How often do you settle down with your child and read age-old fables like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, the Pied Piper, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty? Have you ever wondered where these stories originated from? Have you ever thought that maybe these bedtime stories have hidden meanings?
The thing is that most of them do and many of the original fairytales were changed and adapted to make them more suitable for children. A number of the older tales did not have happy endings and the outcomes were rather chilling! Originally the tales were written or told for adult entertainment and over the years, they were changed and made into bedtime reading for kids.
The Case of Little Red Riding Hood
This may be one of the oldest of all tales as it originated from folktales and it was first a spoken story and later written. The first written account of Red Riding Hood dates back to the 1600s but the version that we know of was written by the Brothers Grimm in the 1800s. The Brothers Grimm spent their time listening to the old stories that were told by the elders (most of which were folktales) and they would write these stories by basing the characters and the occurrences in the tale on stories that had been told for generations.
It appears that Little Red Riding Hood’s story has been told for hundreds of years and similar versions of the tale have been told in different countries but these have been given different names. In France, the tale about the girl in a Red Cloak has been told for at least 700 years, while the Italian version of the fairytale is known as -The False Grandmother’. In China, there is a similar story that is entitled -The Grand Aunt Tiger’. In some stories, the wolf is a monster or a werewolf. In one version of the popular tale of Little Red Riding Hood the wolf gives the girl some food to eat and it turns out to be a part of the girl’s grandmother (Thankfully this part has been omitted from our storybooks).
One of the most well-known and memorable parts of the fairytale is when Little Red Riding Hood first encounters the wolf (who is sneakily dressed up in her granny’s bedclothes). In some versions, poor old granny is tied up in a cupboard while in more macabre versions, the wolf has eaten the grandmother.
Red Riding Hood says -Oh Granny, what big eyes you’ve got! and the wolf replies -All the better to see you with, my dear!
Red Riding Hood says -Oh Granny, what big ears you’ve got! and the wolf replies -All the better to hear you with, my dear!
Red Riding Hood says -Oh Granny, what big teeth you’ve got! and the wolf replies -All the better to eat you with, my dear!
This part of the story is the one that is most often quoted and it’s believed that this makes story-telling good, as young children are curious as to know how it ends and if it is in fact the big bad wolf who is posing as poor old granny!
The moral lesson
For children, the moral lesson taught by the Grimm Brother’s version of Red Riding Hood is not to trust strangers. However, since the tale is originally a folktale, it is believed that there are many hidden moral lessons and many of these lessons actually centre on sex. When adults interpret the tale, they think that the wolf is actually a representation of a sexual predator, while others have assumed the big bad wolf to be Red Riding Hood’s lover and that by having premarital sex, Red Riding Hood brought disrepute and shame to her family. In some versions of the story, the sexual innuendo is clear – certainly in the children’s fables, this is not the case.
Others who have analyzed the different versions of the fable, including the version written by the Brothers Grimm have come to the conclusion that the red cap is a symbol for menstruation. This indicates that Red Riding Hood has become a woman and the meaning that’s conveyed is that -men’ will try to trick unsuspecting women into doing things against their will!
Feminist groups are totally against the story (in fact most feminists are against many fairytales). The women or girls in the fairytales, including Little Red Riding Hood are portrayed as being -simple’ and unable to think for themselves and rely on a strong hero (a man) to rescue to them – in the case of Red Riding Hood, a brave woodcutter had to come to the rescue of both terrified women. In the case of Little Red Riding Hood she listens to wolf and does what he tells her to do and goes against her mother’s wishes. In other fairytales, Rapunzel, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are all portrayed as being maidens in distress and are unable to save themselves and are forced to wait for their Princes! Feminists believe that such tales are doing very little to encourage girls to become independent. However, interestingly in the case of the old French and Italian versions of the story, the girl is portrayed as being, strong, independent and wise. She is was able to trick the nasty bad wolf on her own and was able to escape unaided – she did not need the help of a woodcutter or a brave man.
It could be that these folktales were told simply as a form of entertainment and they were not meant to have hidden or disturbing meanings or meant to teach moral lessons. The fact is that fairytales have been and probably always will be an integral and wonderful part of childhood. Are we reading too much into the innocent stories or are we in fact selling the idea to our daughters that she’ll need a man to keep her safe from the -cross-dressing wolves’? Maybe we should share in the innocence of our children and just enjoy the tales for what they are – fairytales!