As with most fairy tales, there are several versions of the story of Little Red Riding-hood. In each of the versions, the premise of the story remains the same: a girl who typically wears a red hooded cape (as in Perrault’s version) or cap (hence Little Red-Cap in the Grimm’s version) encounters a wolf on her way to visit her grandmother, naïvely tells him where she is going, then becomes distracted by picking flowers. This gives the wolf time to go to the grandmother’s house, eat her, and then wait for the girl to arrive and eat her as well. In some versions, the tale ends here, with both the girl and the grandmother devoured, and with no hope of rescue. In the French version known as The Story of Grandmother (by Paul Delarue), the girl escapes the villain by claiming that she needed to defecate so that she could get outside; to keep the girl from running off, the villain tied a thread to her foot, but once she was outside the girl tied the thread to a plum tree and ran home to her mother. Other versions include a woodsman coming to the rescue and cutting the girl and her grandmother free from the wolf’s belly, from which they emerge unharmed. A final variation to the narrative is the tale known as The True History of Little Golden-Hood by Charles Marelles. In this version, the girl dips her head away from the wolf when he tries to eat her, and he instead catches her hood in his mouth. The golden fabric is then revealed to be magical and it burns his mouth. The wolf is then captured and thrown into a well to drown.
As well as changes to the narrative, the character of the villain also has its variations. The Italian version, known as Little Red Hat, replaces the wolf with an ogre who, before eating the girl, tricks her into cannibalising the remains of her grandmother. This same element is included in The Story of Grandmother, where the villainous character is a bzou – a werewolf-like creature who was originally human but devolved into a bestial form due to its perverted desires, and cannot change back until those desires are satisfied. It is possible that this version reflected the Werewolf Trials (similar to witch trials) which occurred in Europe during the sixteenth century, and more specifically the trial of Peter Stumpp who was accused and sentenced of lycanthropy, cannibalising his son, and having an incestuous relationship with his daughter. The sexual overtones of the story were once the more prevalent moral than the typical modern interpretation: ‘do not talk to strangers’. Instead, if a girl was said to have ‘seen the wolf’ it was a reference to her promiscuity and loss of virginity.
The following story of Little Red Riding Hood has been compiled from the aforementioned versions of the tale.
Once upon a time there lived in a certain village a little country girl, the prettiest creature that ever was seen. Her mother was very fond of her, and her grandmother loved her still more. This good woman made for her a little red riding-hood, which became the girl so well that everybody called her Little Red Riding-hood.
One day her mother, having made some custards, said to her, “Go, my dear, and see how your grandmamma does, for I hear she has been very ill; carry her a custard and this little pot of butter.”
Little Red Riding-hood set out immediately to go to her grandmother’s, who lived in another village.
As she was going through the wood, she met Gaffer Wolf, who had a very great mind to eat her up; but her dared note, because of some fagot-makers hard by in the forest. He asked her where she was going. The poor child, who did not know that it was dangerous to stay and hear a wolf talk, said to him, “I am going to see my grandmamma, and carry her a custard and a little pot of butter for my mamma.”
“Does she live far off?” Asked the Wolf.
“Oh, yes,” answered Little Red Riding-hood, “it is beyond that mill you see there, the first house you come to in the village.”
“Well,” said the Wolf, “I’ll go and see her, too. Which path are you taking: the one of needles or the one of pins?”
“The one of needles,” answered Little Red Riding-hood.
“Good! I am taking the one of pins,” replied the Wolf, “and we shall see who will be there first.”
The Wolf began to run as fast as he could, taking the path of pins, and the little girl went by the longest way, amusing herself by gathering nuts, running after butterflies, and making nosegays of such little flowers as she met with. The Wolf was not long before he reached the old woman’s house. He knocked at the door – tap, tap, tap.
“Who’s there?” Called the grandmother.
“Your grandchild, Little Red Riding-hood,” replied the Wolf, imitating her voice, “who has brought a custard and a little pot of butter sent to you by mamma.”
The good grandmother, who was in bed because she was somewhat ill, cried out, “Pull the bobbin, and the latch will go up.”
The Wolf pulled the bobbin, and the door opened. He fell upon the good woman and ate her up in no time, for he had not eaten anything for more than three days. He then shut the door, tied the old woman’s intestine in place of the bobbin string, and placed hr blood, teeth, and jaws in the kitchen cupboard. He then went into the grandmother’s bed, and waited for Little Red Riding-hood, who came sometime afterward and knocked at the door – tap, tap, tap.
“Who’s there?” Called the Wolf.
