The popular children’s story Little Red Riding Hood began, as many such fables do, as a cautionary tale aimed specifically at young girls. The red-hooded protagonist is instructed by her mother “not to stray from the path” as she ventures forth to deliver food to her ailing grandmother who lives alone in the woods. Along the way, she famously encounters the Big Bad Wolf — and thus begins a succession of overtly sexual metaphors. In the earliest known printed version of this story, authored by Charles Perrault, the disguised Wolf tricks Red Riding Hood into removing her clothes and climbing into bed with him, at which point he “falls upon” her and she is devoured. To ensure that the moral of his tale was not lost upon his young readers, Perrault offered this sermon at the end of his text:
From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition — neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!
Well, so much for subtlety. Thus, from it’s earliest incarnation, this was a moralizing tale that warned young girls not to succumb to wild, carnal desire. Modern interpretations of this story, however, replace the traditionally naïve heroine with an empowered one. The best known of these ‘revisionist’ versions is Angela Carter’s 1979 short story The Company of Wolves, in which the Wolf is reconfigured as a werewolf — a wolfman seducer with whom Red Riding Hood engages in consensual sex. Carter’s version of the sexually-awakened heroine was adapted to screen by Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan in 1984. Jordan’s The Company of Wolves is a gorgeous — though flawed — gem of a film. Although the narrative of Jordan’s film wanders to the brink of incoherence, the journey is a visually rewarding one. My favourite scene from The Company of Wolves is the initial meeting between Rosalind (the Red Riding Hood character) and the elegant, mysterious Huntsman whom she encounters in the forest. Admittedly, the guy who portrays the Huntsman was not cast for his stellar acting ability. But then, who’s looking at his acting…?