Thursday, October 14, 2010

Little Red Riding Hood

This is perhaps one of the most enduring fairy tales of all times. And, like Cinderella, its elements have passed into the basic lexicon of our society. The lesson it teaches is universal: take extra care with strangers.

In most early versions, both Grandmother and Red herself were eaten, but as time wore on, and sympathy for Little Red grew, she was rescued by her father, a huntsman, or, according to playwright James Lapine, a baker. It wasn’t until the Brothers Grimm got their hands on it a hundred and twenty years after the story became popular that Grandma was rescued!

Some versions are more gory than others. I, for example, have omitted the bit where the wolf catches Grandma’s blood in bottles and tricks Red into drinking them! Think about little things like that before you scold people like me and Walt for “cleaning up” fairy tales, okay?

olves are wonderful animals. Beautiful creatures with much to offer. They only eat the weakest sickest member of any given herd so that the herd itself stays strong. They are one of a very few wild animals that mate for life. And, though somewhat chilling, their howl is one of nature’s most beautiful and haunting sounds. Unfortunately, there is an old saying that goes, “one bad apple will spoil the bushel.” And the same is true of wolves. One or two bad ones have become famous and these remarkable animals have been maligned ever since. This is the story of one such bad apple, a rogue wolf by the name of Treebark. A real villain with a heart of coal.

Once upon a time and long ago, there was a little girl called Red. Now, Red was not her real name, mind you. But that’s what everyone called her because she loved the color red. Red loved red passionately. Her toothbrush was red, her favorite foods were strawberries and apples (red delicious, of course), her favorite comedian was Red Skelton, her favorite singer was Helen Reddy…

Sorry, I got carried away there.

Also, her favorite thing in the whole wide world was a special cape and hood which was of a style that was popular at the time called a “riding hood.” It was bright red and her Grandmother had made it for her, which is why she was always called Little Red Riding Hood…or Red Riding Hood for short…or Red for shorter…or, on occasion, “R” for shortest.

Anyway, Red’s Grandmother lived in a house inconveniently located on the opposite side of Wolf Woods, wherein lived close to a hundred wolves. But Red wasn’t afraid when she went to visit her grandmother. A clean, well-lit path cut through the forest to allow travel, and the wolves seldom ventured out far enough to interact with their human visitors…usually.

One day, Red’s Grandmother became very ill. In fact, between you and me, there were concerns about whether or not she’d make it through the night. So, Red’s Mother asked her to take a Basket of Goodies through Wolf Woods to Grandmother’s House. Red, whose best friend in the world was her Grandmother, was more than happy to oblige, and left as soon as she got back from school. Now, Red had made this trip before on numerous occasions. And she had always promised her mother that she would stay on the path and not wander into the woods. For, friendly though the people were with the wolves, there were other dangers to consider. So Red had no reason to believe that today’s trip would be any different.

What she didn’t know is what was going on deep in the forest at that very moment. The wolves were holding an impromptu tribunal for one of their own.

“Step forward, Treebark of Narria,” said Greybeard, the Chief Wolf. Treebark stepped forward as every eye of every wolf in his pack glared at him in disgust and shame. Treebark felt no remorse. “Treebark of Narria,” Greybeard continued, addressing him by his family name as a matter of protocol, “you stand accused of crimes against the pack. You have behaved not in the interest of your fellow wolves, but only in your own. You have attacked a defenseless animal without provocation. You have failed even to show remorse for your actions. Do you deny these charges?”

“No,” said Treebark. And in that one syllable he succeeded in displaying his utter contempt for all things wolfish.

“Have you anything to say in your defense before this council passes sentence?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I do,” said Treebark. “You’re weak! All of you! We are strong, fierce creatures. With the right motivation we could rule this forest and beyond. We could act with total impunity. But, no. We have to be civilized. Hold trials and call each other by our family names. Well, go ahead and pass your little sentence. The worst you can do is kick me out of the pack, and I wouldn’t stay if you begged me!”

