Monday, April 1, 2013

Little Red Riding Hood (According to Cassie)

Little Red Riding Hood (According to Cassie)

So basically, there's this girl, and she's named after a piece of clothing because that makes perfect sense. She lives with her mother on the edge of the woods; if there's a father, we never hear about him.

There's a grandmother, though, and she lives in the middle of the woods, and she's also been feeling a bit under the weather, so Mother asks young Little Red to take a basket of bread and wine into the forest for Granny, to make her feel better. Why we're sending wine and not soup or something isn't made clear, but hey. Alcohol's medicinal, right? Though it should be noted that not everyone includes the wine. Perrault just had them send a cake and some butter because that'll heal a body right up!

Anyway, the mother packs the basket and sends Little Red out into the woods. In some versions, she gives instructions: don't talk to strangers and don't stray from the path; but in Perrault's, the little girl just goes skipping off into the woods with alcohol and sugar for the invalid.

And as she skips along the path into the woods, who should she encounter but a wolf! And not just any sort of wolf -- a talking wolf! Why a little girl has been sent alone into a forest containing a talking wolf is not addressed. Nor is it addressed why an invalided old lady is living alone in a forest containing a talking wolf.

Anyway, Little Red meets this wolf and does not immediately turn and run in the opposite direction. Nor does she express any sort of surprise at the fact that this wolf strikes up a conversation with her, so maybe in this world, talking animals are fairly commonplace.

Or maybe Little Red is just an idiot. I mean, that's certainly not out of the realm of possibility, given what happens next.

Because the wolf starts chatting up Little Red, asking where she's going and what's in her basket and why she's in the woods. And Little Red doesn't say "none of your business" or "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers," or "why do you care?" No, instead she flat out tells him that her grandmother lives alone and is sick, and then, she practically draws him a map with GPS coordinates for how to find said sick old woman who can't possibly defend herself.

Seriously, it's not, "I'm visiting my grandma who lives in the forest." That would be not too smart, but the forest is a big place, and hey, maybe grandma's a lumberjack or something. But, no. No, Little Red tells this wolf exactly where to find her sick grandma, which house in which part of the woods and all. And then, the wolf proposes that they race to grandma's and see who can get there first.

No, none of this strikes Little Red as suspect at all. Which means she's either young enough that she shouldn't be wandering around a forest on her own or dumb enough that she shouldn't be wandering around a forest on her own. Either way, this girl really ought to be supervised, is what I'm saying.

So, Little Red finds nothing creepy or suspicious at all about the wolf’s suggestion, and in fact, seems to entirely forget about it once the wolf follows her incredibly specific directions and heads away. In some versions, he specifically distracts her by suggesting she go further into the woods to gather flowers for her grandmother, but in Perrault's, he doesn't have to! The child wanders away of her own accord,  and honestly, I'm surprised it took this long.

So, yeah, the wolf gets to Granny's way ahead of Little Red, and in a move that provides decent evidence that Little Red's idiocy might just be hereditary, this obviously male wolf tells Granny that he is her granddaughter, and she gives him instructions on how to unlock the door from the outside and invites him right in. Having very easily gained entrance to the house, the wolf eats Granny.

Then he dresses himself in her nightgown and climbs into bed to wait for Little Red. And soon enough, Little Red shows up. She knocks on the door, and when the wolf answers, claiming to be her grandmother, Little Red is slightly alarmed by the sound of his voice, but decides that her grandma must just be hoarse because of her cold, and so she goes right in. This, to me, is slightly excusable.

But what happens next is not. Little Red heads for Granny's room, and sees the wolf in Granny's nightdress. And despite the fact that a) she met this same wolf earlier, b) he told her he was going to be heading to Granny's, c) she's already suspicious because of the unfamiliar voice, and d) it's a freakin' wolf in a nightdress!!!, Little Red does not immediately recognize that it is not her grandmother in the room with her.            

