By Charles Perrault
Once upon a time there was a little village girl, the prettiest that had ever been seen. Her mother doted on her, and her grandmother even more. This good woman made her a little red hood which suited her so well that she was called Little Red Riding Hood wherever she went.
One day, after her mother had baked some biscuits, said to Little Red Riding Hood: “Go see how your grandmother is feeling, for I have heard that she is sick. Take her some biscuits and this small pot of butter.” Little Red Riding Hood departed as once to visit her grandmother, who lived in another village. In passing through a wood she met old neighbor wolf, who had a great desire to eat her. But he did not dare because of some woodcutters who were in the forest. He asked her where she was going. The poor child, who did not know that it is dangerous to stop and listen to a wolf, said to him: “I am going to see my grandmother.”
The wolf ran as fast as he could on the path which was shorter, and the little girl took the longer path, and she enjoyed herself by gathering nuts, running after butterflies, and making bouquets of small flowers which she found. It did not take the wolf long to arrive at the grandmother’s house. He knocked: Toc, toc.
“Your granddaughter, Little Red Riding Hood,” said the wolf, disguising his voice, “I’ve brought you some biscuits and a little pot of butter which mother has sent you.”
The good grandmother, who was in bed because she was not feeling well, cried out to him: “Pull the bobbin, and the latch will fall.”
The wolf pulled the bobbin, and the door opened. He threw himself upon the good woman and devoured her quicker than a wink, for it had been more than three days since he had last eaten. After that he closed the door and lay down in grandmother’s bed to wait for Little Red Riding Hood, who after awhile came knocking at the door. Toc, toc.
When she heard the gruff voice of the wolf, Little Red Riding Hood was scared at first, but, believing her grandmother had a cold, she responded: “It’s your granddaughter, Little Red Riding Hood. I’ve brought you some biscuits and a little pot of butter my mother has sent you.”
The wolf softened his voice cried out to her: “Pull the bobbin, and the latch will fall.”
Upon seeing her enter, the wolf hid himself under the bedcovers and said to her: “Put the biscuits and the pot of butter on the bin and come lie down beside me.”
Little Red Riding Hood undressed and went to get into bed, where she was quite astonished to see the way her grandmother was dressed in her nightgown. She said to her: “What big arms you have, grandmother!”
“The better to hug you with, my child.”
“What big legs you have, grandmother!”
“The better to run with, my child.”
“What big ears you have, grandmother!”
“The better to hear you with, my child.”
“What big eyes you have, grandmother!”
“The better to see you with, my child.”
“What big teeth you have, grandmother!”
“The better to eat you.”
And upon saying these words, the wicked wolf threw himself upon Little Red Riding Hood and ate her all up.
But alas for those who do not know that of all the wolves
the docile ones are those who are most dangerous.
Commentary by Emma-Jane Heaton
Charles Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood from his collection of fairy tales called Tales of Mother Goose is a perfect example of the adaptation of the fairy or folk tale to suit the audience of French aristocracy. The fairy tale, from its humble origins is one that is made up of interchangeable elements that can be altered in order to convey a message that is both instructive and in a form that is culturally relevant, and as such was used to support the ‘Modernes’ in the ‘Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes’ as an example of a modern art form because of its obvious positives. It would have been read in French Salons, which allowed for what originated as a children’s story to be enjoyed by adults, both men and women, in a relaxed environment.
We begin with ‘a little village girl’, harking back to the tale’s roots in folklore. She is given the quality of beauty; in fact she is the ‘prettiest’, putting value in the looks of a girl and also paying homage to the use of the most extreme positive value, denoting her equally positive innocence. The mother and grandmother, a ‘good woman’ are introduced and are said to dote on her with gifts like the red hood more appropriate to the upper classes rather than of a village girl. The abstractness of the colour red, intrinsic to the fairy tale, works as a motif for the girl.
The idea that the story has been appropriated for French Salon culture can again be seen when the grandmother is described as living not only in a separate house but in another village, unusual for a poor family who would have had all generations living under one roof, and furthermore in the gifts of biscuits and butter. The grandmother being sick, and the mother’s request for the obedient Little Red Riding Hood to visit her with food, begins the functional plot points that drive Little Red Riding Hood forward.
The next step is meeting ‘old neighbor wolf’ in the continued fairy tale setting of the wood. Her goodness is polarized against his badness, as the wolf is often used as a sign of evil. The fact he is an old neighbor indicates that she knows of him and therefore may even know of his connoted badness. The use of the word ‘desire’ is associated with sexual desire, and the metaphor of eating her associates cannibalism with sex out of marriage. The wolf is stopped, however because of some nearby woodcutters, which represent an image of good men, and the fact that he won’t eat her in front of them shows his cunning and that he may be more civilized, have a sense of propriety which wolves from earlier tales may not have.
The sentences are short and straight to the point, driving the plot ever forward, describing the dialogue between the wolf and girl. The girl is described as a ‘poor child’, evoking pity for the character, then her naivety is shown by her not knowing what is presented as a fact; ‘that it is dangerous to stop and listen to a wolf.’ She inevitably gives up the information he needs before setting off on her long path, listing the ways she engages with nature to once again display her innocence, whilst the wolf takes the short cut.
The use of onomatopoeia with the sound of the ‘toc, toc’ at the door, reminds the reader of the original purpose of the story as one that engages with children and harks back to the aural traditions when. The wolf then begins his pantomime deceptions, first talking like the girl, which fools the grandmother without question as she is in bed, ill, so invites him in. He eats the grandmother at an exaggeratedly fast speed, increasing the excitement and terror for young listeners. The wolf is given an excuse for eating her; that he has not eaten in three days; otherwise he would not have eaten an old woman. He continues his deception by lying in wait for Little Red Riding Hood as her grandmother. Again the door is knocked on and the wolf disguises his voice once again, repeating the same pattern of events so the reader knows what is coming. Little Red Riding Hood here has her chance of evading her fate as his voice is ‘gruff’ which scares her, yet she continues to follow the pattern by telling him what she has brought for her grandmother to which he replies by repeating the grandmother’s last words. This time, however, he does not throw himself on her but hides and seduces her by pretending to be someone she trusts and asking her into bed. Red riding Hood undresses now, making the sexual undertones more clear, but is still not suspicious of anything being wrong, but is ‘astonished.’
The ending of this well-known tale begins with Little Red Riding Hood’s series of exclamations about how big the wolf’s arms, legs, ears, eyes and finally teeth are, to which he gives perfectly innocent excuses for until the last. His last sentence is not finished in the way of the ones preceding it. It is cut short displaying his impatience to throw himself upon the girl and ‘ate her all up.’ He is not caught, nor is Little Red Riding Hood saved in this version, the effect being that the tale keeps a strong message of warning. The moral at the end takes this further by indicating that in reality, the ‘wolf’ may be ‘docile’, which make him all the more dangerous. This brings to the forefront the tale’s task as presenting a pessimistic view of the world in an entertaining form, making it appeal to the young audience and also the audience of the French Salon to whom the lesson is an important one; sex out of marriage for young ladies has devastating consequences.