Greybeard did indeed banish Treebark from the pack. He left smiling. The other wolves became worried at what he might do, but only briefly before getting on with their lives. Never dreaming that, while his name would never be spoken among their number again, his actions would live in infamy…

When Treebark left the tribunal, he picked a direction and walked aimlessly. He muttered and mumbled to himself, cussing out the other wolves as he did so. He didn’t know where he was going, but he knew he was hungry. And there was a certain kind of animal he’d always been eager to try. As he came upon the path, he saw one such animal walking along happily. Seeing his opportunity, Treebark leapt out at the animal and said, “Hello, little girl.”

“Hello, Mr. Wolf,” said Little Red Riding Hood, politely.

“Where are you off to on this fine day?” Treebark was being exactly as charming as it’s possible to be when you are a sinister, bloodthirsty monster.

“I’m off to visit my Grandmother on the other side of the wood. She isn’t feeling well.”

“I am sorry to hear that. But, look, if you continue on the path it will take you another half an hour, maybe longer, to get there. I can show you a shortcut through the woods.”

“No. Sorry, Mr. Wolf, but I promised my mother I would stay to the path. Goodbye, Mr. Wolf!” Before Treebark could think of anything else to say, Red skipped away down the path. He was angry at himself, but then an idea struck. He had at least half an hour to run through the woods, beating Red Riding Hood to her Grandmother’s House. Once there, he could devour Granny and set a trap for Red herself. A two course meal!

Treebark licked his chops with glee and bounded into the woods, moving as fast as he could. In the process, he knocked a bird’s nest out of the tree it was nestled in. The bird who belonged to it was furious as she now had to build the whole thing from scratch, which meant waiting another day to lay her eggs. She shouted after Treebark but the wolf didn’t listen. It’s doubtful if he even heard. He had only one thought on his mind: Lunch!

When he arrived at Grandmother’s House, Treebark knew he’d need a plan to get inside. He thought of one quickly and knocked on the door. The thin, feeble voice of a usually vibrant old woman, pinned down with illness, came from within. “Who is it?” she asked.

“Good afternoon, can I interest you in a new set of encyclopedias?” said the wolf, doing his Best Encyclopedia Salesman Voice.

“No, thank you,” said Grandmother. Treebark thought for another moment, then knocked on the door again. “Who is it?” said Grandmother.

“Pizza man,” said the wolf, doing his Best Pizza Delivery Boy Voice.

“I didn’t order a pizza,” said Grandmother, wondering if pizza had even been invented yet. Finally the wolf hit upon the winner. He knocked on the door. “Who is it?”

“Certified letter for…er…Grandmother!” said the wolf, doing his Best Postal Employee Voice.

“Oh, just a moment, I’ll let you in.” Treebark stifled a chuckle as he heard Grandmother undo all seven locks on her front door. When she swung open the door she was shocked to find, not a Postal Employee with a Certified Letter, but rather a huge, slobbering wolf with sharp teeth and claws looming over her. Needless to say, but I will anyway, she screamed and ran away. Treebark was nipping at her heels the whole way, until Grandmother dove into the cellar and locked the door behind her.

Treebark banged on the door with all his might but couldn’t get through. Eventually he remembered Little Red Riding Hood. If she saw the front door open and no sign of Grandmother, she’d get suspicious and probably call the police or something. So, thinking even more quickly than before, Treebark ran into Grandmother’s closet, found a nightgown and cap and a pair of her spectacles. With his cunning disguise in place, he shut the front door, leaving it unlocked, climbed into bed and waited for Red to come.

She did at last and knocked on the door. “Come in,” said the wolf, doing his Best Grandmother Voice (wolves are experts at voices, as well you know, and can imitate practically anybody). Red came in, thinking that Grandmother sounded funny because she was sick, but when she saw the figure lying in the bed, she knew at once that it was the wolf she had met on the road. Of course, she had no reason to suspect anything sinister was going on, so she played along and simply said, “Are you feeling any better, Grandmother?”

Treebark, unaware that Red was onto him, said, in his Granny Voice, “A little, dearie.”

“Grandmother!” said Red with fake shock, “What big eyes you have!”

