Saturday, April 17, 2010

Little Red Riding Hood as Sun Myth

Kenneth Whitley poster

Little Red Riding Hood tends to be over-analyzed, in my opinion. Every branch of folkloric thought believes it has the correct symbolic meaning. Any psychoanalist will tell you the red cloak is OBVIOUSLY blood from menstration and the wolf is OBVIOUSLY a sexual predator. Henry Bett, on the other hand, claims with certainty that Little Red is a myth of sunset and sunrise. Generally sun myths can be applied to anything because anything good is the sun, anything bad is the night. The ultimate triumph of good over evil is the dawn triumphing over night. Congratulations, you have an interpretation for 99% of human stories.

Image by Paul Woodroffe

Yet, after a conclusion that might seem oversimplified, Bett goes on to cite many myths and legends from around the world that are directly related to the moon and sun and have parallels to Little Red-either connecting the color red/red coverings with the sun, or wolves with the night. Even one Melanesian myth where the hero takes a piece of red obsidian and cuts Dawn out of the belly of night. Personally, I can see a red hood as the rising sun more easily than menstration. This would all make a lot more sense if the red cap/hood wasn't added till Perrault's version. But anyone who claims any myth or tale has one specific origin or meaning is making one heck of a claim. Betts himself admits earlier, when critiquing those who interpreted everything as a sun myth, that "It seems to be the fate of every theory in folk-lore to be made ridiculous by being pressed too far." Modern interpretations don't really pay any attention to this sun myth idea and attribute everything to sexual meaning.

Image by Annie Rodriguez

Yet the complex influences of culture and history that created the fairy tales we know today are all fascinating to contemplate. It's true that Little Red has a hold on the imagination-it's one of the few tales that every child knows yet has not been marketed by Disney, with Hansel and Gretel also up there holding it on their own. Folklorists love to quote Dickens when he, reminiscing on his childhood, recalled how he believed that if he should have been married to Little Red Riding Hood, he should have known perfect bliss.

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