Sunday, April 3, 2011

Little Red Riding Hood...

My four favourite words. 
Those of you that have visited Nettle and Brier from the beginning would know how enchanted I am by Little Red Riding Hood, how enamoured I am by this tale and indeed how it has inspired me to create that little Maid over and over with glorious affection. She has been purchased by doll collectors, given to children, bought by adults and even now, the very beginnings of her, are again laid out in my sewing room.
It started when I was very young with this tiny porcelain cake topper (above).  Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.  My mother placed it on one of my cakes when I was a small child, just as she had likely done with my four sisters before me, and that is when the love affair began.
So it was with great excitement that I set off today to see the new film Red Riding Hood by Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight). However the excitement very soon turned to real horror (and occasional laughter) when a few scenes in it was like looking at a B grade Telemovie.
Yes indeed the woman who gave Robert Pattinson to the world has made a seriously bad film!
How can a film with such stunning cinematography and a great cast be so bad you ask?  Was it the clunky script? Was it Gary Oldman reprising certain aspects of Bram Stoker's dracula?  Was it Virginia Madsen's incredibly cosmetically enhanced face? (Oh Virginia what big lips you have!) Or was it Shilo Fernandez's vacuous impersonation of Robert Pattinson acting a Vampire that was the final diminishing factor?
(Incedently Shilo Fernandez was passed over for playing the role of Edward Cullen in Twilight and perhaps this was his way of getting a little bit of Edward screen time;)
Visit Andrew Lee's review over at Cinephilia, his summation is superb.
One positive thing I can say- Amanda Seyfried (Big Love, Chloe) is gorgeous to behold.  Her beauty is as enchanting as a Red Riding Hood should be and her ever lengthening Red woollen cape (handmade by Grandma) makes for beautiful imagery as it trails blood red in the snow. 

 This film makes a big departure from the Red Riding Hood stories that have been handed down in print.   The wolf becomes a Werewolf and it is no longer a cautionary tale about straying from the path, such as in Charles Perrault's and the Grimm Brothers version.  But rather it combines horror mixed with romance and the roles of Mother and Grandmother are lost.  Especially in the case of Julie Christie as Grandmother, her role is laugh out loud ridiculous and Virginia Madsen as Mother has none of the true wisdom and intuition that underpin this beloved fable. However it is important to note that the film does explore some of the motifs from the older folk tradition. One oral telling has the bzou (werewolf) feeding Red Riding Hood a stew made from her own dead Grandmother and this is rather grizzly depicted on screen. She also outwits the bzou as she cunningly does in the folk telling of The Grandmothers Tale, however the film incorporates the Grimm Brothers version, so she does not outwit him alone but has substantial help from the Woodcutter (Shilo Fernandez).
This is my copy of Little Red Riding Hood and Other Stories by Charles Perrault.  These stories were first published in 1697. Incidentally it was he who first introduced the red hood to the tale. 
This is now such an enduring motif- Red could be interpreted as a sexual colour, the colour of harlotry or perhaps it symbolises menstruation and the cusp of childhood and adolescence. The wolf is a motif for a predatory man and in the above printed version of the tale Red Riding Hood is commanded into bed with the wolf.  "Little Red Riding Hood took off her clothes, but when she climbed up on the bed she was astonished to see how her grandmother looked in her nightgown". 
You see how "the better to eat you with" originates from a sexually devouring situation not a culinary one.  
"With these words the wicked Wolf leapt upon Little Red Riding Hood and gobbled her up."
The End.

The denouement of The Brothers Grimm is rather different and much more hopeful. The woodcutter saves both Grandma and Little Red and we are left with the strong moral lesson of not wandering off the path when  our mother forbids it.
(Heaven help we stray from the path!)

In Clever Maids, The Secret History of The Grimm's Fairy Tales Valerie Paradiz offers us a third and somewhat obscure version where Little Red Riding hood returns to Grandmother's house and encounters yet another wolf but she sticks to the path this time and so remains unscathed. You see she has learnt her lesson.

I was once told a fabulous joke about Red Riding Hood wherein she takes out a giant bazooka and has her way with the wolf the way she wants it.  I think a modern retelling of this fable would have more of these elements.  At the very least Little Red should be able to distinguish her own Grandmother from a wolf in the bed?? Or perhaps in her infinite wisdom she imbibes her dear old Gran and goes willingly naked into the bed of the wolf-man through sheer natural curiosity.

Please stay tuned for more Red Riding Hood tales when I unveil a new toy very soon. I would like to delve further into the origins and the oral tradition, which appeal much more to my feminist sensibilities.  I am about to read "From the Beast to the Blonde" by Marina Warner and I'm certain she will give me enough insight for a whole other entry.

For Further Reading:
Little Red Riding Hood (5 Versions including Grimm Brothers and Charles Perrault)
Little Red Riding Hood: Heidi Anne Heiner, Surlalune Fairy
Touch Magic: Jane Yolen, (A short collection of great essays about the importance of Fairy Tales).
Clever Maids, The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales- Valerie Paradis


  1. It's such a shame it's terrible, I was so disappointed!
    This is pretty though:

  2. Wow, she can sing, she can act, she can play guitar and of course she's ridiculously beautiful. The girl's got it all.

  3. She's even got pretty nails .. *stamps foot* I want pretty nails!!

  4. And she is rich, don't forget rich, and well groomed and good looking and talented. Blah, she makes me sick :)