The Variations in Little Red Riding Hood
Fairy tales are under attack in the United States from both right- and left-oriented pressure groups. (Ravitch, 62-96) From the left, the charges include sexism, stereotyping, distortion, and anti-humanism. (Ravitch, 84) From the right, the charges include immorality and objections to the portrayal of violence, death, and the supernatural. In addition, some critics claim that the tales terrify their children. (Ravitch, 76). In The Language Police, Diane Ravitch claims that both groups understand the importance of putting pressure on state textbook adoption committees, and that, as a result of such pressure, most major publishers are simply dropping the tales from the textbooks they sell to schools. (77-78) Thus parents who assume, or would prefer that, their children are reading traditional fairy tales in school may find themselves mistaken.
The seriousness of the question is itself a matter of debate, but the biggest problem with the current debate is that a fairy tale is assumed to be a fairy tale in the sense that Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities is A Tale of Two Cities. Editors do make some changes in Dickens's text, but essentially what Dickens wrote is what he wrote. This is not the case, however, with fairy tales. There are several, perhaps dozens, of different versions of most of the best-know tales. To argue that tale "A" is good or bad, moral or immoral, for children to read is thus comparable to building a house out of straw. One of the central tales in the debate is "Little Red Riding Hood," and Little Red Riding Hood" is assumed to be Little Red Riding Hood. It isn't.
There are apparently dozens of versions of this tale, but the best known are those by Charles Perrault and those by the Brothers Grimm. In Perrault's version, Little Red is simply eaten. End of story. Perrault did, however, append a short poem with a moral in it. The moral warns young women to beware the treacheries of men. The sources of Perrault's version are a matter of dispute, but his intended audience is not in dispute. His tales were aimed at genteel French society, not children. It is ironic therefore, that Perrault's tales, and especially "Little Red," are now considered fairy tales for children. Perrault's tale has been published both with and without the moralistic poem, but both versions are often considered inappropriate for children. Some people claim that the sudden ending -- with the eating of Red -- terrifies children. Others, of course, point to the inappropriateness of the poem's lesson in virginity for four and five-year-olds.
In the Grimms' version, both Red and her grandmother are eaten by the wolf, but miraculously saved by a huntsman who, instead of shooting the wolf, cuts open its belly, apparently while the wolf is still alive, in order to release first Little Red, and then her grandmother. Red then fills the wolf's belly with stones, and as a result, justice is served and the wolf dies....