Text by Lari Don, illustration by Célia Chauffrey and audio recording read by Imelda Staunton.
Published by Barefoot books, Great Britain (2009).
This version of Red Riding Hood popularised by the Brothers Grimm in their publication of Children’s and Household Tales sticks relatively closely to the Grimm’s original in which Red slows down on her journey to collect flowers under the sinister suggestion of a wily wolf.
Lari Don’s text is accompanied by Chauffrey’s illustrations which reveal the characters’ thoughts through theatrical facial expressions, which gives the baleful plot bathos and humour. The illustration echoes the story’s folkloric roots in the distortion of perspective reminiscent of ‘outsider’ or ‘folk’ art (image-making made by an artist not formally educated). The illustrations are very symbolic. Folk art often contains symbolised material. It’s telling a story, not showing reality. Children in this way, can read the story for themselves; they can read the subplot of threat and trickery while also enjoy the aesthetic illustrations, surreal renderings and characterful colour palette.
The colophon fortuitously includes the materials used by Chauffrey to achieve the textured and decorative depictions: “liquitex acrylic with detail picked out with artist’s pencils”. These materials are used with skill, for example, to depict the trees of the forest, which are covered with uniform teardrop leaf shapes that splay out from the centre of irregular circles atop black and white tree trunks. In another example, the wolf’s fur coat is rendered with small dashed pencil marks, formulaically distributed in approximate rows to create the illusion of movement – a kind of rippling affect. Chauffrey’s colour palette is consistent: mainly red, green, white, grey and black and also seems to me to hark back to those traditionally associated with fairy tales – heavy with symbolism.
The red of the riding hood, for instance may be interpreted as a the protagonist’s embarkation into adulthood and the dangers that can come with this.
“In this interpretation, the red cloak symbolizes the menstrual cycle and the entry into puberty, braving the “dark forest” of womanhood. The anthropomorphic wolf symbolizes a man, [as] a sexual predator”(http://mysite.du.edu/ [online]).
Red Riding Hood is traditionally about the lure of male charm and the danger that can be apparent if a young girl succumbs to flattery. In more recent interpreations, the story of Red Riding Hood has become more about a metaphorical and less instantiate ‘stranger danger.’ I think that this version of the tale, particularly in the illustrations, is hinting at a more immediate and explicit threat in the desire-fuelled pursuit of the wolf. The text describes the wolf as “handsome” (Don, 2009:9) and in the accompanying illustration, the wolf’s eyes, for instance, are half closed in a sultry and sinister air, making the reader feel unease.
The next page shows the wolf pointing to the ground, framing Red’s stooped figure in the background as she picks the flowers the wolf insinuates she should.
“‘Could you take something else, something that will last a few days?’ He frowned and looked around. Little Red Riding Hood looked around. ‘I could take flowers!’ she said.”
The wolf comes up with this plan seemingly naturally but it is obviously planned and suggests it is a trap he may be used to laying. In the accompanying illustration, the wolf’s pointing foot looks phallic and his sharp teeth are all that can be seen of his expression due to the image on the page being cropped in such a way only one side of his body can be seen. Despite knowing how the story ends, I still felt a worry of threat emanated by the character of the wolf but, “… this foreknowledge, increases rather than decreases our sense of satisfaction at the happy outcome” (Warner, 2014:33).
The saviour-hunter saves Granny and Red and is rewarded with the booty of cakes. It leads me to wonder if the hunter is the redeeming character whom Red ‘should’ be attracted to. The last of Chauffrey’s humorously expressive depictions shows Granny and Red sycophantically waving to the hunter as he walks back into the woods smiling and waving in return.
“The hunter returned to the forest with a pocketful of cakes. Granny locked her door when she went to bed. And Little Red Riding Hood never turned round to talk to strangers again” (Don, 2009:34).
Lessons have been learnt and there is a happy ending – that’s a fairy tale.
Warner, Marina (2014) Once Upon a Time: a short history of the fairy tale Oxford University Press: UK