Red Riding Hood for All Ages: A Fairy-Tale Icon in Cross-Cultural Contexts

Article excerpt

Red Riding Hood for All Ages: A Fairy-Tale Icon in Cross-Cultural Contexts. By Sandra L. Beckett. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008. 244 pp.

Red Riding Hood jor All Ages is Sandra Beckett's second book devoted to retellings of the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. The first book, Recycling Red Riding Hood (2002), focused on contemporary versions of the fairy tale for children. Beckett's 2008 study, as her title announces, examines what she calls "crossover works" that appeal to children, adolescents, and adults in a wide range of international contexts. "The multiple layers of the short tale," as Beckett explains, "make it a perfect subject for multiple readerships" (3). Although Beckett looks at some works dating from the early and mid-twentieth century, most versions discussed in Red Riding Hood jor AU Ages have appeared since the 1970s and reflect current concerns and issues.

Beckett includes both pictorial and textual reinterpretations of "Little Red Riding Hood" in her study. The many black-and-white drawings and color plates reproduced in Red Riding Hood jor AU Ages conclusively demonstrate the tale's continuing ability to inspire visual artists. Although repeatedly retold in words and images by previous generations, the tale has evidently not been "used up" or superannuated; on the contrary, as Beckett shows, it remains an inexhaustible source and resource for new generations of authors and illustrators. In addition, one of the important contributions of Beckett's book is its discussion of literary recastings of the fairy tale that have never before been translated into English and are inaccessible to most English-speaking readers. With the assistance of multhingual friends and colleagues, Beckett has been able to examine versions that have appeared to date only in Afrikaans, Catalan, Dutch, Hungarian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Swedish, among other languages, and that represent a large number of countries in several continents. Similarly, the impressive examples of modern revisualizations of Red Riding Hood's story assembled in this study also represent diverse styles and cultures.

Each of the five chapters of Red Riding Hood jor All Ages has a distinct thematic focus. Chapter 1, "Cautionary Tales for Modern Riding Hoods," deals with versions in the venerable tradition of the Warnmärchen that rework the tale as a warning for women of all ages against abuse by rapacious men. The themes of violence and rape continue to predominate in many visual and verbal revisions of the story, bringing to mind (if such reminders are necessary) the age-old adage that the more some things change, the more they tend to stay the same. Chapter 2, "Contemporary Riding Hoods Come of Age," examines versions in which the initiatory aspect of the tale is foregrounded. The encounter with the wolf in these renditions serves the story of the heroine's coming of age and often entails her initiation into sexuality. In some of these retellings "Little Red Riding Hood" becomes a love story, a romance between girl and wolf, in which the cautionary tradition is obscured or forgotten.

Chapters 3 to 5 consider various innovative approaches to the tale that focus on "wolfhood" rather than on girl-or womanhood. Chapter 3 presents the wolf's story from different perspectives, including first-person retellings by the wolf himself. …