Thursday, 1 December 2011

Red Hoods, Dark Woods Part I

"The Company of Wolves II" by Olukemi
With Snow White and the Huntsman galloping onto screens in the wake of, and from the same gothic fairytale stable as Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood, and Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror to follow soon after, it looks like fairytale adaptations are ‘trending’ at the moment. They’re certainly not a new thing; fairytales have often provided the basis of films throughout cinema history – either directly or loosely. I thought it might be interesting throughout the course of December to have a look at one of the most recognisable and enduring of these tales – Little Red Riding Hood.

The tale of Little Red Riding Hood is centuries old. Most people will be familiar with it thanks to growing up with the likes of the slightly diluted version by the Brothers Grimm, in which a young girl and her grandmother are rescued from the belly of a ravenous wolf by a chivalrous woodsman. Earlier versions of the tale were much darker, and bleaker. The earliest recorded written version of the tale dates back to 17th century France and a writer named Charles Perrault. Perrault’s tale featured young Red Riding Hood and her sickly Grandmother being devoured by a Big Bad Wolf who tricks both of them, only this time; they are not rescued by a woodsman.

A typical fairytale, Little Red Riding Hood works on a subconscious level to teach us about the dangers inherent in our world; it isn’t just the story of a young girl who is menaced by a wolf when she gets lost in the woods on her way to her grandmother’s house. It is a story, as most fairytales are, that hangs heavy with cautionary morality, warning young girls of the dangers of conversing with strange men and the potential threats which will accompany their burgeoning sexuality as they cross the threshold into womanhood.

"Le Petit Chaperon Rouge" by Gustave Doré

Still from Trick 'r Treat (2007)

Fairytales remain a relevant and powerful form of storytelling because of their ability to be constantly reinterpreted and retold, making them relatable enough for most generations. That they are usually drenched in sexual connotations and concerned with the awakening of sexuality renders them even more potent. The renowned psychologist Bruno Bettelheim – also a follower of Sigmund Freud's and an important contributor to psychoanalysis - proposed in his book “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales”, that the fairytale is an important part of helping children define who they are and what their place is in the world. Bettelheim believed that by hearing about life-threatening problems and potential threats, children are given vital information that operates on a subconscious level, educating them about the struggles of life, and that these struggles are actually an intrinsic part of our existence. Like Plato, Bettelheim maintained that the education of children should begin with the telling of myths and that the fairytale presented a model for behaviour; giving meaning and value to our lives. He commented: “As children, we need monsters to instruct us in the ways of the world.”

9 comments:

Jayme said...

My favorite fairy tale! Can't wait for more posts.

Jon T said...

Fascinating stuff, James. I thought 'Company of Wolves' was an interesting take on LRR - did you see that one?

James Gracey said...

I LOVE Company of Wolves, Jon. Have you read The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter? She co-wrote the screenplay for Company of Wolves based on several short stories from that collection. They're all based on fairytales but are given a post-modern, feminist make-over by Carter. Wonderful stuff! :)

Jon T said...

I have indeed read it, James many years ago. Wasn't the main short story based on the legend of Bluebeard's Ghost? I was was always fascinated by how the principle of the bloody or forbidden chamber was a staple of so many horror stories: the room into which you mustn't go...

James Gracey said...

Yes indeedy, one of the longer stories is based on Bluebeard.
And you are so right about the principle of the 'forbidden' in horror - the room we mustn't go into, or the path we mustn't stray from.
*Shameless Self-Promotion Alert*
I just contributed an article to Exquisite Terror about fairytales and how they form a blueprint for horror cinema. It'll hopefully be in issue 2 which should be out in the New Year.

Hope all is well in Stoke Newington! Thanks so much for dropping by. :)

Jon T said...

"Don't go on the moors, boys!" Sounds like a great article. I will definitely seek it out! :)

Girl on Gore said...

Great post! Myth, fables, the magic of fairy tales is so powerful. I remember these stories better than parts of my actual childhood!!

Emily said...

It's funny: I hate werewolves. They bore me, and while I appreciate the metaphorical possibilities, it almost ALWAYS comes down to the same thing regarding man's suppressed urges and such. For me, I find it dull. But I love Red Riding Hood (not the movie, the story) and I wonder how much of that is simply being more closely identified with its metaphor of women and sexuality and blah blah blah. Hm. Now I have something to think about.

James Gracey said...

Woah. Wait. You HATE werewolves?! I’m shocked and horrified by your revelation, Emily!! ;)
In all seriousness though, thanks for your comments. Your reasons for hating the beasts are pretty much why I love them - repressed urges and blah blah blah. Actually, one of my favourite werewolf films (Ginger Snaps) transfers the usual ‘male-repressed’ urges onto a girl on the cusp of womanhood, and successfully intertwines more subtext regarding burgeoning female sexuality into a conventional werewolf tale. Have you seen it, Emily? I would highly recommend it if you haven’t.
And stay tuned for some wine-induced musings on how the story of red riding hood works so well as a werewolf tale.