Now, I’m no expert, nor did I grow up in this fantasy land, but it seems to me that if you have difficulty distinguishing between your grandmother and a wolf in a nightdress, then you either need to have your eyes checked, your head examined, or offer some sort of explanation as to why your grandmother is regularly covered in fur.

And what gets me about this is how Little Red knows that something’s wrong . . . she just can’t quite put her finger on what. Is it the fur-covered arms and legs that end in paws and claws? No . . . Is it the pointed, furry ears on top of the head? No. . . Is it the glowing yellow eyes? No . . . Is it the fangs in the snout-like mouth? Oh. Yup. That was it. The teeth. Being eaten now. Shucks. Wish I could have seen that coming.

That’s the end of the story, by the way. Little Red gets eaten, along with Granny, the wolf enjoys a nice full meal and heads off, presumably in search of other idiotic little girls to eat. No huntsman, no rescue, no survival. This is the end of the tale, as far as Perrault is concerned.

Honestly, if it weren’t for Perrault’s heavy-handed moral, I’d really be okay with that. Seriously. Act like an idiot, get eaten by a wolf. Works for me. Unfortunately, though, Perrault’s moral is not ‘Learn to tell the difference between your family members and hungry wild animals, you idiot child.’ No, his moral is this:

“Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say "wolf," but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.”

Thanks, Charlie. Your concern for the well being of children, particularly “attractive, well-bred young ladies,” is really quite sexist and condescending. But what else is new? And point of interest: morals become slightly less effective when they’re longer than the story you were telling in the first place. Also, if you have to explain the metaphor.

And, yeah, I know the story has been continued in many other versions. The wolf curls up to sleep after eating Little Red, and a huntsman, the smartest human in the forest, apparently, passes by and realizes that wolves don’t normally curl up in nightdresses, so he figures out that something strange is afoot. He cuts open the wolf’s stomach (which somehow doesn’t kill said wolf) and out climb Little Red and Granny, somehow not dead despite having been eaten.

Then Granny fills the wolf’s stomach with rocks to kill him in a slow, torturous, agonizing death that I really don’t feel he deserved, skins him once he’s dead, and makes Little Red a cloak from the skin.

Guess she’ll have to have her name legally changed now.

Thoughts on this story?

It should be noted that I am entirely ignoring the incredibly rape-y original oral versions of this story, and focusing on when it got written down for kids.

As you might be able to glean from the heightened levels of snark in this synopsis, this fairy tale kinda rubs me the wrong way, at least with the common ending. I can get behind it as Perrault’s morality tale, even if I think the moral he identified is stupid and sexist. If the purpose of this story is to say, “hey, this is what happens when you’re an unobservant idiot, try thinking before you act next time,” then I’m totally down with it.

The problem is, that’s not what this story is, usually. When you add the huntsman and the rescue and the wolf’s death . . . what are you left with? No one learns anything, no one grows as a character, and there’s no point to this story. It’s Rumpelstiltskin all over again. I disobeyed my mother, I got eaten by a wolf, I was rescued by a huntsman, and then I found five dollars. 

So. What am I looking for in an adaptation?

Make Little Red less of an idiot. Make her innocent and naive and overly trusting, by all means. But make her less of an idiot, and let’s see some growth by the end of the story, hmm?

Develop the world. I want background and exposition and explanation. There are questions we don’t ask in a morality tale, but when it’s novel length, I need answers. Why do the wolves talk? Why is that not cause for concern? Why does the wolf want to eat the humans? Why is the wolf so easily mistaken for Granny? I need this world to be more developed and more defined, offering answers to some of those questions.

Give me a point. For the love of God, give me a point. Just like with Rumpelstiltskin, why are you telling this story? What’s your message? What’s your ending? Why should I care about your story?

The line-up:

Week 1: Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde
Week 2: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Week 3: Scarlet Moon by Debbie Vigue
Week 4: Princess of the Silver Wood by Jessica Day George

Feel free to read along!

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