Red Riding Hood is 66 years old. Same age as me.
O brilliant and original idea of mine
A few years ago I wrote a short story. I called it ‘Enchantment’ – I didn’t know why, I just liked the sound of it. In it, a pig walks out of a forest on its hind legs and has a short dialogue with a writer. At first the writer assumes she’s in charge (after all, it’s just a pig), but soon discovers that the creature has outsmarted her and is now nowhere to be seen. The story seemed to me to sum up my relationship with words and was, I thought, a rather quirky and original piece of work. Clever old me. But in fact it turned out that the pig had indeed outsmarted me. My idea was not original, but a subconscious memory from Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book, a childhood treasure that had sat unnoticed in plain sight on a bookshelf for years. The gold lettering on the spine winked at me. I found the story. It was called The Enchanted Pig.
Some fairy tales are a bit boring…
I remembered this piggy tale as full of sparkling little details, with punchy dialogue and vibrant, believable characters. Alas, as I reread it I found it to be rather leaden and repetitive and somehow heartless. How could this be? Then I remembered sitting on my father’s bony lap as he read to me. ‘Pa’ was a writer of short stories and radio dramas, so he enjoyed speaking in the voices of the characters and inventing subplots as he went along. Other stories in the book were better written and in this 1954 edition of the RFB, everything was enhanced by the lovely illustrations of Marc Simont.
…and some are bleak
Not long after this I rediscovered the Blue Fairy Book too. This, the first book of the series, includes the Red Riding Hood story in its earliest and darkest version – RRH meets Wolf in forest and tells him all about Grandma. Wolf gets to cottage before her, eats Grandma and puts on her clothes. When RRH arrives at cottage, Wolf eats her too. The end. No woodcutter, no rescue. Just a moralising warning to ‘young ladies’ to be careful about who they trust. In other words, that it’s them that should modify their behaviour if they don’t want to be eaten alive.
In my version of course, Red survives. Now, greedy for life, she sets out on a chaotic mission to make up for lost time. Meanwhile, that pig sashays back out of the forest to administer some tough love to the writer, the late starter. That’s me.
For a wonderful source of information and inspiration around folk and fairy tale, visit the Sussex Centre for Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction http://www.sussexfolktalecentre.org and http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/ashliman.html