Beyond Fairy Gold
at This Miss Loves to Read!
Before I did my Top 5 "Golden" Fairy Tales post, I actually wanted to make one for Top 5 Colours in Fairy Tales. Gold was to be #1, of course, with Red as #2 . . . but then I realised that colours don't really call attention to themselves in fairy tales. Snow White's dreamy mother is a real anomaly. Indeed, until these stories moved from a mostly oral tradition to be interpreted in a primarily visual medium, we didn't really care about details such as the colour of Sleeping Beauty's gown.
So I've had these two "colourful" fairy tales on my mind--if not always the conscious part--for quite a while, even if they weren't always facing off.
Little Red Riding Hood
Heroines: Both can be said to be naive. One of them suspects that the man who is courting her isn't quite safe, but lets herself be persuaded to accept him when her mother and sisters point out his good qualities. Then he turns out to be a serial wife killer. The other takes advice from someone who is obviously a wolf although it goes against the counsel of her mother. I suppose a little girl can be given a pass for being young, but that's an excuse, not a virtue.
WINNER: Bluebeard--because we can't blame her for listening to her mother at the beginning and can still root for her when she listens to her own intuition in the end.
Villains: Fairy tale villains are always nice and evil. Here we have a wife murderer who seems to make a hobby of the crime and a wolf who actually premeditates his kills. Are we going for pure malice or for utter originality? It depends on what kind of villain you prefer, I think--and I predict I'll draw the most flack for this choice.
WINNER: Little Red Riding Hood--because that crafty wolf's way of making us feel that we're in on the joke--that his plan to eat Little Red Riding Hood is even funny--that brings him closer to Morality Play Devil status. And we like that here.
Settings: As I remind everyone each Saturday, settings are essential. In the first story we have a huge house full of locked rooms and Gothic menace; in the second, a neat little cottage which has finally been overtaken by the forest that surrounds it.
WINNER: Bluebeard--because we can't blame nature for encroaching on what was hers in the first place, but can appreciate human evil finding an architectural form.
Discovery: Both stories have a climax in which the heroines finally see a truth that has been obvious (more or less) to the reader from the beginning. The first discovers, all at once, the truth depths of her husband's villainy; the other comes more gradually to the awful realisation that when your grandmother isn't looking quite herself, she probably isn't herself.
WINNER: Little Red Riding Hood--because the "What big teeth you have!" exchange is every child's first introduction to edge-of-your-seat suspense.
Symbols: Fairy tales are rich with symbols because they understand the power of ordinary things. Here we have a ring of keys and a basket of food. Now, keys are interesting because they presuppose locks, and locks, in turn, hint at secrets. And as the heroine finds out, there are some secrets you can never un-see. On the other hand, food is simply vital--a point which gets driven home in other stories of children in the woods--and I'm always happy about a basket that contains the "eucharistic" food of bread and wine. In this case, I'm also tickled that the only "food" the single-minded wolf wanted was carrying the basket rather than being carried in it.
WINNER: Bluebeard--because the keys transcend mere "accessory" status and come with consequences no one ever forgets.
Deliverance: There's no getting around it: both heroines are saved by some hero ex machina. One of them has her brothers ride to her rescue in the nick of time--a development which has always made me wonder not just how they knew she was in danger, but also where they were throughout the rest of the story. The other is rescued by a woodcutter who just happens to hear her screams (or in some versions, see the wolf's suspciously bloated belly).
WINNER: Little Red Riding Hood--because a woodcutter who happens to be in a forest makes more sense (and is simultaneously more mythical) than brothers who happen to be riding to a marital dispute.
Colours: It's not just about your personal favourite: these colours mean something. The blue beard tips us off immediately; we all know about that odd feeling that a new acquaintance is not quite right, although we can't yet articulate the source of our unease. The red hood is more controversial, making the little girl who wears it into a very visible target in the woods. One wonders why her mother would bother giving her a warning after letting her out of the house "dressed like that." And indeed, over the years, the combination of bright red hood and big, bad wolf has been inevitably eroticised.
WINNER: Little Red Riding Hood--because these days, noticing a blue beard will get you in trouble with the PC police, but red hoods are still as meaningful as they are stylish.**********
Bluebeard vs. Little Red Riding Hood
WINNER: Little Red Riding Hood
(Was it Charles Dickens who said that when he was a boy, he believed that he would find pure joy if he could only be married to Little Red Riding Hood? . . . Or was it Robert Louis Stevenson? . . . I can never remember.)
Image Sources: a) Barbe Bleue illustrated by ???, b) Little Red Riding Hood illustrated by Warwick Goble