Red and The Wolf

Would she, wouldn’t she? Yes. Scrambling through thickets, chasing bluebells and butterflies; dark became dense.  Roots snatched, branches scratched at her skin.  Her favourite red cloak was torn.  Damn.  But soon she had a fistful of flowers good enough to take as a gift.

Where was she?

Wolf waited, pulled the sheets up tight.  Would she, wouldn’t she? He wondered.  Knock knock.  Ah, she’s here.  “It’s alright my love, Granny’s gone.”  She stepped in.  Yes.

Red collage

Today, we’re stepping deeper into the forest.  Where there’s much more to Red Riding Hood than meets the eye at first glance.

Let’s start at the end.  The moralistic, cautionary endings (“Oh, I’ll never go into the woods again”) given by both Grimm and Perrault, and perpetuated recently by Philip Pullman, don’t sit with me. I’m much more deeply inclined towards Angela Carter’s rich and sensual interpretation of the tale.

If we look at the character of Red Riding Hood as someone who is leaving girlhood and entering womanhood, we can interpret the “red” – as many before have done – as the accompanying passions, desires and menstrual blood associated with that transition.  In order for Red to fully complete that transition and emerge brighter, stronger, bolder on the other side she has to do two things.

First she has to enter the darkness.  She begins this passage by stepping off the straight and narrow path and walking deeper into the woodland to gather the beautiful flowers and listen to the birdsong.  Flourishes of life she would have missed completely if she’d stuck to the prescribed route.

She’s started her journey.

She’s followed her passions and discovered that there’s more colour and music in life than she’d ever previously imagined. She’s absorbed by the delight and wonder of it all and almost forgets that she was on her way towards Granny’s.  But she remembers where she’s heading, and continues.

The story could have her arriving at the cottage and settling comfortably into Granny’s old rocking chair to while away the rest of her days in the staid oblivion to which she’d become accustomed. But it doesn’t.  The wolf has eaten Granny, and Red must go that way too, if she’s to fully find herself.

So she enters into the darkness again. This time a much deeper darkness. A darkness that could be the end of her. And is representative of an end in a way – the ending of the child-phase of her life.  In this darkness, Red is transformed into a Maiden-woman.  When she emerges from the belly of the wolf, she suddenly and instinctively knows how to dispatch him.  In various versions (the Grimms publish both together) you’ll find her filling his belly with rocks, plunging him into a vat of boiling water, or effecting all manner of other grim and gruesome ways to show that she has stepped into her own power.

This is a character who has been transformed by the darkness.  Had she never entered it, she would never have mastered her fear and learned to conquer it. She’s now stronger, wiser, bolder than before.  She’s fully entered her womanhood and completed the transition from powerless child to powerful Maiden effectively.

The second thing she must do, as Angela Carter shows us, is to MARRY her wolf. Clarissa Pinkola Estes powerfully reminds us of this necessity in Women Who Run With the Wolves.  That is, she must integrate her own wolfish nature, recognise that the darkness she has entered is part of herself and learn to live with it, and love it.  All the time she sees the wolf as something “out there” to be either afraid of or conquered, she isn’t fully in control of her own destiny; she can never know when it will turn up unexpectedly and devour her with greater force than before.  This time, she needs to wed it.  To see that the wolf is a part of her own nature and that she is a part of its nature too.  To become fully integrated in our own power, this is what we all must do.

But what is The Wolf?  John Fiske, in his 1872 work Myths and Myth-Makers: Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted by Comparative Mythology suggests an etymological connection between the words for “light” and “wolf”.  He says,

“The epithet Lykaios, as applied to Zeus, had originally no reference to wolves: it means ‘the bright one,’ and gave rise to lycanthropic legends only because of the similarity in sound between the names for  ‘wolf’ and ‘brightness.’ […] The name of the hero Autolykos means simply the ‘self-luminous’; but it was more frequently interpreted as meaning ‘a very wolf’ in allusion to the supposed character of its possessor.” (ch.III Werewolves and Swan Maidens)

Is it too much to imagine that the original link between the two words could have been more than just a homophone mix-up?  If there’s a deeper connection here, perhaps it’s showing us that there’s light and wisdom at the heart of what appears to be darkness.

As with all fairy tale work, we need to go beyond the everyday dualities – to enter into the world between worlds – to be able to see it.  Fairy tale doesn’t speak to the rational mind.  it uses all its art and wonder, archetypes and conventions to take the listener/reader into a space of deeper consciousness where nothing is what it seems and everything is possible.

To enter fearlessly into our darkness and see the luminosity therein, to learn to love the light equally with the dark and recognise that they are One is power and wisdom indeed.

Look out for the third part of this trilogy on Red Riding Hood next weekend: Red Blood.

How do you see Red Riding Hood and The Wolf?

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4 thoughts on “Red and The Wolf

  1. Fascinating analysis of the Red Riding Hood story. I recently listened to the Philip Pullman collection, taking the stories at face value purely as entertainment. I am now thinking I will go in search of Angela Carter for a deeper perspective.

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