Sex. Pure unadulterated sex. When we think of sex, it is not usually in the context of a fairytale. Fairytales are for children, virgin ears. Over the years, fairytales have been “cleaned up” for young ears- we have become accustomed to the bland Disney versions of tales. How many of us can recount a version separate from the animated classics of our childhood? It is truly hard to believe that sometimes there are much more racy versions of these same tales.
Today, I d like to share one such variation of Little Red Riding Hood called In the Company of Wolves, written by Angela Carter. I will recount ancient folklore of werewolves, introduce the sexually charged characters as I walk with you through the seemingly familiar yet much more raw path to grandmother’s house, and take you on a journey from virginity to womanhood.
TR*: We should begin by introducing some key werewolf folklore
There was once a woman who married a man who vanished on her wedding night. The bride lay down on the bed and the groom said he was going out to relieve himself. She waited and waited but he didn’t returnall that was heard was howling coming on the wind from the forest. No remains were ever found, and the woman found herself another husband and had many children. One freezing night there was a knock at the door, and as she opened it she recognized him immediately. His clothes were in rags and his hair was long and filled with lice. Seeing she had remarried and had another man’s children, the first husband wished to be a wolf again so that he could teach “this whore” a lesson. After being killed by the second husband, the werewolf’s pelt was peeled off and he was just as he had been when he left his marriage bed.
They say there is an ointment that the Devil gives you that turns you into a wolf, or that one born feet first and had a wolf for a father will be born a werewolf, with a man’s torso and the legs and genitals of a wolf. And a wolf’s heart.
Seven years is said to be the span of a werewolf, but if you burn his clothes, you condemn him to wolfishness for the rest of his life.
TR*: When Little Red Riding Hood sets out on her journey, it is midwinter, the worst time in all the year for werewolves.
Little Red, a strong-minded child insists on going off through the wood to bring her beloved grandmother some gifts. Her breasts have just begun to grow and she has just begun her period. She is an unbroken egg, a closed system; she doesn’t know how to shiver. She has been loved too much to know how to be scared.
It was the middle of winter, and the silence of the woods seemed to close down upon our heroine like a pair of jaws. Suddenly she heard a distant howl of a wolf, and she sprang to the handle of a well-concealed knife, but nobody was there. Suddenly, a clamor among the bushed produced a fully clothed and very handsome young man holding a very large rifle. They walked along the worn path for some time together laughing like old friends. It was only a mere half-mile to go till the warmth and safety of her grandmother’s house when the dashing young stranger proposed a bet. He insisted that with the help of a compass, he would surely make it to the grandmother’s house before she would on the path. A game was made of it, and if he won, he was to have a kiss. At the mention of the kiss, Little Red lowered her eyes and blushed, commonplace of rustic seduction. Although it was getting dark, she wanted to dawdle on her way so that the handsome gentleman would win his wager. She forgot to be afraid of the beasts.
TR*: It was this wager that was to signal the end of innocence for our young heroine.
The handsome young man arrived at grandmother’s house first with a trace of blood on his chin. He knocked on the door with his hairy knuckles and announced himself in high soprano as her granddaughter. After entering he removed his disguise, and granny could see his matted hair streaming down his white shirt, lice moving within it. As he strips off his shirt his skin is the texture and color of vellum. His nipples were dark and his genitals were huge.
He ate the grandmother, licked his chops, and redressed. He burned he hair in the fire and hid her bones under the bedthey were inedible. Now all he had to do was wait patiently in granny’s bed cap for his next victim. She entered her grandmother’s house, disappointed to see that only her grandmother lay there. But then he sprang out of bed and pressed his back against the door so that she couldn’t escape. She looked around the roomthe pillow was smooth and the bible lay closed. Something was wrong.
“What big eyes you have.”
“All the better to see you with.”
There was no trace of the grandmother, except the white hair in the fire, and when the girl saw that she knew that there was danger of death.
A great howling rose up around them, the howling of a multitude of wolves.
“Who has come to sing us carols?” she asks.
“Those are the voices of my brothers, darling; I love the company of wolves”
After looking out the window at the many wolves she closed the window and asked:
“What shall I do with my shall?”
“Throw it in the fire, dear one. You won’t need it again.”
Blouseskirt.woolen stockings.shoes. She stood there naked. She went directly to the man with red eyes and unbuttoned the color of his shirt. She freely gave him the kiss he was owed.
“What big teeth you have”
“All the better to eat you with.”
And she burst out laughing; she was nobody’s meat. She ripped off his shirt and threw it into the fire. The bones under the bed clattered but she paid no mind. She would lay his fearful heard in her lap and pick out the lice from his pelt and put them in her own mouth and eat them, as she would do in a savage marriage ceremony.
All was silent and still. Snow shows the confusion of paw prints. Sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf.
So now you know that there are some very different versions of tales then we are accustomed to.
You have heard some ancient folklore about werewolves, been introduced to the sexually charged characters, walked through the seemingly familiar yet much more raw path to grandmother’s house, and taken a journey from virginity to womanhood.
Perhaps this story is not really about real wolves. We have all at times seen the animal within ourselves, so perhaps the image of the wolf is used to represent what we try to suppress about our nature.
When Red throws his clothes into the fire, she is condemning him to wolfishness forever. She has embraced what we fear.
So I urge you to remember next time you watch a Disney movie with a child, that not is all as it seems in the land of fairytales.