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Literature / Little Red Riding Hood

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Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?note 
There are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.
Charles Perrault, coda to "Little Red Riding Hood"

"Little Red Riding Hood" ("Le Petit Chaperon Rouge") first appeared in print as a story by Charles Perrault; another, more optimistic version ("Rotkäppchen" a.k.a. "Little Red Cap") was later published by The Brothers Grimm, which has supplanted Perrault's in the collective consciousness. The story itself is much older, having been told orally centuries before that, possibly as far back as the 10th Century.

In the story, a young girl called Little Red Riding Hood, known by her favourite red hood, goes out into the woods to bring her sick grandmother some good things to eat. Before she leaves, she is warned not to stray from the path to pick flowers, for there is danger there. She does anyway, and is stopped by The Big Bad Wolf, who asks her where she is going. Too innocent to be afraid, she tells him, and they go their separate ways. Specifically: the wolf takes a shortcut to the grandmother's house, impersonates Little Red Riding Hood, and swallows the grandmother whole.

When the little girl arrives, the Big Bad Wolf has dressed himself in the old woman's bedclothes and gotten into bed. Red Riding Hood, growing worried, remarks on how unusual her "grandmother" looks:

"Grandmother, what big arms you have!"
"All the better to hug you with, my dear."

The dialogue continues in this pattern, until she makes the comment:

"Grandmother, what big teeth you have!"
"All the better to eat you with, my dear!"

And the wolf springs and devours her.

Depending on the version, the girl and her grandmother may be rescued by a passing woodsman, huntsman or other benefactor, whereupon they may take revenge upon the wolf (in "Rotkäppchen", they fill the wolf's belly with stones); this may be the influence of The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids or similar tales. In Perrault's version, however, the story ends with the girl's death, followed by a moral warning young ladies to beware of "wolves", especially those who are "charming, quiet, unassuming, complacent, and sweet". French folk versions (such as this one), which do not feature the red hat, have the heroine deduce the problem before the wolf eats her, and escape by saying she needs to visit the bathroom; folklorists believe this is the older version.note 

Charles Perrault version can be read here. The Brothers Grimm version can be read here.

A Homage to this story appears in the song "Hey Little Red Riding Hood" which makes the wolf out as a would-be suitor rather than a vicious animal wanting to consume her for food. This may be closer to the original version of the story, which some scholars believe to be a tale of seduction, with the red cape symbolizing menstruation, and therefore fertility. This hits the slight problem that Perrault introduced the red cape. In the original folktales, no mention was made of any particular article of clothing, let alone its color.

Such a ubiquitous story is naturally a Fountain of Expies:

Adaptations or retellings of this fairytale include: note 

My, grandmother, what a long list of tropes you have!

