Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Werewolves and Little Red Riding Hood

So werewolves are really trendy right now-

Although I have to admit I prefer werewolves that are about to break into 80s choreographed dancing
But as it turns out, werewolves were prevalent in early versions of Little Red Riding Hood. We all remember witch hunts, if not from history class then from Monty Python-

But I had no idea that a similar set of trials happened where men were accused of being werewolves and killing children in werewolf form. These werewolf cases occured more in France than any other country in the Middle Ages. In one case cited by Marianne Rumpf, two men, Pierre Bourgot and Michel Verdun, admitted to having killed children in wolf form in 1521. People in certain parts of France were afraid to go through fields or woods alone because of the possibility of wolf/werewolf attack.

But interestingly, "wherever oral versions of the Little Red Riding Hood tale were found later in the 19th and 20th centuries, they were primarily discovered in those regions where werewolf trials were most common in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries."

The story before Perrault created his classic version of the tale consisted of certain main motifs-the blood and flesh of the grandmother which Little Red is invited to eat, a "familiar animal" that informs the girl of what she is eating, a "ritual undressing" in which she takes off her garments and asks the wolf where she should put them, and a happy ending-usually brought about because the girl cleverly pretends she needs to go outside to relieve herself and then unties herself from the rope the wolf ties around her (some versions of the tale are more blatant, but Jack Zipes uses the more dignified "scatalogical overtone").
Warwick Goble

Also noteable is the lack of the classic red colored hood in previous versions. So much has been read into about the symbolism of the color red in this story, but that element started with Perrault, not ancient myths of sunrise and sunset as scholars used to think, or ideas of female maturation/seduction as more recent people have interpreted.

Over time this fairy tale has become associated with being a warning against men who are predators in the symbolic sense, but it probably initially came out of the more literal fear of wild animals, and the superstitious fears of werewolves.

*Information taken from Jack Zipes' The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood


  1. When I was little I was read some of the earlier versions of the story which were quite scary. It is really interesting to have this background information. I admit that I do love the red cape, but orginally was it not known as Little Red Cap?

  2. Little Red Cap is the Grimms' version-http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/ridinghood/stories/redcap.html