To most people, the tale of Little Red Riding Hood is a familiar one and Charles Perrault’s version is the most familiar. A moral tale against idleness and disobedience, this classic has stood the test of time. Less familiar to readers is Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves.” A dark retelling, Carter’s version is more an exploration of coming-of-age sexuality and a young woman discovering her own wildness than a cautionary tale against strangers and “gentle wolves” (Perrault 1576). While in Perrault’s story, Red and her granny are eaten by the beast due to Red’s idlness and in Carter’s story, we see Red’s willing surrender to the wolf, both tales deal with the burgeoning sexuality of a ...view middle of the document...
This awareness on the part of the wolf shows he recognizes that he is flouting society’s rules by desiring this young girl but he has no compunctions. He must have his prize. A wager is set upon, the wolf telling Red he can reach her grandmother before she does.
Here we see Red Riding Hood’s willfulness rear its head. In Perrault’s tale, we find not the clever young girl from childhood cartoons, but a willful disobedient young woman who dawdles and brings about disastrous consequences. Red takes her time reaching her grandmother’s home, stopping to pick flowers, chase butterflies and gather nuts. This disobedience suggests a young woman on the cusp of self-hood, neglecting instructions from elders to stay on the path and not tarry to fulfill her own fanciful plans. Red’s self-awareness burgeons and we see her take her own path, straying from that set for her by her elders. This evokes thoughts of young girls beginning to form their own opinions and cement their own personalities as the teeter on the precipice of womanhood.
After arriving at her grandmother’s home and finding the wolf instead, the conversation Red has with the wolf is quite suggestive. “Grandmother, what big arms you have” (Perrault 1575) shows the wolf’s forbidding and frightening physical presence in Red’s eyes. “Grandmother, what big teeth you have! All the better to eat you up with” (Perrault 1575). Again, we find a sexual sublimation of the wolf’s desire for Red. The eating of a tasty and forbidden morsel subverts society’s rules and shows the evil inherent in the hearts of “gentle” wolves.
Perrault ends his tale with a moral about “attractive, well bred young ladies” who succumb to the overtures of “various kinds of wolves” (1576). According to Fahraeus and Jonsson, Charles Perrault’s tale is “clearly. . .[about] sexual precociousness that ends in disaster” with Red being “irresponsible and naïve if not stupid. . .[and] responsible for a wolf’s behavior” (234).
By contrast, using “gothic, pyrotechnic prose” (Barker), Carter gives us a tale illustrating a young woman’s discovery of her own sexuality and the inherent connection between man and beast. Traditionally, the beast has been used to represent the animal nature in man with the woman as his prey. However, in Carter’s tale, the beast has met his match in Red Riding Hood. (Maunder 83)
Carter opens her tale, not with Red Riding Hood, but with wolves. According to Carter, wolves “represent lots of things, though basically they are still libido” (Dimovitz 13) and this representation is born out with the author’s use of descriptive terms and phrasing. “The wolf is carnivore incarnate” is repeated several times throughout the piece, reminding the reader that the wolf is, at its core, a dangerous beast. The last time this phrase appears in the piece, it is coupled with the phrase “only immaculate flesh appeases him” (Carter 1587). This gives acknowledgement to...