Those Fairy Tales You’re Reading Your Kid Are Way Older Than You Think
Little Red Riding Hood really should have learned her lesson by now.
If you have one of those kids who likes to read fairy tales but asks a lot of questions you can’t answer, like “Why does Little Red Riding Hood get into bed with a wolf?” or “Why does the wolf crossdress like a grandmother?” or “Why is she walking to grandmother’s when she could just call an Uber like a normal person?” you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the company of fathers stretching back way longer than you think — like, before-the-English-language long.
Much of the current fairytale canon gets credited to the Brothers Grimm collections from the 19th Century, but according to researchers Sara Graca de Silva and Jamie Tehrani, those Germans were carpetbagging on tales dating back as much as 6,000 years. In their version, both Red Riding Hood and granny get eaten by the wolf. Then a hunter comes along, cuts them out, and fills the wolf’s belly with stones. That was cribbed from a 17th Century French guy named Perrault, in whose version LRRH gets devoured and that’s it. Perrault intended the tale to be a lesson for young women about getting into bed with any kind of stranger that stalks them, which is pretty solid advice in any century. His version was probably cribbed off an even older story about a wolf and some kids that Tehrani has traced back 2,000 years.
So, if your kid is asking all those questions about Little Red Riding Hood because they’re bored, the good news is you can just read them a different version — maybe the one where she tricks the wolf by saying she needs to use the bathroom. That way, you can get a side of potty training with your “don’t get into bed with cross-dressing wolves” bedtime story lesson.
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