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: Depending on which adaptation of the story you're reading or watching, Little Red Riding Hood either ends with the wolf eating Red and ending on that to serve as a cautionary tale to young ladies to beware of "wolves", especially those who are "charming, quiet, unassuming, complacent, and sweet" (the original Charles Perrault version of the story ends this way), or has the girl and her grandmother be rescued by a passing huntsman or other benefactor, whereupon they may take revenge upon the wolf (in "Rotkäppchen", they fill the wolf's belly with stones); as mentioned earlier, this alternate version may have come about from the influence of The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids or similar tales.
    • Interestingly, the versions preceding Perrault's often feature the girl rescuing herself through quick wits, or even with a more proactive grandmother's aid, who avoids getting eaten in the first place.
  • Almighty Janitor: The hero of the story is a lumberjack or occasionally a huntsman, Depending on the Writer. (Less unlikely a hero than most examples of the Trope, maybe, but still just a manual laborer.)
  • An Aesop: To quote the darker, grittier Perrault version: "Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf."
  • Badass Bystander: The woodsman who happened to be in the area, hears the commotion and rushes in to split open the wolf with an axe, saving Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: In the Perrault version, the Wolf eats Red.
  • Bed Trick: Which other reason would the wolf have to want Little Red naked?
  • The Big Bad Wolf: The Trope Maker. This is the first instance of a cunning and villainous wolf that would be repeated in various stories.
  • Big Damn Heroes: "A villainous wolf preying on old women and little girls? This looks like a job for WOODCUTTER MAN!"
  • Big Eater: The Wolf swallows up Little Red and her Grandmother whole.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In some versions, the wolf eats the Grandma but the girl manages to escape.
  • Bluff the Imposter: In some of the earliest versions (before even the Perrault version) the protagonist does see through the disguise after he convinces her to get into bed with him, and she manages to save herself by complaining to her "grandmother" that she needs to defecate and would not wish to do so in the bed. The wolf reluctantly lets her go, tied to a piece of string so she doesn't get away. However, the girl slips the string over something else and runs off.
  • Bowdlerise: In some versions for children, the grandmother is not eaten by the wolf, but rather locked in the cupboard by the wolf. The same versions will usually have Little Red Riding Hood saved by a huntsman or woodcutter as the wolf is about to eat the girl.
  • Bring My Red Jacket: Clearly there's something about the color red that connects it to dangerous situations.
  • Character Death: Some variations have Little Red escape but still bump off poor Granny. In other versions, they both die. In still other versions, they both escape but the woodcutter kills the wolf.
  • Composite Character:
    • The Goodtimes version of the Wolf is a composite of himself and any benefactors Little Red met in other versions as the Wolf disguised himself as them and the true ones never appeared.
    • In many modern depictions, the wolf in this story and the one in The Three Little Pigs is the same character.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Straight in most versions of the tale with the Wolf. Hoodwinked provides a different idea by having him wear a Granny Puckett apron costume.
  • Damsel in Distress: The various versions of Red have this trouble around the Wolf. Other versions get Red into this trouble with other things, like evil rabbits and cable cars packed with dynamite.
  • Damsel out of Distress: Some versions show Red escaping on her own, usually with guile.
  • Deus ex Machina: The woodsman in the Grimm version shows up out of nowhere and has no characterization beyond saving the day.
  • Downer Ending: Perrault's version ends with both Red and her grandmother eaten.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Some versions have both the girl and her grandma escape, with the help of the hunter, even.
  • Fan Disservice: The wolf has Little Red strip in some versions. Disservice on account of she's usually portrayed as very young and because these versions often have the Downer Ending.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The wolf is a classic example. He acts very polite toward Red, but only so he can eat her. The basic moral of the story is to not trust strangers because of people like him who act nice but are the exact opposite.
  • Forbidden Fruit:
    • In the Grimm versions and many of the later versions, Red is warned about leaving the trail and talking to strangers but steps off anyway.
    • Hoodwinked!, a 2006 adaptation, references this with Red telling the Wolf, "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers," although in this case she probably means not talking to strangers who are clearly trying to unsettle her.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: Thanks to its immediate recognizability, this is a favorite tale for fracturing in just about every possible way. Popular twists include making the story Hotter and Sexier, turning Red into Little Red Fighting Hood, making the wolf Stupid Evil, playing up how stupid Red is to not recognize her "granny" is the wolf, doing anything involving Werewolves, or mangling the whole thing with Political Overcorrectness. Ironically, some of these are more reconstructing older versions than fracturing in historical context.
