Friday, 19 January 2018

Fairy Tale Friday--The False Grandmother (14th century France)

Welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. then I'll begin. 


File:John Everett Millais Red Riding Hood.jpg
John Everett Millais

Our first version of Little Red Riding Hood was collected by folklorist Achille Millien in the French province of Nivernais in about 1870. There is evidence that the story was told as far back as the 14th century by French Peasants. This is almost identical to La Finta Nonna that was from Italy except in that version it was an ogre and not a wolf.

The False Grandmother (France)

There was a woman who had made some bread. She said to her daughter, "Go and carry a hot loaf and a bottle of milk to your grandmother."

So the little girl set forth. Where two paths crossed she met the bzou [werewolf], who said to her, "Where are you going?"

"I am carrying a hot loaf and a bottle of milk to my grandmother."

"Which path are you taking? said the bzou. "The one of needles or the one of pins?"

"The one of needles," said the little girl.

"Good! I am taking the one of pins."

The little girl entertained herself by gathering needles.

The bzou arrived at the grandmother's house and killed her. He put some of her flesh in the pantry and a bottle of her blood on the shelf.

The little girl arrived and knocked at the door. "Push on the door," said the bzou. "It is blocked with a pail of water."

"Good day, grandmother. I have brought you a hot loaf and a bottle of milk."

"Put it in the pantry, my child. Take some of the meat that is there, and the bottle of wine that is on the shelf."

While she was eating, a little cat that was there said, "For shame! The slut is eating her grandmother's flesh and drinking her grandmother's blood."

"Get undressed, my child," said the bzou, and come to bed with me."

"Where should I put my apron?"

"Throw it into the fire. You won't need it anymore."

And for all her clothes -- her bodice, her dress, her petticoat, and her shoes and stockings -- she asked where she should put them, and the wolf replied, "Throw them into the fire, my child. You won't need them anymore."

When she had gone to bed the little girl said, "Oh, grandmother, how hairy you are!"

"The better to keep myself warm, my child."

"Oh, grandmother, what long nails you have!"

"The better to scratch myself with, my child!"

"Oh, grandmother, what big shoulders you have!"

"The better to carry firewood with, my child!"

"Oh, grandmother, what big ears you have!"

"The better to hear with, my child!"

"Oh, grandmother, what a big nose you have!"

"To better take my tobacco with, my child!"

"Oh, grandmother, what a big mouth you have!"

"The better to eat you with, my child!"

"Oh, grandmother, I have to relieve myself!"

"Do it in the bed, my child!"

"Oh no, grandmother, I really have to do it outside."

"All right, but don't take too long."

The bzou tied a woollen thread to her foot and let her go. As soon as the little girl was outside she tied the end of the thread to a plum tree in the yard.

The bzou grew impatient and said, "Are you watering the grass or feeding the trees*?”

Not hearing anyone reply, he jumped out of bed and hurried after the little girl, who had escaped. He followed her, but he arrived at her home just as she went inside.

*Other translations of this version use the phrase Are you making a load? or Are you laying cables? But I prefer the image of Are you watering the grass or feeding the trees?

  I also always laugh every time the cat calls her a slut. Always.

As a child I was always fascinated by versions which used the question “Which path are you taking? The path of needles or the path of pins?”  It made me feel all shivery. I always wondered at the meaning. According to folklore database Surlalune:

The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales says merely: "The wolf asks her if she is taking the path of pins or needles. She indicates that she is on her way to becoming a seamstress by taking the path of needles."


Belladonna Publishing has this to say: 

It sounds equally bad, but the needles might in fact refer to a rural custom of sending every girl by the age of fifteen to spend a year with a local seamstress. The purpose of this year was not only to learn how to sew, but also to learn how to “keep herself”. When the year ended she was considered a maiden, ready to receive suitors. The custom was referred to as “gathering pins”. The needle in itself is also an erotic symbol, and prostitutes of the time pinned them to their sleeves to advertise their trade. Choosing the road of needles, as our heroine eventually does, could therefore signify her choice to embark on the path to womanhood. Even her eating her grandmother’s flesh could be a rite of passage of sorts: The old woman dies as her daughter’s daughter becomes a maiden – and the girl consumes her wisdom and life. The young woman then sheds her girl’s clothes and enters the bed with the wolf to be deflowered/consumed.

Perhaps “Little Red” is not so little after all. Perhaps she is on the cusp of becoming a woman rather than a child as she is often depicted in illustrations. This theory of Little Red Riding Hood as a woman who needs to not be deflowered/consumes by wolves will play out heavily in next week’s version.

Stay tuned next week for the Charles Perrault version of Le Petit Chaperon Rouge. 

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