The fairytale of Little Red Riding Hood is dark, mysterious, evocative and psychological. It has been used as the underlying story for a number of movies, forms the basis for song lyrics and has created a provocative party costume portraying the innocence of a little girl under a red cloak. Reading into the origins of the fairytale we know, courtesy of The Brothers Grimm, we can start to understand why this fairytale has had so much impact.
It was Charles Perrault who first published the fairytale titled Le Petit Chaperon Rouge in 1697; although there are various folklore versions of the tale that pre-date this. These versions included cannibalism, sexual desire, the transition of a young girl to adult hood, predatory grooming behaviours of men represented through the wolf, and the journey through the lifespan. Some have suggested the story’s construct was Perrault’s way of teaching a moral lesson – girls who go with strange men deserve what they get.
Whilst I don’t want to ignore many of the underlying lessons and messages in all versions of Little Red Riding Hood, there’s one essential life lesson it reinforces. It’s one that is highly relevant today and we must continually remind ourselves of – trusting your instincts.
Little Red Riding Hood is sent on a journey to visit her elderly grandmother. She sets out basket of food in hand and wearing her red cloak. Given strict instructions by her mother not to stray from the path through the forest, she soon becomes stalked by a wolf. Let’s rephrase that…..stalked by a big bad wolf. Have you noticed how animals in fairytales are described by size and their manners?
The big bad wolf wants to know where Little Red Riding hood is going, so he asks her and she naively tells him. Immediately, she should have stopped and listened to her gut and trusted these messages. I’m alone in the woods, does this feel right? Why would a predator be asking me these questions? A wolf is asking where I’m going? Do I trust what’s going on here? What was my mission or goal? Why is the wolf suggesting I pick flowers?
The story continues, with Little Red Riding Hood arriving at Grandma’s house where she’s greeted by the big bad wolf. First she is alarmed at the deepness of Grandma’s voice, then the big eyes, big hands, big ears and finally big mouth (after which she’s promptly eaten).
The responses the wolf gives her are alarm bells loudly sounding a warning. Yet, Little Red Riding Hood’s intuition told her from the first moment of arriving at Grandma’s that something wasn’t quite right – it manifested itself in her proclaiming “What a deep voice you have!”. Her lack of trust in her body’s intuitive response meant she then went on to proclaim “Goodness, what big eyes you have!” and more.
A physiological, intuitive, gut reaction to people we meet is our body’s way of telling us to take a moment and not be fooled or trust too easily. Somewhere though we need to find the balance between trust and mistrust. It’s about trusting your instincts about people, yet giving enough space for someone to prove your instincts wrong.
There are variations to Little Red Riding Hood where a woodcutter rescues her from the wolf’s stomach (and Grandma too). However, the key lesson here is if you don’t listen to your instincts, there’s unlikely to be someone there to help you.