  • Getting Eaten Is Harmless: In some versions the wolf is killed and the grandmother, sometimes Red as well, emerges from its stomach, fine.
  • Heavy Sleeper: In some more modern versions of the story, the Wolf, immediately after eating Red and her Grandmother, settles down in Granny's bed and decides to take a nap. Generally these are the ones where Red is rescued, and of course the wolf somehow sleeps through a man breaking into the house, cutting his stomach open, filling it with stones, and sewing it back up again.
  • Hugh Mann: The wolf disguises himself as Grandma by dressing in her cap and nightgown. This makes him pass as human well enough that at least for a few minutes Red seems to just assume that Grandma's eyes and ears have inexplicably gotten bigger.
  • Iconic Outfit: A little girl in a red hooded cloak is immediately recognizable as coming from this story. To a lesser extent, the wolf in grandma's nightgown.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: In some versions of the tale, the wolf tricks Little Red into eating some of Grandma's dead body, for shits and giggles.
  • Improbable Infant Survival:
    • Played straight in the more modern Grimm version where the young girl is rescued via Deus ex Machina.
    • Averted in Perrault where she is eaten.
  • The Ingenue:
    • In most versions, Little Red Riding Hood is too innocent to see harm in a wolf that speaks so politely.
    • This is not the case in versions where she does a strip-tease after accidentally cannibalizing her grandmother.
  • In the Hood: Red herself, hence her nickname.
  • Just Eat Him: The wolf opts to swallow his victims whole, for maximum rescuing potential.
  • Lady in Red: The classic connection between red clothing and "look at me, I am hot, hot, hot!" informs many of the Hotter and Sexier interpretations of the story.
  • Lighter and Softer: The modern version of the story, which adds a happy ending and downplays the Freudian overtones.
    • Even more so in the version where the Wolf is made to throw up Red and her grandmother instead of being brutally killed.
  • Little Dead Riding Hood: The Perrault version is Trope Namer and perhaps the origin of the red hood meaning blood and death.
  • Little Red Fighting Hood: In the Grimm book, the familiar tale in which Red-Cap is devoured by the wolf and saved by a huntsman is directly extended with a second variant in which Red-Cap meets another wolf who tries the same trick on her as the first wolf. Red-Cap goes straight to her grandmother's house and warns her about the wolf. The wolf arrives and pretends to be Red-Cap to get the grandmother to open the door; as this naturally does not work, the wolf climbs onto the roof to wait for Red-Cap leaving the house. Meanwhile Red-Cap and grandmother fill a trough with water in which sausages have been boilt; the smell arouses the hungry wolf's interest, so that he falls from the roof and into the trough, where he drowns.
  • Mature Work, Child Protagonists: The version written by Charles Perrault targets an adult audience. The short story ends with Little Red Riding Hood taking off her clothes before going to bed with the wolf dressed as her grandmother, who eventually devours her. The Hood here represents Little Red Riding Hood's virginity, while The Big Bad Wolf is a symbol for... rapists. Perrault even explains in a note at the end of the story that it's a cautionary tale about sexual predators.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: The Wolf is not really supposed to be a werewolf, but many modern versions of the story have recast it that way. That animated version might be one of the few not-werewolf versions.
    • In earlier French versions, the wolf is called a "bzou" or "loup garou," which means werewolf. You see, the French were terrified of werewolves, even burning people at the stake for supposedly being one. Even Perrault makes clear that his wolf is a stand-in for a lecherous man, even if he prefers symbolism to shape-shifting.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Even at close quarters, Red is at most merely suspicious of the wolf, even though he has not disguised himself further than putting on the old woman's clothes. Either Grandmother was hairy, Red was blind, or both.
    • In Hoodwinked!, to fool Red, the Wolf wears a plastic Granny face mask, which hides his face and most of his ears (for the film, Granny is given a Marie Antoinette-esque hairstyle so that such a mask could be invented). This is what Red says when she's interviewed by Nicky Flippers:
      Nicky Flippers: So this wolf, he was dressed as your grandmother?
      Red Puckett: Yes.
      Nicky Flippers: And you bought that?
      Red Puckett: No. Not really.
    • The reason why the Hoodwinked! version of Red doesn't buy the disguise is because she knows Granny's normal voice (as she makes two phone calls to Granny during the day - one from a payphone shortly before she discovers the break-in at Granny's store, and a second time through a telephone in Japeth's shack).
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: The Huntsman and the Red Riding Hood can be pretty brutal when they punish the wolf. Given he tried to, and in several versions succeeded in devouring an innocent old woman, and trying to do the same to her granddaughter, one could hardly say it wasn't deserved.
  • Person with the Clothing: The girl's name is taken from her iconic red cloak.
  • Political Overcorrectness: Spoofed in Politically Correct Bedtime Stories when Red Riding Hood chastises the "Woodchopper-Person" for being sexist and speciesist for "assuming that womyn and wolves canít solve their own problems without a man's help!"
