“There was once a sweet little maid, much beloved by everybody, but most of all by her grandmother, who never knew how to make enough of her. Once she sent her a little riding hood of red velvet, and as it was very becoming to her, and she never wore anything else, people called her Little Red Riding Hood.”
And so begins the infamous tale of a little girl delivering a basket of goodies to her grandmother. The version in my Grimm collection is relatively similar to the version(s) I read as a child, but there are some stark differences.
Content Warning: Animal killing/death
During my Reading Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales project, I’ve foregone a summary for those tales that are more well-known, and I’m going to do so for Little Red Riding Hood, except for the ending. Fortunately I have found the nearly identical version of the story here, so if you would like to read all the details for yourself you can. If you’ve only read a version of this tale where Little Red Riding Hood remarks on “grandma’s” features and then gets swallowed up the wolf, I recommend reading the linked story because much more happens beyond that in the Grimm Brothers’ tale.
The first discrepancy between the story I remember and this Grimm version is what Little Red Riding Hood takes to her grandmother. Bread and cakes are the general goods that come to mind, but in this Grimm version LRRH’s mother tasks her with taking “cakes and a flask of wine…to grandmother; she is weak and ill, and they will do her good.” It makes me wonder who along the line decided wine was not something a child ought to be carrying and swapped it out for something else—was this a change made only to the American versions I read as a child (I wouldn’t be surprised)?
I won’t dwell further on that, because I really want to talk about the second wolf. For those of you like me who only read versions of this tale that contained one wolf (Charles Perrault’s version), surprise!
After the [initial] wolf distracts LRRH (by showing her flowers and telling her to enjoy the wood before going to Grandma’s), rushes to Grandma’s to eat her, and then eats LRRH when she finally arrives, a huntsman comes along. The wolf is sleeping off his big meal and is snoring loudly, which catches the attention of said huntsman, who recognizes the snoring to be excessive for Grandma and goes inside the house to check it out. He finds the wolf and makes “up his mind that the wolf had swallowed the grandmother whole, and that she might yet be saved.” He starts cutting the wolf and both LRRH and her grandmother come out. They then filled the wolf’s body with stones “so that when he waked up, and was going to rush away, the stones were so heavy that he sank down and fell dead” (like the mother goat in Tale #48). You might wonder how the wolf stayed alive while being cut into by the huntsman, but that answer belongs to the magic of the fairy tale.
The tale does not end there, however. A few days later Little Red Riding Hood was again sent to her grandmother’s house, and again a wolf attempted to distract her. This time LRRH stayed on course and told her grandmother about this new wolf, who shows up at the house and hides on the roof “to wait until Little Red Riding Hood should return home in the evening; then he meant to spring down upon her, and devour her in the darkness.” But Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother was smarter than the wolf.
Now there stood before the house a great stone trough, and the grandmother said to the child, “Little Red Riding Hood, I was boiling sausages yesterday, so take the bucket, and carry away the water they were boiled in, and pour it into the trough.”
And Little Red Riding Hood did so until the great trough was quite full. When the smell of the sausages reached the nose of the wolf he snuffed it up, and looked round, and stretched out his neck so far that he lost his balance and began to slip, and he slipped down off the roof straight into the great trough, and was drowned. Then Little Red Riding Hood went cheerfully home, and came to no harm.
So the Grimm version of Little Red Riding Hood ends happily (for everyone but the wolves), whereas other versions (those I’m familiar with) end with LRRH being eaten. Thus the lesson to do as you’re told (go directly to grandma’s) and stay on track or else there will be consequences (death, because the drama) becomes the focus of the tale. In this Grimm version, Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother are saved by luck in the form of a huntsman coming by and slicing open the wolf. LRRH learns her lesson so that during her next trip, she goes straight to grandma’s and they are able to outwit another wolf. Lesson-wise, it’s not as impactful. But I enjoy this version a great deal more.
What do you think?
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- The Phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood
- Evolution of Little Red Riding Hood (and folktale tradition)