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
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