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Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood is a folktale that has changed much in its history. It may be a children's story, but it contains within it themes of sex, violence and even cannibalism.

The origins of the Little Red Riding Hood story can be traced to oral versions originating from various countries and more than likely preceding the 17th century. Several versions exist and some are significantly different from the currently better known version. For example La finta nonna (The False Grandmother), an early Italian version has the young girl using her own cunning to beat the wolf in the end. It has been noted that she does so with no help from any male or older female figure. The later added woodcutter would limit the girl to a relatively passive role. This has led to criticisms that the story was changed to keep women "in their place", needing the help of a physically superior man such as the woodcutter to save them.

In any case the earliest known printed version was known as Le Petit Chaperon Rouge and had its origins in 17th Century French folklore. It was included in the collection Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals. Tales of Mother Goose (Histoires et contes du temps passé, avec des moralités. Contes de ma mere l'Oye - 1697) by Charles Perrault. As the title implies this version is both more sinister and containing a more overt moralistic message than the later ones. The story had as its subject an "attractive, well bred young lady", a village girl of the country being deceived into giving a wolf she encountered the information he needed to successfully find her grandmother's house and eat the old woman while at the same time avoiding being noticed by woodcutters working in the nearby forest. Then he proceeds in laying a trap for the Red Riding Hood. The later ends up eaten by the wolf and there the story ends. The wolf emerges the victor of the encounter and there is no happy ending.

Charles proceeded in explaining the 'moral' at the end so that no doubt is left to his intended meaning of the story : -

From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition - neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!

In the 19th century two separate German versions were retold to Jakob Grimm and his younger brother Wilhelm Grimm, known as the Brothers Grimm. The first by Jeanette Hassenpflug (1791-1860) and the second by Marie Hassenpflug (1788-1856). The brothers turned the first version to the main body of the story and the second into a sequel of it. The story as Rotkäppchen was included in the first edition of their collection Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales - 1812). This version had the girl and her grandmother saved by a huntsman who was after the wolf's skin. The sequel featured the girl and her grandmother traping and killing another wolf, this time anticipating his moves based on their experience with the previous one. The Brothers further revised the story in later editions and it reached its final and better known version in the 1857 edition of their work.

This widely known version is about a girl who travels through the woods to deliver food to her grandmother. The girl is approached by a wolf on the way, who eventually tricks her, and eats her and her grandmother. A woodcutter however comes to the rescue and cuts the wolf open. Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother emerge unharmed. It is notably tamer than the older ones which contained darker themes. Modern scholars and audiences have often dismissed it as a mere watered down version of the older story.

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