Inspired by Lykeia’s Little Red Riding Hood posts, here and here, I thought I’d hash out a bit of the symbolism from the version of the story that I know well. This version has been told and retold by the mothers in my family line for generations, so it might just be a peculiarity of my family. It is quite a bit different from that discussed by Lykeia, but it is of course, still Little Red Riding Hood, so the basic story remains the same. First, the tale itself, then a brief discussion of the symbols. Here we go!
Once upon a time, a young maiden lived with her Mother at the edge of a lush, green forest. The girl, who was called Little Red Riding Hood, or simply Red (for she was no longer little), was never seen without wearing her red, hooded cloak. Together, they worked diligently, gathering medicinal herbs and flowers, for they had received a letter from Grandmother, whose house lay deep in the forest. Poor Grandmother was very ill, and all alone.
Soon, the gathering was done, and Mother instructed Red on how to make the medicine for Grandmother. When Red was confident enough that she could remember, the maiden set off, alone, upon the forest path to Grandmother’s house.
From the cover of the forest, a sly old Wolf walked along side Red, his teeth bared and his tongue twitching to taste the young maiden’s flesh. He listened to her merry whistling and singing, as she hurried along to her Grandmother’s house. The Wolf knew the forest well, having lived and hunted there his whole life. He remembered when Grandmother had been a young maiden like this tasty Red, and remembered well the scar she had left him with. Perhaps, the Wolf would pay Grandmother a visit, too, after he gobbled up tasty Little Red…
As Red walked along the path, she began to feel uneasy, as though she were being watched. At first, she ignored the feeling, continuing while merrily whistling and singing along with the birds in the forest. She happened upon a small patch of lovely flowers and stopped to pick a few. As she was bent over the flowers, she heard a distant voice, saying:
“Oh, Little Red, stay a while here to pick the lovely flowers. Grandmother will be alright for a while longer. The flowers are so pretty, just like you, Little Red…”
Red began to feel uneasy, once again. She looked around. There was no one, and she could see nothing out of the ordinary, and yet the feeling persisted, so she left the lovely flowers behind, continuing swiftly down the path.
Unfortunately for Red, the feeling did not go away. Something was behind her, right on her heels! Frantically, she began to walk faster and faster, her feet carrying her frightfully far from the intended path. Was there some menace or wild beast stalking her? The feeling was quite ominous now, and all Red wanted to do was get away. She forgot all about Grandmother, as she ran deeper and deeper into the forest. Eventually, Red realized that she was lost, so stopped when she happened upon a fallen log. There, at the log, Red sat and cried, and waited for the beast to strike. But, much to Red’s surprise, the thing rustling in the nearby bushes wasn’t a beast at all, but a Huntsman, who had been hunting in the forest with his loyal hounds!
The Huntsman approached the weeping maiden slowly, asking her if she were lost, if she were alright. Red told him everything. Told him how she was going to help her sick Grandmother, how she had become lost while fleeing the presence, which had been stalking her. The hounds licked her hands to comfort Red, as she recounted her story, and the Huntsman listened patiently. At the end of it, he looked her seriouly in the eyes, and said:
“There are many wild things in the forest, which would love to gobble up a sweet maiden like yourself. You must be strong to protect your own life.” Then, he pulled out a rather large hunting knife from the sheath at his hip. Turning the knife slowly in the dappled forest light, he said, “Take this with you, young one,” and he removed the sheath from his hip, placing the knife back inside. The Huntsman handed Red the sheathed knife, and together with the hounds, walked her back to the forest path. There, they said their goodbyes, while Red thanked him once again.
With the knife safely tucked away in her basket, Red continued toward Grandmother’s house. She felt guilty for having taken so long, and so she rushed as fast as her legs could carry her…
In Grandmother’s house, in Grandmother’s bed, the sly Wolf tucked himself in. Grandmother sure was tasty. Tastier than he’d ever imagined, and weaker, too. It was too bad that awful Huntsman had to show up when he did. Little Red was almost between his teeth. But no matter. Soon, she would be knocking on the door, and soon, she would join her dear Grandmother in the old Wolf’s belly…
Little Red Riding Hood stood at the threshold of Grandmother’s house. The door was unlocked, which was unusual. She called out to Grandmother, but heard no answer. She was worried. Had she arrived too late? Had Grandmother’s illness progressed too far? The maiden stepped inside.
