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I really believe that myths, fairy tales, religious stories and invented myth cycles all come from the same place inside us, the need for narrative, the need to make sense of our place in the world and the cosmos, to pin us in history, to make sense of our history and our future. but also to help us work out our emotions our personal connections, they are often human emotions writ large with broad brushstrokes, they become a vicarious way of dealing with and understanding our own life events.

one of the most memorable, powerful events of my life was when one of my lectures told me the Greek nightingale myth

philomela )

she was an excellent storyteller and she told it vividly and powerfully and it rocked my world, i was going through a hardcore healing phase at that point in my life and this story held so many truths for me, about the power of men to rape women and then silence them, about women supporting each other (and i think the servant woman is often overlooked in this story but to me she is the lynchpin, without her there would have been no transformation) about the use of art to reweave fractured wounded narratives, about the absolute necessity of reweaving fracture wounded narratives for transformation/healing to be able to happen. And at the end how everything doesn't get mended, how not everything is savable, but transformations and some measure of healing is possible

and it doesn't matter that it didn't happen, or that if some of it did happen, it didn't happen the way it is told, like it doesn't matter that there never was a hobbit called frodo who went on a long perilous journey, and that fiver and hazel never crossed the landscape I grew up to to find a safe place to live, it doesn't matter that red never walked through the forest to grandmas house. Going out on a limb here, I dont even think it matters weather Jesus did all the things he is said to have done, whether he actually rose from the dead physically or not. All these stories contain types of truths for me because they help make sense of my experience and emotions and give me frameworks to hang my own life naratives on. Truth in story telling is not the same as truth in history or science. Truth in story telling is about symbols and metaphors that resonate with us about having places to pour our pain and anxieties, having places that help us explain being human, having communal narratives that help us understand the shape of the world as we live in it
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But there are somethings we shouldnt forget and mostly they add up to where we came from and how we got here and the stories we told ourselves on the way. But folklore isn't only about the past. It grows, flowers and seeds every day, because of our innate desire to control our world by means of satisfying narratives.

from The Folklore of Discworld By Terry Pratchett and Jaqueline Simpson
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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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Because stories are important.

People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it's the other way around.

Stories exist independently of their players. If you know that, the knowledge is power.

Stories, great flapping ribbons of shaped space-time, have been blowing and uncoiling around the universe since the beginning of time. And they have evolved. The weakest have died and the strongest have survived and they have grown fat on the retelling . . . stories, twisting and blowing through the darkness.

And their very existence overlays a faint but insistent pattern on the chaos that is history. Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow in the same way that water follows certain paths down a mountainside. And every time fresh actors tread the path of the story, the groove runs deeper.

This is called the theory of narrative causality and it means that a story, once started, takes a shape. It picks up all the vibrations of all the other workings of that story that have ever been.

This is why history keeps on repeating all the time.

So a thousand heroes have stolen fire from the gods.A thousand wolves have eaten grandmother, a thousand princesses have been kissed. A million unknowing actors have moved, unknowing, through the pathways of story.

It is now impossible for the third and youngest son of any king, if he should embark on a quest which has so far claimed his older brothers, not to succeed.

Stories don't care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told.

Witches Abroad
by Terry Pratchett
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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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October 2010

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