Choosing one of the few fairy tales that does not conclude with a wedding, Catherine Orenstein reinterprets the many versions of "Little Red Riding Hood" by setting the tale against the mores and values of its times. The result is a highly entertaining and interesting conversation about one of our best-known stories.
Starting with the first-known published version, Orenstein points out Charles Perrault's lesson to young girls entering the lascivious and political court of Louis XIV. She traces the story further back to a shockingly playful rendition that includes bzous (werewolves) and cannibalism. In this version, she revives the symbolism that relates to the feminine by pointing out the odd questions of the bzou: "Which path are you taking... the path of needles or the path of pins?" Orenstein also takes a look at more modern versions, including Anne Sexton's poem "Red Riding Hood" and Matthew Bright's film Freeway, taking on, as she examines these and other modern versions of the old tale, the machismo wolf and the Gen-X grrrl.
Though expansive in her research, Orenstein's interpretations are occasionally too simplistic. In "Grandmother's Tale," Riding Hood's cannibalistic meal of her grandmother is reduced to a "symbolic reminder that the old will be reborn in the young." There is nothing mentioned of the talking cat who decries Riding Hood, saying, "She is a slut who eats the flesh and drinks the blood of her granny!" But what Orenstein lacks in depth, she more than makes up for in her encompassing study. In all, 10 tales are examined, as well as a vast historical study of the times they were published. Written with lively prose, Orenstein has produced a book that will spark thought and conversation, encouraging readers to find the wolf, the grandmother, and the little girl within. --Karin Rosman
Once upon a time, Red Riding Hood was a good little girl. When she foolishly strayed from the path in the forest and spoke to strangers, she fell prey to the wicked wolf, but, fortunately, the heroic woodcutter rescued her just in time. Today's versions of the popular fairy tale tell a different story: for example, in the 1996 movie Freeway
, the paved-over forest is full of gangs, guns, and wolves, but the teenager is her own savior. And what about that wolf in drag? With wit and insight, Orenstein makes us look again at the old childhood story, how it has changed and what that says about us. From Perrault and the Brothers Grimm to Bruno Bettelheim and Andrea Dworkin, the lively informal narrative surveys the stories and the scholarship in terms of folklore, psychology, feminism, and pornography. It's as reader that Orenstein is most insightful. Never self-righteous, she shows that the story's power lies in the truth that we are all a bit of everything: girl, grandmother, woodcutter, wolf. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved