Once upon a time, there was a fairy tale ending and everyone lived happily ever after.
Hmm. The other day, I was pondering the term “fairy tale ending”. As stated above, it has become synonomous with “happily ever after”. Then I started thinking about some of my favorite fairy tales and their fairy tale endings. Little Red Riding Hood, for instance. I like Little Red Riding Hood. She confronts evil seemingly unafraid. Too bad her “original” fairy tale ending is not so happily ever after.
But even the “original” Little Red Riding Hood I’m thinking of turns out not to be the “original” original. So, just how far back does Little Red Riding Hood go? Just where did she come from in the first place?
Okay, first off, let’s get some perspective. The Little Red Riding Hood I tend to think of as the “original” is Charles Perrault’s version, called Le Petit Chaperon Rouge. In it, Little Red is eaten by the wolf. No nice nearby huntsmen to help her out. The “fairy tale ending” for her in this fairy tale is not so nice and serves as a lesson to other children to never talk to strangers, and warns young, attractive ladies to beware “gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.” One date puts this tale at least as early as 1697.
Then came the Brothers Grimm, publishing their collection of Children’s and Household Tales in 1812. They wanted to preserve German oral folk tales. But their version of Little Red Cap was not German. It came from the French, told to them by Marie Hassenpflug, who was of French Huguenot descent. But the Grimms did change the tale, giving it a happy ending, as a hunter cuts Little Red Cap and her grandmother out of the wolf’s stomach. This is more of the happily ever after fairy tale ending that we’re used to in our present day culture.
But let’s go back to the concept of “original”. As it turns out, the French version of Little Red Riding Hood told by Charles Perrault in 1697 is nowhere near old enough to be considered the “original”.
In 2009, Dr. Jamie Tehrani, a cultural anthropologist, presented findings supporting the fact that several different versions of Little Red Riding Hood shared a common source dating back more than 2,600 years ago. The earliest version of Little Red Riding Hood that Dr. Tehrani aludes to is a Greek tale attributed to Aesop from the 6th century BC. In fact, several of Aesop’s Fables contain wolves.
But Dr. Tehrani thinks there may be an even older version than Aesop. Non-European versions of Little Red Riding Hood share this common source alongside Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood and the Grimms’ Little Red Cap.
The Tiger Grandma or Grand Aunt Tigress is a Chinese/Taiwanese fairy tale dating back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). While it is a tiger, not a wolf, that is to be feared, one can still see the striking similarities—beware of strangers, what strange features this stranger has, and both pretend to be grandma, preying on children.
Other stories similar to Little Red Riding Hood include Shenel Quermezi or Red-Caped originating out of Persia, in which a little boy, not a little girl, is the protagonist. Dr. Tehrani also found versions of Little Red Riding Hood from Africa, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, and Burma.
So if Lil Red tells you that she is older than the hills, she is not joking! And just where is she from? The way that so many cultures have integrated her into their fairy tale lore leads me to believe she truly is the girl next door, from everywhere! And originally, she may not have started off with a happily ever after fairy tale ending, but thanks to her fairy tale evolution, modern-day culture has often given her one. So ride on, Lil Red! Happy trails to you!