Sunday, January 6, 2013

Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (Or Little Red Cap)...

From this story one learns that children,
Especially young girls,
Pretty, well-bred, and genteel,
Are wrong to listen to just anyone,
And it's not at all strange,
If a wolf ends up eating them. 
I say a wolf, but not all wolves 
Are exactly the same. 
Some are perfectly charming,
Not loud, brutal, or angry,
But tame, pleasant, and gentle, 
Following young ladies 
Right into their homes, and into their chambers, 
But watch out if you haven't learned that tame wolves 
Are the most dangerous of all. 
           -Charles Perrault,"Le Petit Chaperon Rouge" (Translated by Maria Tatar)

This little "moral" comes at the end of the seventeenth-century French fairy tale "Le Petit Chaperon Rouge," or, as most of us now know it, "Little Red Riding Hood." I'll throw you the bones of the tale as it usually appears in American children's books these days: little girl is given food to take to her sick grandmother and is admonished to stay on the path as she makes her way through the woods, little girl goes off the path, little girl is eaten by the Big Bad Wolf. Check any of the app versions of "Little Red Riding Hood" available on your iPad; most of them survive on these morsels of the tale, serving up some rather bland chicken nuggets in the place of what was once a really delectable roast chicken (layered with Herbes de Provence).

My point here is that the evolution of fairy tales in the children's library (or in my opinion, the devolution of the fairy tale) has stripped them of the raiments that made them so compelling.  A fairy tale without some violence and strangeness and scariness, without some complexity, is like the emperor walking around without his clothes on - ridiculous (and rather sad).

In Perrault's version of "Little Red Riding Hood," the moral is directed not toward little young ladies in general, but girls of a certain order (the original French especially makes this apparent). The villain is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a man who has learned the ways of the court so well that he is especially dangerous to ingenues, girls just entering a new landscape full of social and sexual pitfalls. He is not a grunting, lumbering wolf with a huge mane who can barely utter a syllable. He is suave, debonair, and all the more frightening for being so. Furthermore, Perrault's point is not that one should avoid these wolves. Avoiding them is impossible. One must, instead, learn how to deal with them.

Modern fairy tales are mere shadows of their former selves, tame haints passing themselves off as the real thing. Tailored for a fast-moving, blurb-devouring generation, they move swiftly over the good stuff. Tame wolves are the most dangerous of all. I want my fairy tales untamed, unadulterated ... virile.

He he he...
Adieu. ~Alice

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