In the forests of France one of the first versions of Little Red Riding Hood was “The Story of Grandmother”. This was an oral tale that had been passed down through many generations. The tale was believed to be cautionary, a warning against dallying in the woods and of course against wolves. In this version of the tale Granny is not only eaten by the wolf, he also puts her meat in the cupboard and a bottle of her blood on the shelf. When Red comes in he urges her to eat the meat and drink the “wine”, when she does a cat walks by and calls her a slut for eating her own grandmother. In The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood: Versions of the Tale in Sociocultural Context Zipes wonders if this symbolizes the replacement of one generation by another. After that Red strips for the wolf she asks what she should do with each article of clothing only to be told to throw it on the fire, as she wouldn’t be needing it anymore. Red then goes through and asks the questions that lead her to the unfortunate conclusion that this is not her grandmother. She then asks one more question: “Can I go to the bathroom”? Thus she leaves the house and runs home, by the time the wolf realizes he has been duped, it is too late. So perhaps Red had something passed down to her from her Grandmother, her femininity, her quick thinking, and her shrewdness. While it could not save the older infirm generation, it was enough to save Red. So, perhaps, the folk tale was not just a warning tale, but also a celebration of a young girl’s coming of age.
This and other versions most probably contributed to the first literary version of the tale written by Perrault in 1697. Perrault, as well as several other Frenchmen of the upper class, were attempting to teach and train their children to hold upper class morals. It was a new thing and one of the tricks pulled was taking tales from the lower class and re-writing them for the upper class. Such vulgarity as Red eating Grandma and such independence as Red shows when she ran away were cut from the story. The tale reveals a social order in which women required masculine protection and guidance. Any female who chose to be alone placed herself outside the social norm. Therefore any independence or quick thinking was stripped from the tale as it had no place inside the heads of female children of the upper class. Instead the tale spelled out the sexuality of the situation, and ended with Red being eaten by the wolf. Also in this version a red cloak was introduced for the first time. At that particular time in seventeenth century France red cloaks were typically worn by French prostitutes, even today the concept of a red light district is still fairly common. You can be certain the significance was not lost on the young women this story was told to. This is not really a fairy tale either, it is just a cautionary tale, one that is intended to shock and scare the children into obedience with Perrault’s wishes. This is why Red dies, and stays dead at the end. This story painted the picture of the perfect girl child. She is pretty, spoiled, and stupid. This fulfills the male fantasy of having a simple, docile, obedient, subservient, stupid wife. This also explains why the child sees nothing wrong with getting in bed with a wolf, and staying there. Again a young women would notice that while she needed to be docile, obedient and subservient she also needed to beware, act stupid but don’t be stupid.
There is also some argument about why this particular tale was chosen by Perrault to be written in a literary fashion. He was serving at the time in the court of King Louis XIV, a king who had a cross dressing bisexual brother. At the time the brother enjoyed dressing up as a woman and going into the women’s only salons where he would lay in one of the beds and urge other young ladies to climb in with him. He would then proceed to and sometimes successfully seduce them, sometimes without anyone else in the salon being any the wiser as he hid his actions underneath his vast skirts or the blankets of the bed he was lying in. This was doubly sinister for the young, naive girls of the court as their virginity was often their only bargaining chip and without it they had nothing. If they reported a rape they were punished severely. In France, at the time, rape was a woman’s fault and got her either banished or killed if she came forward with the crime. Perrault’s version may be the cruelest version of Little Red Riding Hood but it also accurately reflected the cruelness of the world that surrounded it and young girls of his era were wise if they listened to the lesson it had to give.