Thursday, December 20, 2012

12-20-12 Little Red

(this one is for Sammi)

This morning it was with great delight that I discovered the Google doodle of the day, to mark the 200th anniversary of the Grimm Fairy Tales. 

As I am always reminding you, neither the Brothers Grimm, nor Disney, nor any other literary account of these tales are their originators. That credit goes to the female storytellers of the ages, as they would sit around their sewing or their cooking, teaching their own little girls. What they taught them has very little resemblance to the fairy tales you know.

So I find it very interesting to study the delightful Google doodle, as it doesn't keep to the Grimm version, even though it's supposed to be a tribute to it. In the version that the Grimm's transcribed, the story begins with the great love everyone who looked at Red had for her. (Be pretty, my dears). The grandmother's love translates into the beautiful red velvet riding hood she sews for her granddaughter and which the girl never takes off (although it's color and design could be debated for all sorts of sexualized meanings). So when the grandmother falls ill, Red's mother sends her on an errand to take a fresh baked cake and wine to strengthen her, with strict instructions not to stray from the path. Of course, she's a girl, so she does exactly that, on the advice of a wolf, whom mother apparently never thought to warn her about. The wolf is male, naturally. 

When he hears about the easy prey of the sick grandmother, his appetite isn't nearly as whetted as looking at the soft, cherub skin of Red. (Did I mention he's a male?) So he makes plans to have both of them and distracts the pretty but naive Red off the path to gather flowers for her grandmother, while he run ahead and gobbles up grandma. Red finally arrives, notes that grandma is rather changed, and gets eaten up herself, the effort of which promptly causes the wolf to fall deeply asleep, snoring. The woodsman (the Good Guy -- but he's got to be a guy, remember) hears the snores and, being an expert, thinks, "That's no grandmother's snore! And goes to their rescue. Now, so far, pretty good on the Google Doodle. 

But then it gets hinky. Because the Grimm's transcribe a telling that he performs a very handy C-section on the still sleeping wolf (sound sleeper, that one) and Red and Granny pop out, newly born and only slightly less worse for wear. Red is credited with the idea of filling his open belly with rocks and sewing it back up before he wakes, which curiously doesn't kill him until he tries to run away, at which point gravity kicks in and he collapses, dead. The Google Doodle doesn't want to get its hands that dirty (which is really clean compared to the oral traditions pre-dating Grimm, but more on that in a minute.) Google has the Good Guy woodsman pull granny and Red out by the scarf Granny's been knitting, through the wolf's mouth (vomit!), not killing him, but putting him in jail afterwards.

And the fatherly Woodsman carries Red home to mama. (I hope.)

So much for a Grimm tribute.

But then, Google is only doing what the Grimm's did in the 19th century, and Charles Perrault, who transcribed the older tale from the French peasants, did before them in the 17th century. You make the story fit your audience. Google doesn't want outraged parents or animal rights activists complaining about their doodle, so no killing.

What's really fun is to try and trace the story back through the versions. 

What you'll find is that, if you go back as far as you can, you will discover some very interesting things.

The oldest versions don't have any male in them except the wolf. And Red is her own savior, although there is no saving granny. In fact, the wolf has Red eat her own grandmother unknowingly,  before having her undress, throwing one piece of clothing on the fire after the next in a bizarre striptease, before climbing into bed with him. In these versions, the wolf isn't endowed with the appetite of later versions and can't have Red right after granny so she's ordered to climb into bed with him while he waits for the ...ability... to return to him. 

She uses the excuse that she has to pee, and he tells her, in his hairy gross man-ness, to pee in the bed, and when she says she has to poop (see? even I am cleaning it up in my own telling!) and he says, just do it in the bed, she complains the smell would be bad and that he should tie a rope around her so he can let her outside to do her business. So, what we've established here, among other things, is that men are gross and stupid and that a savvy girl can let him think she's on his leash when she's not. So she gets out of the rope and gets away. 

Sorry, granny. You were old and your time was past. Plus, you tasted terrible. Red, presumably naked and stripped of her red cape forever (thrown on the fire, of course) is in the woods, in the dark, alone, but much wiser and wolf-less.

I have to think the women telling these tales to the little 14th century french girls had a very different view of life, but they still found strength in passing down their  wisdom: the power of the woman comes fraught with its own set of dangers, but it is a power than can be wielded for survival, nonetheless. Men came along and changed the tales, so that a man had to do the saving, or, in some versions, those without a male savior, it ended with Red having not heeded the advice of her mother and just getting eaten up. 

For our culture's purposes, let's break it down into three truths:

1. Mom is still right.
2. Men can be wolves.
3. You have the power and intelligence to make your own destiny.

And get granny to give you a key to the place.


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