The house was eerily quiet. Nary a sound to be heard. Little Red felt small indeed, wrapping herself up in her red, hooded cloak. There! In the bedroom, she heard a noise. A deep chuckle unlike any she’d ever heard before. As she approached the room, she hesitated a moment, opening her basket to feel for the knife given to her by the Huntsman. As her fingers passed over the hilt of the knife, Red thought that perhaps it was just the illness making Grandmother sound so peculiar, so she strode on.
Little Red came up to the side of the bed, looking down at her weary Grandmother, who had the covers tucked up over her head. Only her ears were visible, so Little Red said:
“Grandmother, what big ears you have…”
And Grandmother answered, “All the better to hear you with, my dear.” Then she lowered the covers just a bit.
“Grandmother, what big eyes you have…”
And Grandmother answered, “All the better to see you with, my dear.” Then, Grandmother lowered the covers just a bit more.
“Grandmother, what a big nose you have…”
And Grandmother answered, “All the better to smell you with, my dear.” Little Red found this statement very strange, but watched carefully as Grandmother lowered the covers even more.
Now, Little Red felt very, very small, as she said, “Grandmother… what big teeth you have…”
Grandmother turned to face Little Red then, smiling a sly, wolfish smile and said: “All the better to EAT you with, my dear!” Then, the Wolf lunged out of the bed, straight for Little Red!
Little Red ran and ran all over the house, with the Wolf hot on her heels. It wasn’t long before she found herself trapped in a corner with no way to escape. Tears welled up in Little Red’s eyes, as the Wolf stalked closer, ever so slowly. His massive jaws were wide open, and saliva dripped freely onto the floor. Little Red was all alone, locked in this dance of death with the sly, old Wolf. And then, it happened…
Little Red and the Wolf had both disappeared. They had become one thought, a single unifying instinct. Survival, hunger, life and death, all merged together into the One. And the One let out a terrible scream, and then there was only red. Red everywhere…
At the door to the old woman’s house, the Huntsman slowly entered with his hounds. In a bright red corner, all covered in blood, Little Red Riding Hood sat weeping over the body of the sly, old Wolf. The same Wolf that the Huntsman and his loyal hounds had been searching for. The knife he had given her, was lodged in the beast’s throat. Little Red looked up at him, the blood blending together with the red of her cloak. She was different now. She was no longer little, but was a woman grown.
The Huntsman came to her, knelt beside her and the dead Wolf. He pulled the knife out of the beast, then Red exclaimed:
“I was too late! The Wolf gobbled up my Grandmother! I was too late! I couldn’t save her!”
Then, the Huntsman answered, “Look here now, young one, your Grandmother lives.” And he took the knife, slicing open the Wolf’s belly, and out fell Grandmother, alive and whole.
Red immediately thanked the Huntsman and began to care for her poor Grandmother. Grandmother coughed and wheezed, but was profoundly grateful to be alive. She held tightly onto Red, saying:
“Oh, my Little Red, isn’t so little anymore. You, you saved my life by saving your own.”
And while Red tended to Grandmother, making the medicine as her Mother had instructed, and settling the old woman down in the bed, the Huntsman skinned the wolf. It was only fitting that Red receive the spoils of her own actions, so once Grandmother was sleeping soundly, he offered the sleek pelt to the brave, young woman.
Red and the Huntsman, along with his hounds, left Grandmother’s house then. The Huntsman went off to hunt other beasts, while Red took the path back to her own home, where Mother was waiting. The Wolf’s pelt was now tucked snugly into her basket, and she knew that Mother would be able to make a wonderful new coat, or blanket, or some other such thing, to keep Grandmother warm on cold nights.
And that was my family’s version of the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. Now, I’ll break down the different elements which, to me, bring Apollon (or Artemis) specifically to mind.
1.) First, we have Red’s hooded cloak (as Lykeia rightly points out in her own posts) which is reminiscent of Artemis’ hooded cloak.
2.) The medicinal herbs and flowers, as Apollon is a god of healing a healers.
3.) The path that Red walks to Grandmother’s house is reminiscent of the roads over which Apollon presides.
4.) The Wolf, who pursues Red, causing her fear, and eventually, provoking her into self-defense, is a symbol of Apollon Himself.
5.) The Huntsman, I believe is an emissary of Artemis, who watches over Red, first by providing her with the knife (necessary life-skills) she would need to survive. He is accompanied by hounds, which are know to be loved by Artemis.
Ah, there are many, many more, but I’m a little tired now, and this post is already quite long. lol So, perhaps my readers can examine the story I’ve told, and comment on any more associations that they find. I wanted to see what you all had to say about this, anyway, hence the post. I do hope you have enjoyed this little foray into the stories of my mothers/grandmothers.
Hail Apollon! Hail Artemis!