Today I invite you for a closer look at a very popular country in the Fairy Tale Dimension, the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Its origins can be traced back to the 10th century. In Germany we grow up with Grimm´s version called Rotkäppchen, which means Little Red Cap. I start this article with this version because it includes all of the important aspects of the story. Then I take a short look at a few other fascinating versions before inviting you for our behind the scenes look at this fairy tale land.
Little Red Cap, the Grimm´s version of the fairy tale:
“Once upon a time there was a sweet little girl. Everyone who saw her liked her, but most of all her grandmother, who did not know what to give the child next. Once she gave her a little cap made of red velvet. Because it suited her so well, and she wanted to wear it all the time, she came to be known as Little Red Cap.
One day her mother said to her, “Come Little Red Cap. Here is a piece of cake and a bottle of wine. Take them to your grandmother. She is sick and weak, and they will do her well. Mind your manners and give her my greetings. Behave yourself on the way, and do not leave the path, or you might fall down and break the glass, and then there will be nothing for your grandmother. And when you enter her parlour, don’t forget to say ‘Good morning,’ and don’t peer into all the corners first.”
“I’ll do everything just right,” said Little Red Cap, shaking her mother’s hand.
The grandmother lived out in the woods, half an hour from the village. When Little Red Cap entered the woods a wolf came up to her. She did not know what a wicked animal he was, and was not afraid of him.
“Good day to you, Little Red Cap.”
“Thank you, wolf.”
“Where are you going so early, Little Red Cap?”
“And what are you carrying under your apron?”
“Grandmother is sick and weak, and I am taking her some cake and wine. We baked yesterday, and they should be good for her and give her strength.”
“Little Red Cap, just where does your grandmother live?”
“Her house is good quarter hour from here in the woods, under the three large oak trees. There’s a hedge of hazel bushes there. You must know the place,” said Little Red Cap.
The wolf thought to himself, “Now that sweet young thing is a tasty bite for me. She will taste even better than the old woman. You must be sly, and you can catch them both.”
He walked along a little while with Little Red Cap, then he said, “Little Red Cap, just look at the beautiful flowers that are all around us. Why don’t you go and take a look? And I don’t believe you can hear how beautifully the birds are singing. You are walking along as though you were on your way to school. It is very beautiful in the woods.”
Little Red Cap opened her eyes and when she saw the sunbeams dancing to and fro through the trees and how the ground was covered with beautiful flowers, she thought, “If a take a fresh bouquet to grandmother, she will be very pleased. Anyway, it is still early, and I’ll be home on time.” And she ran off the path into the woods looking for flowers. Each time she picked one she thought that she could see an even more beautiful one a little way off, and she ran after it, going further and further into the woods. But the wolf ran straight to the grandmother’s house and knocked on the door.
“Little Red Cap. I’m bringing you some cake and wine. Open the door.”
“Just press the latch,” called out the grandmother. “I’m too weak to get up.”
The wolf pressed the latch, and the door opened. He stepped inside, went straight to the grandmother’s bed, and ate her up. Then he put on her clothes, put her cap on his head, got into her bed, and pulled the curtains shut.
Little Red Cap had run after the flowers. After she had gathered so many that she could not carry any more, she remembered her grandmother, and then continued on her way to her house. She found, to her surprise, that the door was open. She walked into the parlour, and everything looked so strange that she thought, “Oh, my God, why am I so afraid? I usually like it at grandmother’s.”
She called out, “Good morning!” but received no answer.
Then she went to the bed and pulled back the curtains. Grandmother was lying there with her cap pulled down over her face and looking very strange.
“Oh, grandmother, what big ears you have!”
“All the better to hear you with.”
“Oh, grandmother, what big eyes you have!”
“All the better to see you with.”
“Oh, grandmother, what big hands you have!”
“All the better to grab you with!”
“Oh, grandmother, what a horribly big mouth you have!”
“All the better to eat you with!”
The wolf had scarcely finished speaking when he jumped from the bed with a single leap and ate up poor Little Red Cap. As soon as the wolf had satisfied his desires, he climbed back into bed, fell asleep, and began to snore very loudly.
A huntsman was just passing by. He thought, “The old woman is snoring so loudly. You had better see if something is wrong with her.”
He stepped into the parlour, and when he approached the bed, he saw the wolf lying there. “So here I find you, you old sinner,” he said. “I have been hunting for you a long time.”
He was about to aim his rifle when it occurred to him that the wolf might have eaten the grandmother, and that she still might be rescued. So instead of shooting, he took a pair of scissors and began to cut open the wolf’s belly. After a few cuts he saw the red cap shining through, and after a few more cuts the girl jumped out, crying, “Oh, I was so frightened! It was so dark inside the wolf’s body!”
And then the grandmother came out as well, alive but hardly able to breathe. Then Little Red Cap fetched some large stones. She filled the wolf’s body with them, and when he woke up and tried to run away, the stones were so heavy that he immediately fell down dead.
The three of them were happy. The huntsman skinned the wolf and went home with the pelt. The grandmother ate the cake and drank the wine that Little Red Cap had brought. And Little Red Cap thought, “As long as I live, I will never leave the path and run off into the woods by myself if mother tells me not to.”
Five other versions of this fairy tale
You can read the full versions here.
1. Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault
is probably the first literary version of the fairy tale (1697). Perrault´s story is the same as Grimm´s without the happy ending. There is no huntsman to save the ladies and thus the wolf is the only survivor.
