Symbolism in Little Red Riding Hood

extract from The Origins and Meaning of Fairy Tales, chapter6.

Now about the story of Cinderella. We saw something of her in the first chapter: How she is Ushas, the Dawn Maiden of the Aryans, and the Aurora of the Greeks; and how the Prince is the Sun, ever seeking to make the Dawn his bride, and how the envious stepmother and sisters are the Clouds and the Night, which strive to keep the Dawn and the Sun apart.  The story of Little Red Riding Hood, as we call her, or Little Red Cap, as she is called in the German tales, also comes from the same source, and refers to the Sun and the Night. 

You all know the story so well that I need not repeat it: how Little Red Riding Hood goes with nice cakes and a pat of butter to her poor old grandmother; how she meets on the way with a wolf, and gets into talk with him, and tells him where she is going; how the wolf runs off to the cottage to get there first, and eats up the poor grandmother, and puts on her clothes, and lies down in her bed; how Little Red Riding hood, knowing nothing of what the wicked wolf has done, comes to the cottage, and gets ready to go to bed to her grandmother, and how the story goes on in this way:–

“Grandmother,” (says Little Red Riding Hood), “what great arms you have got!”

“That is to hug you the better, my dear.”

“Grandmother, what, great ears you have got!”

That is to hear you the better, my dear.”

“Grandmother, what great eyes you have got!”

“That is to see you the better, my dear.” 

“Grandmother, what a great mouth you have got!”

“That is to eat you up!” cried the wicked wolf; and then he leaped out of bed, and fell upon poor Little Red Riding Hood, and ate her up in a moment.

This is the English version of the story, and here it stops; but in the German story there is another ending to it. 

After the wolf has eaten up Little Red Riding Hood he lies down in bed again, and begins to snore very loudly. A huntsman, who is going by, thinks it is the old grandmother snoring, and he says, 

“How loudly the old woman snores; I must see if she wants anything.” 

So he stepped into the cottage, and when he came to the bed he found the wolf lying in it. 

“What! do I find you here, you old sinner?” cried the huntsman; and then, taking aim with his gun, he shot the wolf quite dead.

Now this ending helps us to see the full meaning of the story. One of the fancies in the most ancient Aryan or Hindu stories was that there was a great dragon that was trying to devour the sun, and to prevent him from shining upon the earth and filling it with brightness and life and beauty, and that Indra, the sun-god, killed the dragon. Now this is the meaning of Little Red Riding Hood, as it is told in our nursery tales. 

Little Red Riding Hood is the evening sun, which is always described as red or golden; the old Grandmother is the earth, to whom the rays of the sun bring warmth and comfort. The Wolf–which is a well-known figure for the clouds and blackness of night–is the dragon in another form; first he devours the grandmother, that is, he wraps the earth in thick clouds, which the evening sun is not strong enough to pierce through. Then, with the darkness of night he swallows up the evening sun itself, and all is dark and desolate. Then, as in the German tale, the night-thunder and the storm winds are represented by the loud snoring of the Wolf; and then the Huntsman, the morning sun, comes in all his strength and majesty, and chases away the night-clouds and kills the Wolf, and revives old Grandmother Earth, and brings Little Red Riding Hood to life again. 

Or another explanation may be that the Wolf is the dark and dreary winter that kills the earth with frost, and hides the sun with fog and mist; and then the Spring comes, with the huntsman, and drives winter down to his ice-caves again, and brings the Earth and the Sun back to life. 

Thus, you see, how closely the most ancient myth is preserved in the nursery tale, and how full of beautiful and hopeful meaning this is when we come to understand it. 

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