    • Though meant to be a parody, this version of Red isn't wrong; look no further then the pre-Perrault version of the story for a Red who can "solve [her] own problems without a man's help".
  • Promoted to Love Interest: In versions where the Wolf is turned into a werewolf, he's usually this to an Age-Lifted Red. Obviously comes with Adaptational Heroism, considering his original role.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: In The Huckleberry Hound Show, Red and Granny were so upset at Huckleberry for trying to get involved they got him arrested for this and after that the Wolf proposed the three of them would resume their routine.
  • Rule of Symbolism: There are lots of possible underlying meanings to the story, mostly to do with growing up and/or sex. The color of the girl's hood is usually given some significance — even though subsequent collection of French folk tales found that it was a detail that Perrault added; the folk tales do not specify the color of the hood. A more likely symbol occurs in the regional variants that have her choose between a Path of Pins and a Path of Needles - girls learning to be young women were said to be "gathering pins," while needles had a definite sexual meaning (prostitutes would even indicate their profession by wearing needles in their sleeves).
  • Sadist: The wolf seems to be one, considering how he decides to go and eat grandma, wait for Red to show up, pass himself off as grandma, do the "what big x you have" routine, and than eat Red instead of simply eating her when he first meets her and than going to grandma's house to eat grandma. Even more so in the versions where he tricks Red into eating some of her dead grandma.
  • Scare 'Em Straight:
    • Many versions of the story present An Aesop along the lines of "Always obey your parents" or "Don't talk to strangers"— or you could be eaten by a wolf.
    • The original version (possibly) of the story is meant to be something like "A stranger could always be a predator of some sort".
    • Some earlier French versions seem to be to beware werewolves; the French were genuinely paranoid on werewolves.
  • Sequel: The Brothers Grimm included a second tale, in which she is once again approached by a wolf; she hurries off down the trail, and immediately tells her grandmother about it when she arrives, and her grandmother therefore has them bar the door. When they do not let it in, it climbs on the roof to pounce when she leaves. The grandmother gives Little Red Riding Hood water in which sausages had been cooked and has her pour it out the window into a trough. The wolf, smelling the sausages, leaned over so far that it fell into the trough and drowned. After that, she had no more problems with creatures in the woods.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In more child-friendly versions, the Wolf locks up the Grandmother in the closet and before he could eat Red, the Woodsman shows up and chases the Wolf out of the house. Other versions instead have the Grandmother survive by opening up the Wolf's belly to let her out.
  • Swallowed Whole: The fate of Grandmother in most versions is to be swallowed without the wolf chewing. She is sometimes alive afterward.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The eponymous character, who can't tell the difference between a wild animal and her own granny, which sometimes leads to her death. Some versions play with this by describing the wolf as a shapechanger or a werewolf, which might explain why it takes so long to realize the deception. Hmm? 
    • The Bratz version of the story implies Little Red Riding Hood is merely trying to stall the wolf so that she could try to escape.
    • One version penned by James Thurber, averts it, where Red wasn't fooled at all because, quote, "Even in a nightcap a wolf looks about as much like your grandmother as the Metro Goldwyn Mayer lion looks like Calvin Coolidge." So she pulls a revolver out of her picnic basket and shoots the wolf dead.
    • Hoodwinked averts it with Red. It's clear she isn't buying the Wolf's disguise, which consists of a costume and a plastic face mask, and it looks as if the "What big [facial qualities] you have" lines are her attempting to trick him into removing his disguise.
    • Then there's the version(s) where the wolf is a lycanthrope... and also, is the grandmother.
    • In The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett observes, "... some girl who can't tell the difference between a wolf and her grandmother must either have been as dense as teak or come from an extremely ugly family."
    • Hoodwinked also applies this trope to the Wolf and to Kirk: in that version, Kirk is too incompetent to operate an axe, and the Wolf chases Red's cloak, which visibly has no legs underneath it as hummingbirds are flying it.
  • Too Smart for Strangers: Nope, she wasn't, and totally falls for the Wolf's tricks in many versions. It's often used as An Aesop.
  • Twice-Told Tale: The story has been told and retold (and parodied) literally countless times. It's harder to find a collection of Fairy Tales that doesn't have this story in it somewhere.
  • Unexplained Recovery: "Swallowed by a wolf, eh? Well, you should both be fine. Just take it easy for a few days."
  • A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: In this case, the villain is in Grandmother's clothing to deceive Red.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: In some versions of the tale, the wolf instructs Little Red to strip off all her clothes one by one and throw them on the fire.

Alternative Title(s): Red Riding Hood