convoluted series of hilarious events, Nelda ends up hiding the wolf from Scarlet, and Scarlet and the wolf from the unwanted suitor, and Scarlet and the wolf and the unwanted suitor from her son, and eventually, Scarlet finds out about the wolf, and the wolf chases the unwanted suitor away for good, and Granny decides to keep the wolf as a pet and guard.

I’m trying to keep the summary on control on this one, but it flows really nicely, and is very funny, hitting all the points of the story as the wolf gets hidden in the wardrobe and in the bed, and Scarlet gets hidden under the table and in the wardrobe, and the way the original story gets woven into the insanity is very smartly done.

Deems the Wood Gatherer is a delightful story about a near-sighted wood collector who inadvertently ends up helping all the villains of the woodland fairy tales (LRRH, Hansel and Gretel, The 3 Pigs, etc) due to his poor eyesight, but as it isn’t exclusively LRRH, I’m going to leave it out of this discussion.

Why Willy and His Brother Won’t Amount to Anything

This is possibly my favorite tale in the entire collection for reasons we’ll get to at the end. In this story, Isobel lives next door to a pretty annoying boy named Willy. Willy has an overactive imagination that often gets him into trouble, and Isobel’s parents constantly say that he will never amount to anything.

Case in point, one day Isobel finds a fox cub, and she’s trying to coax it nearer to her when Willy comes rushing up, chasing away the “wolf” who was about to “attack” her. Isobel tries to argue, but it’s Willy, the color-blind boy who continually insists her green cloak is red, no matter how many times she corrects him, so she gives it up pretty quick as a lost cause, telling him that he’s welcome to stop in for a drink if the work gets too hot just to be polite.

Isobel heads to her house to help her grandmother, who is in the process of sewing draft protectors for the doors in the house. She had the idea to wrap stones in batting and then sew them with fabric to make them look like animals. She’s made a snake and a fish and a caterpillar, but she’s having trouble with the wolf she’s working on now, and asks for Isobel’s opinion.

The trouble, Isobel identifies, is that the arms are too long, and the eyes and ears and teeth are too big. Playfully, Grandma makes the wolf snap at Isobel, saying, “The better to eat you with!,” and that’s when Willy bursts into the room and cuts the “wolf” in two with his knife, crying out that he will protect the two women from the dangerous wild animal!

Despite their protestations, Willy and his little brother march away, confident in the knowledge that they’ve saved lives, and Isobel and Grandma watch them go, shaking heads. “Those Grimm brothers,” Granny says with a sigh, “they’ll never amount to anything.”

Hehehehe, I love it.

The Little Red Headache

Here we take the tale from the perspective of the wolf, and it’s made very clear early on that the wolf doesn’t speak human, and humans don’t speak wolf, and that will make up much of the confusion.

See, the wolf gets woken from slumber by a child stepping on his tail. And as if that wasn’t enough, her screaming when she see him pop up gives him a headache. He tries to reassure her that’s he fine, no harm done, but it comes out as a growl, and she runs away.

But she forgets her basket. And while the food smells delicious, and the wolf is tempted to just eat it, he was brought up better than that, so he takes the basket in his mouth and tries to follow the little girl. However, every time he gets close, she screams some more and runs away.

Determined to do the right thing, he keeps on through the woods until he finds a cottage. He scratches at the door until it opens, then asks if the basket he has belongs to the woman who lives there, and if she wants it because it smells delicious, and someone really should eat it. But this woman, who also doesn’t speak wolf, just starts screaming just like the little girl, and the wolf’s head is really starting to kill him.

The woman runs into another room and jumps in a big box (wardrobe) to hide. The wolf takes that to mean, no, it isn’t her basket, so he goes ahead and eats what’s in it. And that’s when the little girl shows up and starts screaming again, which sets the old lady to screaming, and that’s when the wolf decides he’s had enough and leaves the humans behind, knocking into a woodcutter on his way out.

Little Red Riding Hood’s Little Red Riding Hood

In this story, a fairy godmother is late to a christening because she can’t decide what to wear, and in the end, she ends up throwing a long red cloak over her out of date gown and just getting on to the christening. She arrives late, in a bad mood and distracted, not to mention frustrated by the cloak that has just been a total nuisance.

Long story short, her intention was to gift the child with intelligence. Instead, she ends up gifting the cloak with intelligence, and then giving the cloak to the girl, whose name is Ruby.

So here we have this intelligent and self-aware cloak. It becomes whatever length or shade of red will best suit little Ruby. It can become warmer or lighter, tighter or looser, and it soon becomes apparent that the cloak is a good deal smarter than its owner. But being fabric, it lacks the ability to speak, so no one knows just how intelligent the cloak is.

And Ruby certainly doesn’t appreciate what she has. Ruby is a silly girl and a bit spoiled. She’s also kind of dumb. Because when she has to go off into the woods to visit her grandmother and a talking wolf pops up, she starts talking right back, complaining about her mother and this unfair task, in no way aware of the danger she’s in.

The cloak is aware, though, and she tries to get Ruby to hurry along, but Ruby is having none of it. This continues through the story we know, the cloak taking the place of the audience in many respects, and finally, Ruby gets fed up enough with the cloak that she disowns it, which allows the cloak to finally leave the idiotic, belligerent girl behind to die however she chooses.

The cloak then searches for a new owner, and is passed from person to person for many years until she finally ends up on the back of a young superhero, helping him leap tall buildings in a single bound, but that’s another story entirely.

Thoughts on this anthology?

I adore it. I mean, yeah, some of the stories are not as good as some others, but you get that with any anthology, and the whole idea behind these collections of Vande Velde’s is one that I am completely behind. There were stories in here that were absolutely wonderful, and there weren’t any stories that I hated or felt missed the mark.


Make Little Red less of an idiot? Yes and no. It depended on the story in question, but what I appreciated was that even in the stories where Little Red was still an idiot, there was another character in there somewhere who wasn’t. And if Little Red was an idiot, there was a reason for it, a comment being made by it, and it was acknowledged within the story itself. So, point.

Develop the world? Yes. What I love about this collection is that every story felt very self-defined. The story had a context and the world was deliberately created. If there actually was a talking wolf, we got an explanation as to why. If there was magic, it was consistently present and used in the story. All eight worlds presented here were well drawn and well defined.

Give me a point? Well, yes, obviously. The whole point of this book, like with The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, is to address the issues of the original fairy tale. So the book gets a point overall for that. But also, individually, each of the stories had a point and purpose as well. There were message being put forth, and yeah, some of them were silly, but that’s fine.

All in all, she’s done it again folks, and if you like meta and snark, pick up this book and read it, by all means.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a whole load of fun! I may have to track this one down.