Friday, 12 January 2018

Fairy Tale Friday--How old is the story of Little Red Riding Hood?

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.
Red Riding Hood by Vishnu M Nair
Vishnu M Nair
Today’s question is how old is the story of Little Red Riding Hood? Well, the first version to appear in print was written by French author Charles Perrault who wrote Le Petit Chaperon Rouge in his Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passe (Tales of Past Times) in.1697. Perrault is credited with laying the foundation of a new literary genre (the fairy tale) by retelling folk tales that had previously only existed orally. After Perrault's version was published, the tale rapidly grew in popularity and was anthologized in several English fairy tale collections during the 18th century

Huang Zhing wrote The Tiger Grandmother in China in the late 1600s (oral variants were common also in Japan and Korea). While this tale features a tiger and not a wolf, it is definitively a version of Little Red Riding Hood because in both tales the animal pretends to be grandma, attempts to prey on children and teaches a bit about “stranger danger.”  

The Brothers Grimm wrote Rotkäppchen (Little Red Cap) in Germany and published it in  Kinder und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales) in 1812. The Grimms most certainly based their version on Perrault’s, but changed the ending.

We don’t have enough information to know how old the tale actually is because the earliest versions weren’t written down (obviously), but we do know this:

According to Wikipedia:

The origins of the Little Red Riding Hood story can be traced to versions from various European countries. It was told by French peasants in the 10th century and recorded by the cathedral schoolmaster Egbert of Liege.  In Italy, the Little Red Riding Hood was told by peasants in the fourteenth century, where a number of versions exist, including La Finta Nonna (The False Grandmother), written among others by Italo Calvino in the Italian Folktales collection. (In 1956, Calvino collected 200 traditional Italian folktales from a variety of sources and compiled them into a book In his version it was an ogre and not a wolf, but the story remains the same.)

These early variations of the tale are quite different from the version you are probably familiar with. The antagonist is not always a wolf, but sometimes an ogrevampire, or a 'bzou' (werewolf) or as we see in the Chinese version, a tiger. At the time that these tales were being told, it was the height of the werewolf trials (similar to witch trials) making these tales relevant to the time. They also contain cannibalism (the young girl unwittingly eats the flesh of her dead grandmother and drinks her blood) and there is a sexual element to it as the wolf tells the girl to throw all her clothes on the fire as she won’t be needing them anymore. The earliest versions also tend to contain scatological elements (wee and poo!). These bodily functions help the girl form an escape plan. I like these early versions because Little Red is not the helpless victim that she appears in other more popular version. She is clever and resourceful and escapes. This plucky heroine is more to be found in the Asian versions than in the European ones.

Charles Dickens, the famous English author of such great works as Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist called Little Red Riding Hood his first love. "I should have known perfect bliss," he claimed, "if I had been able to marry her."  I think that speaks volumes about Dickens. 

Well my friends, that is the history of Little Red Riding Hood. Stay tuned next week for our earliest version which dates back to 14th century France and features a bzou (Werewolf.)

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