Monday, December 9, 2019

Werewolf Week: Little Red Riding Hood Is Top Dog

Most of us know the version of Little Red Riding Hood in which Little Red and Grandma are saved from the wolf's belly by a passing hunter. An earlier version by Perrault ends with Little Red being gobbled up, no rescue. But before all of that was a tale called The Grandmother.

From the University of Pittsburgh's website:
There was a woman who had made some bread. She said to her daughter, "Go and carry a hot loaf and a bottle of milk to your grandmother."
So the little girl set forth. Where two paths crossed she met the bzou [werewolf], who said to her, "Where are you going?"
"I am carrying a hot loaf and a bottle of milk to my grandmother."
"Which path are you taking? said the bzou. "The one of needles or the one of pins?"
"The one of needles," said the little girl.
"Good! I am taking the one of pins."
The little girl entertained herself by gathering needles.
The bzou arrived at the grandmother's house and killed her. He put some of her flesh in the pantry and a bottle of her blood on the shelf.
The little girl arrived and knocked at the door. "Push on the door," said the bzou. "It is blocked with a pail of water."
"Good day, grandmother. I have brought you a hot loaf and a bottle of milk."
"Put it in the pantry, my child. Take some of the meat that is there, and the bottle of wine that is on the shelf."
While she was eating, a little cat that was there said, "For shame! The slut is eating her grandmother's flesh and drinking her grandmother's blood."
"Get undressed, my child," said the bzou, and come to bed with me."
"Where should I put my apron?"
"Throw it into the fire. You won't need it anymore."
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."
When she had gone to bed the little girl said, "Oh, grandmother, how hairy you are!"
"The better to keep myself warm, my child."
"Oh, grandmother, what long nails you have!"
"The better to scratch myself with, my child!"
"Oh, grandmother, what big shoulders you have!"
"The better to carry firewood with, my child!"
"Oh, grandmother, what big ears you have!"
"The better to hear with, my child!"
"Oh, grandmother, what a big nose you have!"
"To better take my tobacco with, my child!"
"Oh, grandmother, what a big mouth you have!"
"The better to eat you with, my child!"
"Oh, grandmother, I have to do it outside!"
"Do it in the bed, my child!"
"Oh no, grandmother, I really have to do it outside."
"All right, but don't take too long."
The bzou tied a woolen thread to her foot and let her go. As soon as the little girl was outside she tied the end of the thread to a plum tree in the yard.
The bzou grew impatient and said, "Are you doing a load? Are you doing a load?"
Not hearing anyone reply, he jumped out of bed and hurried after the little girl, who had escaped. He followed her, but he arrived at her home just as she went inside.
Okay, so I do crack up at the fact that Little Red escaped by telling the wolf she had to relieve herself. But I love that she saves herself. There are many versions where she does this, but The Grandmother is the one most pertinent to the rest of the post.
In 1979, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter was published. The Bloody Chamber is a collection of short stories that are Carter's interpretations of fairy tales. The Company of Wolves is her interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood, which closely resembles The Grandmother. You can read The Company of Wolves here. It is a quick read and will help to make sense of the following criticism.
I wrote en essay recently that talks about the way Carter critically revises the tale of Little Red Riding Hood and would like to share it with all of you. As a word of warning or a way to lure you in, this paper has a feminist slant.

Control and Independence in Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves”

In "The Company of Wolves," Angela Carter turns Little Red's role as a victimized girl to that of a sexually aggressive young woman who uses dominance to break away from oppressive tradition. Carter's version most resembles the French tale “The Grandmother” in which Little Red meets a werewolf who kills her grandmother and serves her to Little Red for dinner. After burning her clothing at the werewolf-as-grandmother's command and climbing into bed with him, Little Red escapes by feigning that she has to relieve herself outside.

It is in Little Red's reaction to the wolf that Carter's tale differs dramatically. While Little Red does burn her clothing, she acts without fear as “...she stood up on tiptoe and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt...What big teeth you have!...All the better to eat you with. The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat. She laughed at him full in the face, she ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire…” (Carter 118).

Little Red is no longer the victim but the aggressor since she is the first to make physical contact when she unbuttons the werewolf's shirt. She is now the one in control and shows this by laughing at what is usually the most fearsome line in the story. Since Little Red bursts out with laughter, it can be inferred that she is baring her teeth, which is another form of aggressive behavior.

Little Red's confidence that "she was nobody's meat" (Carter 118) begs the question of how she can be so confident in her safety while in the presence of a homicidal werewolf. In the opening of the story, we are given a tale about the werewolves in Little Red’s country. There is a passage which tell us “seven years is a werewolf’s natural span but it you burn his human clothing you condemn him to wolfishness for the rest of his life…” (Carter 113). Being a citizen of the area where the tale is told, Little Red is familiar with the ritual of burning a wolf’s clothing. In order to shed her role as one to be acted upon, Little Red throws her clothing in the fire so she may join the werewolf pack for the rest of her life, and forces the werewolf before her into the same fate. She has shown him that he is part of the pack forever because she has deemed it so. Little Red's aggression also dominates the werewolf as the narrator tells us "she will lay his fearful head on her lap" (Carter 118). The werewolf shows his submission by lowering his head; he is no longer the dominant one of the pack.

Little Red goes as far as to disregard the warning from her grandmother's spirit in order to enter her new lifestyle when "the old bones under the bed set up a terrible clattering but she did not pay them any heed" (Carter 118). In Grandmother’s brief appearance in “The Company of Wolves,” she is presented as a woman who relies on her faith in a Christian God to save her. When the werewolf enters her home, the narrator takes on a second person voice to tell us “you can hurl your Bible at him and your apron after, granny, you thought that was a sure prophylactic against these infernal vermin…now call on Christ and his mother and all the angels in heaven to protect you but it won’t do you any good” (Carter 116). Grandmother literally throws her traditional values at the werewolf, but they have no effect on him because, as we are told at the close of the story, “it is Christmas Day, the werewolves’ birthday, the door of the solstice stands wide open; let them all sink through" (Carter 118).

As the birth of Jesus was the beginning of a new religion, so is the werewolf’s birthday for Little Red. She disobeys her grandmother’s warning, which is reminiscent of her disregard for her mother's warning to not stray from the path because she will "fall down and break the bottle and there won’t be anything left for grandmother." (Grimm 36). The broken bottle of wine is representative of a hymen stretching to bleed during intercourse, making Little Red's sexual act with the werewolf another move away from tradition, leaving nothing of her grandmother’s lifestyle for the old woman to hold onto or instill in Little Red.

Little Red survives her night with the werewolf and is now able to see not only a new day, but a new season as well. Her disobedience has given rise to a new way of life. Carter shows us that by shedding her submission in favor of dominance, Little Red lives to see the solstice that is large enough for all the players of the story to pass through. Little Red can now live in a world where she has freedom because the werewolf is a tamed beast who will not have sex with her if she does not will it, and the authority of her grandmother who would have controlled her sexuality is now dead.

Works Cited
Carter, Angela. “The Company of Wolves.” The Bloody Chamber. New York: Penguin, 1979. 110-118.
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. “Little Red Cap.” Folk and Fairy Tales. Eds. Martin Hallett and Barbara Karasek. Buffalo, New York: Broadview Press, 2009. 35-38.