I had a picture book as a child titled “Little Red Riding Hood.” My mother would read to me while I happily stared at the pages. The girl would stroll along the trail, encounter a wolf, then the grandmother gets eaten, so does the girl, and a hunter comes in and saves them. Another classic damsel in distress fairytale by Grimm, told to reinforce male power and the “role” of women in society.
For that reason, I was surprised when I revisited the story fifteen years later and found numerous versions derived from the same plot, with Red Riding Hood portrayed differently by every author. The very first tale blames the girl’s “foolishness” for her death, accusing her of dressing provocatively and carelessly talking to a stranger. In “The Story of Grandmother” written in 1885, two centuries after the original text was published, the girl escapes her death with a clever trickery she comes up with on her own. My favorite of all, a modern version by Angela Carter includes a line that reads, “since her fear did her no good, she ceased to be afraid.” If all young female characters were portrayed with such strength and composure, maybe I would have grown up to be just that.
As a child I enjoyed the happily-ever-after’s where the heroine was swept off her feet by prince charming, but now I am starting to think my taste in literature was due to the lack of options provided by society. The stories told to children tend to remain unchanged, and for that, I worry for the girl reading Grimm’s “Little Red Riding Hood” today, thinking she needs a man to save her from her troubles. She is capable of so much more and she deserves a writer sophisticated enough to articulate that.
She needs you to articulate that.