Source: Canis Lupus 101 by Lin Kerns
Everyone knows the tale of little Red Riding Hood generally by the time they enter kindergarten; whether they have had the good fortune of someone reading it to them or they have read it themselves, everyone knows the perilous journey Little Red must make to her granny’s house where she confronts the wolf in her granny’s bed clothes. But few are aware of how such a story sets the precedent for fear of wolves later in life. You may scoff and raise a brow at this connection, but follow my train of logic for a bit, and you’ll see what I mean.
Where did the tale of little Red begin? Durham University anthropologist Jamie Tehrani states that “Little Red Riding Hood” likely branched off 1,000 years ago from an ancestral story that has its roots in the first century A.D” (Source). Tehrani uses a math model to trace the roots of the story, but what’s more, every culture on the earth appears to have some variant on the same tale. Those variants include gender, place, victim, and purpose of travel, but the one mainstay is the monster in the form of an animal, which is generally a tiger or wolf. Along come the Brothers Grimm and in their enthusiasm to scare the bejeebers out of kids, set in stone the wolf as the devouring, amoral beastie.
Like most myths and fairy tales, the story is generally always a metaphor for something else. In the instance of Red Riding Hood, Tehrani further enlightens us:
The stories are really about how people aren’t always who they seem to be, which is a really important lesson in life. Even people that we think we can trust can actually be out to harm us. In fact, it’s precisely because we trust them that we are vulnerable to what their harmful intentions might be toward us (Source).
So, ultimately, what is this lesson telling us? By anthropomorphizing animals in our telling, we are plainly stating that all monsters are human. Those fears we own have been transferred on to a poor beast that has no concept of such subtleties of manipulation or deceit. And herein lies the rub: somewhere between childhood and adulthood, some folks forget that this particular story is a metaphor and simply remember that the wolf is bad–very, very bad. A similar occurance takes place within the telling of the story of Adam and Eve; in this story, the serpent or snake is bad/evil and instead of remembering the metaphor, people think, ah-ha! the snake should die for its terrible nature.
Although we like to believe we live in an enlightened time, many, many people will continue to hold to their superstitions and irrational fears. They will tell you that the wolf is dangerous, unpredictable, a threat to home and hearth, and should be eradicated. Sure, some wolf haters exist via incipient greed and will use their hoarding tendencies to persuade others that wolves are bad, but most begin on the laps of their parents listening to stories created for a far deeper purpose. These are the people who shut their ears to the science of food webs, trophic predators, and the result of human encroachment. These same people, who might be otherwise, good citizens, will fall away at the mention of scientific understanding and revert to a story told long ago by someone they trusted.
It’s time we all grow the hell up and leave childhood behind and behave like thinking adults. It’s time we take responsibility for our actions and realize that thinking involves honesty with ourselves and our environment. It’s time to stop making monsters out of wolves.
2 Replies to “Little Red and the Wolf Dilemma”
Hi Rachel, There are many metaphor assumptions regarding the Little Red Riding Hood story. The one I heard was a hidden warning for little girls about “predators in the woods who want to do harm to little girls”. While the hidden meaning refers to men, not wanting to scare little girls regarding the danger, the author has a man (the hunter) as the savior. Another story that I believe which has had influence on how we perceive wolves. The idea that wolves want to kill and eat people. My guess it might have came out of Russia centuries ago where the snows are deep and often bog the horses down. The only way the occupants can get home is to get out and walk. The wolves have learned this and follow troikas waiting for the opportunity to make a meal of the abandoned horses. This theory of mine came from an incident that happened to my maternal grandparents in the late 1800s/early 1900s. They were coming home in a snowstorm and the snow got so deep the horses were floundering and could go no further. My grandparents had no choice but to leave the horses to literally freeze to death. (Since this was northern NJ there were no wolves by that time.) Jackie Malcolm