When we talk about fairy tales, it’s easy to focus on the fantastic elements. In so doing, one can overlook that the story may have been trying to make a point.
As one reads fairy tales, one may notice that they tend to have grim endings. This was to the end of communicating to the children listening that the world was not a pleasant place. Yet, this plays a part in preparing children for the real world. But what’s more, they also prepare children by imparting on them the moral lessons illustrated in these stories.
An example of such a fairy tale was Little Red Riding Hood. It’s evident that this story can be used to illustrate how tragedy can result when one fails to identify a dangerous predator, or fail to give mind as warning signs become apparent.
To succinctly summarize, the story is about a protagonist, a girl identified only by her choice of apparel, who went on a trip to her grandmother’s house. Along the way, she meets a wolf, who asks her where she is going. She told the wolf that she was going to her grandmother’s house. The wolf, wanting to eat the girl and the food that was with her, went to her grandmother’s house, ate her grandmother, then disguised itself as her grandmother for to act upon the girl by deception. The girl noticed that her grandmother (actually the wolf) had unusually large features, but this didn’t seem to concern the girl much until it was too late. The girl paid the price for her lack of discernment, when the wolf took her by surprise and ate her.
There are variations on this story. Some tellers may leave out that the wolf spoke to the girl on the way to her grandmother’s house, perhaps because the teller wished to focus more on the wolf’s deceptiveness. However, this leaves out the girl’s first mistake: sharing information that she didn’t have to with someone she didn’t know. This set her up for the tragedy that followed. Of course, one can ask why the wolf didn’t just attack the girl on the path. It could be that the wolf was diminutive or didn’t think much of its own ability to overcome a young human being, but I think it’s reasonable to believe that the original author’s insistence on the lesson of this part of the story was particularly strong.
Another revision states that, at the end, the girl was rescued by either a hunter or a woodworker. This revision was an obvious attempt to reduce the blow of the otherwise tragic end to the story. However, it also undermines the moral by reducing the connotation of consequences for the kind of mistakes that the girl made. The fact is, in the real world, if someone makes a grave mistake, there isn’t much realistic expectation that someone is going to come to the rescue.
And speaking of revisions, the earliest-known version starred an “attractive, well-bred young lady”, which differs from most modern versions which stars a little girl. However, this change doesn’t have an apparent impact on the story’s moral undertones. Putting aside that a “young lady” is expected to be old enough to know better, and that picturing a little girl as the protagonist is an obvious choice to emphasize her innocence or naïveté.
As mentioned above, the girl’s first mistake was sharing information with a stranger that she didn’t have to. Considering the connected nature of today’s world, this is a very important lesson to impart. The internet today is teeming with people of dubious intent who are out to take what they want, and if someone were to share just enough information to act upon, they’d consider that plenty.
You’ve probably heard stories about people who found that they were burglarized after returning from vacation, after they made the mistake of sharing their vacation plans on social media.
As bad as that was, Little Red Riding Hood’s fatal shortcoming was an inability to tell a trusted individual apart from a dangerous predator, even after all the signs became apparent to her (“what big ears/eyes/hands you have!”).
Sadly, many children today are vulnerable because they haven’t properly learned from their parents the kind of discretion and discernment that could have saved the life of the girl in the story. In many cases, this failure on the part of the parents has come about due to the fact that many parents find it difficult to approach the topic. Of course, difficulty is not an acceptable excuse. Way too many parents are failing their children!
Thankfully, we have stories like Little Red Riding Hood which make such difficult topics easier to approach. Narrative has long been a valuable tool in communicating important moral lessons, and it’s particularly effective when communicating them to children.
The story of Little Red Riding Hood is of particular importance these days, considering that dangerous predators have infiltrated positions of trust, which they then use to groom children. While we have a lot of work to do in an effort to remove these deviants from positions of influence, we must not overlook one of our most important roles, which is to teach children to recognize signs that something is wrong, and to speak up when something seems amiss. This goes a long way in protecting them from the predators who are preying on children today.
If they were wolves, they would have eaten them.