Little Red Riding-hood, hearing the big voice of the Wold, was at first afraid; but thinking her grandmother had a cold, answered, “It is you grandchild, Little Red Riding-hood, who has brought you a custard and a little pot of butter sent to you by mamma.”
The Wolf cried out to her, softening his voice a little, “Pull the bobbin, and the latch will go up.”
Little Red Riding-hood pulled the bobbin-string, and the door opened. But when she noticed that she was pulling on something soft, she called, out, “Grandmamma, this thing is so soft!”
“Just pull and keep quiet. It is your grandmother’s intestine!” Called the Wolf.
“What did you say?”
“Just pull and keep quiet!”
The Wolf, seeing her come in, said to her, hiding himself under the bedclothes, “Put the custard and the little pot of butter in the cupboard, then come and lie down with me.”
Little Red Riding-hood did as she was bid and put the items in the cupboard. Then she said, “Grandmamma, I am hungry.”
The Wolf replied, “Go to the kitchen cupboard. There is still a little rice there.”
Little Red Riding-hood went to the cupboard and took the teeth out. “Grandmamma, these things are very hard!”
“Eat and keep quiet. They are your grandmother’s teeth!”
“What did you say?”
“Eat and keep quiet!”
A little while later, Little Red Riding-hood said, “Grandmamma, I’m still hungry.”
“Go back to the cupboard,” said the Wolf. “You will find two pieces of chopped meat there.”
Little Red Riding-hood went to the cupboard and took out the jaws. “Grandmamma, this is very red!”
“Eat and keep quiet. They are your grandmother’s jaws!”
“What did you say?”
“Eat and keep quiet!”
A little while later, Little Red Riding-hood said, “Grandmamma, I’m thirsty.”
“Just look in the cupboard,” said the Wolf, “there must be a little wine there.”
Little Red Riding-hood went to the cupboard and took out the blood. “Grandmamma, this wine is very red!”
“Drink and keep quiet. It is your grandmother’s blood!”
“What did you say?”
“Just drink and keep quiet!”
While she was drinking, a little cat that was there said, “For shame! The slut has eaten her grandmother’s flesh, and now she drinks her grandmother’s blood!”
A little while later Little Red Riding-hood said, “Grandmamma, I’m sleepy.”
“Get undressed, my child,” said the Wolf, “and come to bed with me.”
“Where should I put my apron?”
“Throw it into the fire. You won’t need it anymore.”
Little Red Riding-hood undressed herself and for all her clothes – her bodice, her dress, her petticoat, and her shoes and stockings – she asked where she should put them, and the Wolf replied, “Throw them into the fire, my child. You won’t need them anymore.”
Then Little Red Riding-hood went into bed, where she was very surprised to see how her grandmother looked in her night-clothes.
She said to her, “Grandmamma, what great arms you have got!”
“That is the better to hug you, my dear.”
“Grandmamma, what great legs you have got!”
“That is to run better, my child.”
“Grandmamma, what great ears you have got!”
“That is the better to hear, my child.”
“Grandmamma, what great eyes you have got!”
“It is the better to see, my child.”
“Grandmamma, what great teeth you have got!”
“That is to eat you up!”
And, saying these words, this wicked Wolf fell upon Little Red Riding-hood, and ate her all up.
This optional ending appears in versions where the grandmother has not been cannibalised.
When the Wolf had satisfied his appetite, he lay down again in the bed, and began to snore tremendously.
A huntsman came past, and hearing the snoring coming from the cottage, thought, How can an old woman snore like that? I’ll just have a look to see what it is.
He went into the room, looked into the bed, and discovered the Wolf lying there asleep.
“I have found you now, old rascal!” Exclaimed the huntsman, “I have long been looking for you!”
He was just going to take aim with his gun, when he thought to himself, Perhaps the Wolf has only swallowed the old woman, and she may yet be released.
Therefore the huntsman did not shout, but took a knife and began to cut open the sleeping Wolf’s belly. When he had made several cuts, he saw a red hood gleam, and after one or two more cuts out skipped Little Red Riding-hood, who cried, “Oh, how frightened I’ve been; it was so dark in the Wolf’s belly!”
Then out came her grandmamma, who was still alive but scarcely able to breathe.
Little Red Riding-hood made haste and fetched large, heavy stones, with which they filled the Wolf’s belly. When he woke, he wanted to jump up and run away, but the stones were so heavy that he fell on the ground and beat himself to death.
To learn more about the origins of fairy tales, visit the From Rags to Witches: the grim tale of children's stories exhibition in the Weston Gallery, D H Lawrence Pavilion, Lakeside Arts.
Written by Harriet Clark.