Treebark again thought quickly and said, “All the better to see how you’ve grown, my dear.”

“Grandmother! What big ears you have!”

“All the better to listen to your sweet voice with.”

“Grandmother! What big arms you have!”

“Come here and give Granny a big hug, dearie.”

“And, Grandmother, what a big mouth you have!”

“All the better to eat you with, my dear!” And with that, Treebark forgot all pretense and dove at Red. Now Little Red Riding Hood knew something was wrong and screamed and ran for her life. The wolf, luckily, tripped on his nightgown, so Red had time to run for the cellar door only to find it locked, but as soon as Grandmother heard Red’s voice yelling, “Help! Help! He’s after me!” she unlocked the door and pulled her grandchild in after her. Treebark pounded on the door, but Grandmother had locked it right away. Now the wolf was furious.

“Fine!” he bellowed when he had grown weary of trying to break down the door. “You can’t stay down there forever. And I’ll be right here waiting for you.” To their horror, Red and Grandmother saw that the wolf was quite right. There was no food or water in the cellar. They were trapped!

But just then, when things looked blackest, a ray of hope fluttered past the window. The little Momma Bird whose nest Treebark had upset had rebuilt and was now prepared to follow the wolf’s trail and give him a piece of her mind. When she arrived at Grandmother’s house and saw what was going on, she was horrified. She hated the thought of that horrible beast eating those innocent people, so she flew off in search of help.

She found it in the form of a Hunter, who was having a very bad day. He hadn’t caught so much as a squirrel, when the little Momma Bird fluttered in front of his face and explained to him what was going on. Eager to help (and to save face in front of his hunter friends by catching something), the Hunter followed the Momma Bird to Grandmother’s House and knocked on the door.

“Who is it!?!?” barked the wolf, forgetting that it was not his own house.

“Er…Mr. Wolf: You may have already won ten million dollars!” said the Hunter, doing his Best Contest Spokesman Voice. Hunters are actually not that great at voices, but the wolf bought it anyway and, eager to win ten milion dollars, abandoned his place in front of the cellar and went to answer the front door…which proved to be the last thing that Treebark ever did.

And so, it looked as though everyone would end up happily ever after. Grandmother got well again and decided to move closer to her family so that Red wouldn’t have to wander through the woods quite so much. The pelt of Treebark brought a handsome price to the Hunter who was forever grateful to Little Red Riding Hood and her entire family. And the little Momma Bird has five babies, all of whom grew up into beautiful little birdies.

As for the wolves, they never knew of Treebark’s treachery, but if they did, they wouldn’t have been too worried. No one was likely to take this one incident and blow it out of proportion and condemn all wolves the world over…

But then word got out about the pigs…but that’s another story!


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • The Big Bad Wolf (1934) Walt Disney’s sequel to Three Little Pigs featuring Red Riding Hood and Grandma
  • Little Red Riding Rabbit (1944) Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Red is brinigng a rabbit to grandma instead of “goodies”
  • “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show”/”Fractured Fairy Tales”: Riding Hoods Annonymous. In which the Wolf is in a self-help program to kick the Riding Hood habit and joins the PTA
  • “The 10th Kingdom” (TV) Scott Cohen as “Wolf” plays the grandmother trick on Kimberly Williams
  • “Faerie Tale Theatre” (TV), Malcolm McDowall as the Wolf, Mary Steenburgen as Granny
  • “Into the Woods” Red and the Wolf sing “Hello, Little Girl” by Stephen Sondheim

NEXT WEEK: "Sleeping Beauty"


  1. Love your story! I am a wolf conservationist (in addition to being a writing teacher!), and it is most unfortunate that Treebark's actions besmeared and besmirched the most noble and sacred creature God ever made! (My obvious partiality is showing here!) Look forward to reading more!

  2. Thanks very much for your comment. Sharing the same name as a rat, I have always been sympathetic to nature's...shall we say "less than popular" animals, and I was glad to stand up for the wolves. I'm working on "The Three Little Pigs" for a future update. I hope you enjoy it.