May 24, 2019

The Story of Storytelling

“The story begins, as so many do, with a journey. In this case, it’s a seemingly simple one: a young girl, cloaked in red, must carry a basket of food through the woods to her bedridden grandmother. Along the way, she meets a duplicitous wolf who persuades her to dawdle: Notice the robins, he says; Laze in the sun, breathe in the hyacinth and bluebells; Wouldn’t your grandmother like a fresh bouquet? Meanwhile, he hastens to her grandmother’s cottage, where he swallows the old woman whole, slips into her bed, and waits for his final course.

“Little Red Riding Hood”—with its striding plot, its memorable characters, and its rich symbolism—has inspired ceaseless adaptations. Since the seventeenth century, writers have expanded, revised, and modernized the beloved fairy tale thousands of times. Literary scholars, anthropologists, and folklorists have devoted reams of text to analyzing the long-lived story, interpreting it as an allegory of puberty and sexual awakening, a parable about spiritual rebirth, a metaphor for nature’s cycles (night swallowing day, day bursting forth again), and a cautionary tale about kidnapping, pedophilia, and rape. Artists have retold the story in just about every medium: television, film, theater, pop music, graphic novels, video games. Anne Sexton wrote a poem about “a shy budkin / in a red red hood” and a huntsman who rescues her with “a kind of caesarian section.” In Roald Dahl’s version, she “whips a pistol from her knickers,” shoots the wolf in the head, and wears his fur as a coat. The 1996 movie Freeway recasts the wolf as a serial killer and Little Red Riding Hood as a teenage runaway. Liza Minnelli starred in a Christmas special modeled on the fable. Both Walt Disney and Tex Avery—­the cartoonist and director who helped popularize Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd—made animated versions with decidedly different themes.”

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