As she explains, "The endeavor of this book is to draw Little Red Riding Hood forth from her literary crypt, to unwrap the protective vellum that mummifies her in the rare book section of the library."
In this survey of literature, Orenstein inspects the derivations of Little Red Riding Hood, who has been depicted as a seductress, a victim, a femme fatale, and a she-wolf in various works. Changes in society have dramatically affected the evolutions of the tale.
The Origins of the Fairy Tales
Fairy tales are fantastical tales, with talking creatures, great heroes, fair maidens, magical and miraculous deeds, and heroic quests. While the tales are often considered part of children's literature, the tales can be horribly grotesque. Although the Grimms' brother popularized fairy tales for children, they also censored many of the tales, removing the explicit or potentially controversial elements from the tales.
According to Orenstein, "The first recorded reference to a fairy tale seems to occur in a letter Madame de Sevigne wrote to her daughter in 1677 describing one of 'the stories they amuse the ladies with at Versailles'." The tales became popular in French salons, entertaining men and women with "utopian musings." Fairy tales were "frequently about marriage, love, education, and the roles of men and women."
D'Aulnoy is given credit for publishing the first fairy tale in 1690, but it wasn't long until Perrault and others carried on the tradition.
An Epic Journey Re-invented
As a standard in children's literature, Little Red Riding Hood is a little girl who makes her epic quest to her grandmother's house to visit her ailing grandmother. Along the way, the girl meets a wolf, who discovers her intent and runs on ahead to Grandmother's house. The wolf then eats Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother and awaits the girls arrival.
The tale has many derivations. And, with the arrival of Little Red Riding Hood, the tale is told in several ways. In Charles Perrault's tale, the wolf (interpreted as a man who seduces women) hides under the covers, and urges the girl to "climb into bed with me." The girl comments on "what big" arms, legs, ears, eyes, and teeth the wolf has, which ends with the wolf saying "The better to eat you!" The wolf then "threw himself upon Little Red Riding Hood and ate her up." In Perrault's fairy tale, published in 1697, no woodsman comes to rescue her; and Little Red Riding Hood does not save herself. It's a morality tale, warning girls and women that "Wolves may lurk in every guise."
"Little Red Cap," by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, is one of the most famous derivations of the Red Riding Hood tale. After the wolf ate Little Red Cap, he fell to sleep and his snoring drew the attention of a hunter. The hunter enters the house, sees the sleeping wolf and says: "So here you are, you old sinner... I've been looking for you for a long time." Then, instead of shooting the wolf, he cuts open the wolf and lets out Little Red Cap and her grandmother. The hunter then puts heavy stones in the wolf's stomach. When the wolf wakes up, he drops dead. The hunter then skins the wolf and goes home. Of course, Little Red Cap has learned her lesson. She will never again stray from the path, or be fooled by a wolf's deception.
Not all of the Little Red Riding Hood versions are as familiar or as tame. In an oral folktale, "The Grandmother's Tale," the wolf arrives at Grandmother's house, kills her, and puts her flesh and blood in the pantry. Upon arrival, the wolf tells the girl to eat the flesh and drink the wine (blood) in the pantry. And, as she eats, the cat says, "She is a slut who eats the flesh and drinks the blood of her granny."
Despite the bloody gore of this tale, the girl manages to escape from the wolf. From there, Orenstein discusses the case of Stubbe Peeter, a man who was accused of taking on the form of a werewolf, as he enticed men, women and children to their deaths. According to Orenstein, "if Stubbe Peeter's trial was sensational, his crime was not unique. Indeed, in certain areas, at this particular moment in history, it seems to have been almost commonplace."