Perrault adds a moral to the story however: “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.“
2. In Little Red Hood (Eastern Germany and Poland)
the wolf leads the girl astray by pointing out beautiful flowers along the way, thus buying himself time to devour the grandmother and getting ready for Little Red Hood. After also devouring her he falls asleep and his loud snoring makes a hunter suspicious. The hunter almost shoots the wolf, before luckily deciding to cut the wolf open and thereby saving grandmother and grandchild. After this they fill the wolf´s belly with stones, who when he wakes up drops dead.
3. Little Red Hat (Italy and Austria)
is a pretty gross and sinister tale. An ogre eats both the grandmother and the girl: He, for example, uses the small intestine of the grandmother as a door opener. Yuck! The ogre is the sole survivor in this story.
4. The grandmother (France)
is another unsavoury tale. The girl, no hood of any colour is mentioned, meets a werewolf on her way to her grandmother. He arrives first, eats the old woman and leaves pieces of the grandma for the hungry girl to eat who does not realize what she is offered. In this tale the girl just manages to escape by herself.
5. The true history of Little Golden-Hood by Charles Marelle
Marelle´s story has a happy ending and a pretty cool grandmother. In this story the girl wears a golden and fire coloured cloak made by her grandma. This cloak turns out to have magic powers. The wolf finds grandma´s house empty because she is at the market selling herbs. He waits for the girl in her bed. When he tries to devour the girl he is burnt badly by the magic cloak. He runs out of the house screaming and right into the sack the old lady, who is just coming back. The grandmother closes the sack and throws it in the well so that the wolf drowns. The next day she feeds his remains to the dogs.
A behind the scenes look at this fairy tale country
The main protagonists of this fairy tale country are: The girl, the grandmother and the villain: A wolf, werewolf or an ogre. In some tales there is a hunter who is the saviour of the women and there is also the invisible mother who seems to be a single parent. In some versions other inhabitants like woodcutters and villagers are mentioned.
There are many more people playing in this fairy tale country than you might think. There are about 150 villages and each village plays different versions of the story. Because the inhabitants sometimes work in groups of twos or threes there are more than 150 Red Riding Hoods, Grandmothers and Wolves. This is making this game of hide and seek much more interesting.
As you know inhabitants of fairy tale countries can change roles and vary their story as they please; and death, of course, is not final in the Fairy Tale Dimension.
Little Red Riding Hoods
In most of the stories I have presented here the girls with the red hood are innocent and, frankly, pretty dumb. They do not blink when meeting a talking wolf and freely tell the villain how to find the grandmother´s house. They are also not suspicious of the unfamiliar form in the bed posing as grandma. Consequently they are rarely able to save themselves.
But in this fairy tale country there are other Little Red Riding Hoods whose stories have not reached us yet. In some the girls have cunning and sinister personalities:
Imagine Little Red Riding Hood as a vampire, for example, sucking her grandmother´s blood and making her sick and weak. The hunter and the wolf search a long time for the culprit and are not suspecting the innocent little girl. One day they stumble upon her in the act and put a wooden stake through her heart.
Or Little Red Riding Hood infects everybody with her vampirism and turns the wolf into a werewolf in the process and the three of them proceed to raid the village together.
The villains in the fairy tale stories known to us die often. They are portrayed as sinister lying animals with ferocious appetites. My behind the scenes look discovers wolves that are partial to eating hunters rather than girls or are simply living a harmless life integrated in their village.
In the 150 villages you can see many more types of wolves. I personally enjoy the dandy wolves most. They love to dress elegantly, have impeccable manners, use knife and fork and would never dream of eating anything raw.
In the majority of the stories above the grandmothers are portrayed as being frail and sick. More interesting to me are the grandmothers who are agile and strong. They don´t let themselves be eaten easily and put up a decent fight. Some of them even know how to wield a sword.
This fairy tale country´s government
The government structure of this fairy tale country is unique. Every four years there is a big tournament where all the villagers meet and new stories are played and exchanged. At the end there is a referendum and the village with the most votes forms the next government. This is why this country has no capital: The leading village changes too often. The last winner hosts the tournament in which the next village is selected.
The village who won has to decide who out of its midst will become king and queen. This could be everybody: A woodcutter and a grandma, two wolves or a bigger group of individuals. If the village does not manage to establish a working government within a few months of the tournament the privilege of government goes to the village who made second place.
Yes, this has happened a few times and sometimes the ring bearer had to be called to bring order to the ensuing chaos.
I have met the current king and queen of this country. The current rulers are a Little Red Riding Hood with the name Sasha and a wolf named Beowulf. The wolf is one of the elegant ones, even sporting a monocle, and Little Red Riding hood is a plump woman who is a witch of great powers and consequently is quite dangerous. I love their great sense of humour.
Like Sasha the magicians in this fairy tale country are integrated in society. They incorporate all kinds of rolls. Part of the fun is that they hide their abilities.
I hope you enjoyed this excursion to a familiar fairy tale story and the behind the scenes look as much as I did. Which of the stories did you grow up with and which do you like best?
- The history and background of Little Red Riding Hood is explained very well in this Wikipedia Article
- A collection of more Little Red Riding Hood versions you can find here
- Mari Ness offers a very thorough analysis of the fairy tale
© Inge Schumacher