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if patriarchy sees women as occupying a marginal position within the symbolic order, then it can construe them as the limit or borderline of that order...Women seen as the limit of the symbolic order will in other words share in the disconcerting properties of all frontiers: they will be neither inside nor outside, neither known nor unknown. It is this position that has sometimes enabled male culture to sometimes vilify women as representing darkness and chaos....and sometimes to elevate them as the representatives of a higher and purer nature...In the first instance the borderline is seen as part of the chaotic wilderness outside, and in the second it is seen as an inherent part of the inside: the part that protects and shields the symbolic order from imaginary chaos

From Sexual/textual politics by Toril Moi, Quoted in Deconstructing the Hero By Margery Hourihan (both excellent books by the way)

This is why grandma lives on the outskirts of the village, or the edge of the forest

and the difference between grandma and the gingerbread witch is not very much really they both get punished, destroyed, consumed for living independently, for knowing things, even though one acquiesces to the patriarchy and one resists it
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Something I noticed in rereading LRRH stories is in the first tellings we have nobody tells her to beware of the wolf or to stay on the path. The oldest version of LRRH we have is generally called The Grandmothers Tale and begins:

A woman had finished her baking, so she asked her daughter to take a fresh galette and a pot of cream to her grandmother who lived in a forest cottage. The girl set off, and on her way she met a bzou [a werewolf].
The bzou stopped the girl and asked, "Where are you going? What do you carry?"
"I'm going my grandmother's house," said the girl, "and I'm bringing her bread and cream."
"Which path will you take?" the bzou asked. "The Path of Needles or the Path of Pins?"
"I'll take the Path of Pins," said the girl.
"Why then, I'll take the Path of Needles, and we'll see who gets there first."

The Perrault version starts

One day her mother, having made some cakes, said to her, "Go, my dear, and see how your grandmother is doing, for I hear she has been very ill. Take her a cake, and this little pot of butter."

Little Red Riding Hood set out immediately to go to her grandmother, who lived in another village.

As she was going through the wood, she met with a wolf, who had a very great mind to eat her up, but he dared not, because of some woodcutters working nearby in the forest. He asked her where she was going. The poor child, who did not know that it was dangerous to stay and talk to a wolf, said to him, "I am going to see my grandmother and carry her a cake and a little pot of butter from my mother."

"Does she live far off?" said the wolf

"Oh I say," answered Little Red Riding Hood; "it is beyond that mill you see there, at the first house in the village."

or depending on the translation

Once upon a time there was a little village girl, the prettiest that had ever been seen. Her mother doted on her and her grandmother even more. The good woman made her a little red hood which suited her so well that she was called Little Red Riding hood wherever she went
One Day, after her mother had baked some biscuits, she said to Little Red Riding Hood: “go see how your grandmother is feeling for I have heard that she is sick. Take her some biscuits and his small pot of butter.” Little red riding hood departed at once to visit her grandmother who lived in another village. In passing through the wood she met an old neighbour wolf. Who had a great desire to eat her. But he did not dare because of some woodcutters who were in the forest. He asked her where she was going. The poor child who did not know that it is dangerous to stop and listen to wolves said to him: “I am going to see my Grandmother”

This is translated by Jack Zipes and can be found in The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood This is the Perrault version I will mostly be using because I like the translation a lot, If i am using a different one I will specify. There are some translations that use the phrase "father Wolf" rather than "neighbour wolf, which is interesting considering this project as a whole.

It seems that right up to the Grimm's retelling that no one tells her not to stray from the path or be wary of the wolf and even in the Grimm version red is instructed

"Come Little Red Cap. Here is a piece of cake and a bottle of wine. Take them to your grandmother. She is sick and weak, and they will do her well. Mind your manners and give her my greetings. Behave yourself on the way, and do not leave the path, or you might fall down and break the glass, and then there will be nothing for your sick grandmother."

and there is no concern here that red may get lost or hurt, the concern is for the grandmother.

In the original stories, the oral tales it would have been obvious that you don't go wandering in the forest because there were wolves there (although wolves historically have never been known for making a habit of eating people) and from the perspective of what I'm doing here why did no one tell her? Did they think she already knew? Did they think that even if she didn't know she should have? Did they not care? Did they want to teach her a lesson? Did they rather she got eaten by the wolf than they did?
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I posted this video:

to [ profile] told_tales recently and got some surprising responses.

I personally love this retelling because it is a fusion of the oldest known versions of the story and intriguing retelling. It was interesting that the first commenter didn't like it because the wolf killed Red and because she was a sexually attractive young woman (indicated to me especially by the corset earlier on) and he a supercharged "bad ass". All of that really made me go ..."huh?". In lots of versions of the story Red gets eaten. And it never occurred to me since I've been old enough to understand such things that it wasn't about Red being a sexually attractive young woman and the wolf a charming but dangerous sexual predator. I've also never read an extended theoretical analysis that hasn't at least touched on that reading of the tale either.
I personally loved the addition of the corset because it highlights the trope of women's uncontrollable/unconstrainable bodies and sexualities. When Red reaches adolescence her sexuality/body/womanself cannot be contained.

I thought the choice of having the mother go of into the woods without the daughter because it wasn't a safe place to be was interesting. Obviously usually the mother sends the daughter even while knowing there is a wolf/rapist in the forest, something which I read as a metaphor for the deep maternal ambivalence that women feel for their adolescent/on the cusp of adolescent daughters.

It is a bleak version that's for sure, Red does get eaten and her mother leaves her somewhere she thinks will be safe but the undertone suggests she is not at all safe at her uncles house.

The fact that the wolf eats her mother and not her grandmother tilts the story considerably although the fact that the mother is a herbalist who goes to live in the woods suggests she has the place of both the mother and the grandma/wise woman in the story.

I like that they chose to use the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood in the story because I actually think that's a really powerful motif but I think the meaning changes when it is mother being devoured and not grandmother. When it is mother being devoured it is much more about competitiveness whereas when it is grandmother it becomes about the natural progression of women passing wisdom down the generations orally
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Fairytales depict a world of arbitrary violence and frightening animism. What's so unrealistic about that – especially from a child's perspective? They suggest the world is full of monstrous adults: parents who abandon or imprison their children; envious, cold step-parents; stupid giants; hungry witches and ogres; lecherous fathers...

...Little Red Riding Hood, in the earliest version, doesn't disobey, she errs, in the most literal sense, wandering away from the path. But in Perrault's tale she isn't warned not to, and so is not punished for heedlessness. She is simply too innocent to know better, and gobbled up by the wolf, without the last-minute rescue by a huntsman to soften the blow for the children listening...Little Red Riding Hood cautions innocence from the perspective of experience, warning of external dangers. There be wolves. Duly noted.

From Justice and punishment in fairytales. By Sarah Churchwell


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October 2010

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