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Little Red Riding Hood

The Oral Tradition

The origins of the Little Red Riding Hood story can be traced to oral versions from various European countries and more than likely preceding the 17th century, of which several exist, some significantly different from the currently-known, Grimms-inspired version. It was told by French peasants in the 14th century as well as in Italy, where a number of versions exist, including La finta nonna (The False Grandmother).

These early variations of the tale differ from the currently known version in several ways. The antagonist is not always a wolf, but sometimes an ogre or a ‘bzou’ (werewolf), making these tales relevant to the werewolf-trials (similar to witch trials) of the time. 

In the French tale "The Story of a Grandmother, the villain is a bzou - explicitly, a kind of werewolf.
The wolf usually leaves the grandmother’s blood and meat for the girl to eat, who then unwittingly cannibalises her own grandmother. 

Also, once the girl is in bed with the wolf she sees through his disguise and tries to escape, complaining to her ‘grandmother’ that she needs to defecate and would not wish to do so in the bed. The wolf reluctantly lets her go, tied to a piece of string so she does not get away. However, the girl slips the string over something else and gets away.

It has been noted that in these stories she escapes with no help from any male or older female figure, but instead utilises her own cunning. The woodcutter/huntsman figure, added later, would limit the girl to a relatively passive role. This has led to criticisms that the story was changed to keep women "in their place", needing the help of a physically superior man such as the woodcutter to save them.

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