June 2, 2012

The Grandmother (An Early French Red Riding Hood)

Editor's note: I just love it when early versions of fairy tales are so different from today's bowdlerized versions of them. This little gem of a LRRH variant is short, gory, obscene and in keeping with the tone of many fairy tales as told hundreds of years ago. In particular, I like how Red escapes on her own.

Some elements to ponder:

The story is quite earthy, especially toward the end.

When a cat calls her a "slut" it's a sign of very strong disapproval (for obvious reasons), but the term, in this case, does not necessarily have the same meaning as it does today.

The path of pins or needles may just signify that the choice doesn't matter.

The reference to tobacco is one I have never noticed before.


There was a woman who had made some bread. She said to her daughter, "Go and carry a hot loaf and a bottle of milk to your grandmother."

So the little girl set forth. Where two paths crossed she met the bzou [werewolf], who said to her, "Where are you going?" 

Gustave Dore

"I am carrying a hot loaf and a bottle of milk to my grandmother."

"Which path are you taking? said the bzou. "The one of needles or the one of pins?"

"The one of needles," said the little girl.

"Good! I am taking the one of pins."

The little girl entertained herself by gathering needles. 

Artist unknown

The bzou arrived at the grandmother's house and killed her. He put some of her flesh in the pantry and a bottle of her blood on the shelf.

The little girl arrived and knocked at the door. "Push on the door," said the bzou. "It is blocked with a pail of water."

"Good day, grandmother. I have brought you a hot loaf and a bottle of milk."

"Put it in the pantry, my child. Take some of the meat that is there, and the bottle of wine that is on the shelf."

While she was eating, a little cat that was there said, "For shame! The slut is eating her grandmother's flesh and drinking her grandmother's blood."

"Get undressed, my child," said the bzou, and come to bed with me."

"Where should I put my apron?"

"Throw it into the fire. You won't need it anymore."

Artist unknown

And for all her clothes—her bodice, her dress, her petticoat, and her shoes and stockings—she asked where she should put them, and the wolf replied, "Throw them into the fire, my child. You won't need them anymore."

When she had gone to bed the little girl said, "Oh, grandmother, how hairy you are!"

"The better to keep myself warm, my child."

"Oh, grandmother, what long nails you have!"

"The better to scratch myself with, my child!" 

Lancelot Speed

"Oh, grandmother, what big shoulders you have!"

"The better to carry firewood with, my child!"

"Oh, grandmother, what big ears you have!"

"The better to hear with, my child!"

"Oh, grandmother, what a big nose you have!"

"To better take my tobacco with, my child!"

"Oh, grandmother, what a big mouth you have!"

Paul Woodruff

"The better to eat you with, my child!"

"Oh, grandmother, I have to do it outside!"

"Do it in the bed, my child!"

"Oh no, grandmother, I really have to do it outside."

"All right, but don't take too long." 

Jennie Harbour

The bzou tied a woolen thread to her foot and let her go. As soon as the little girl was outside she tied the end of the thread to a plum tree in the yard.

The bzou grew impatient and said, "Are you doing a load? Are you doing a load?"

Not hearing anyone reply, he jumped out of bed and hurried after the little girl, who had escaped. He followed her, but he arrived at her home just as she went inside.


  1. Not exactly the sanitized version we are accustomed to but a rollicking spirit that I can imagine working well in an oral re-telling.

  2. 4
    The Grandmother (An Early French Red Riding Hood)
    Reading the early French version of Red Riding Hood was very interesting. While the basics are all still there the story is quite different from the version I am accustomed to, but it is still a very good story. The French version is much shorter, but right to the point of the story, and even though it is shorter; the tale is still very detailed and colorful. It would make sense for the story to be short and colorful, given the fact that fairy tales were often kept alive through verbal retellings. It would be easier to remember and have more of an impact if the story cut right to the chase, and didn’t pussy foot around with silly details. The tale of Red Riding Hood is definitely a story that would keep kids in line and fearful of speaking to strangers. This particular version is good, because Red Riding Hood uses her common sense, and her own quick wit to get away from the wolf. My only criticism is the fact that a wolf is used as the villain. When stories use such unlikely bogeymen, it often does not work out very well for the innocent creatures, which is why much of Europe is without wolves.
    Serena W.
    October 14, 2012

  3. I really enjoyed this version of Red Riding Hood, it is definitely wild. This story is gross yet humorous. I laughed when the wolf asked the little girl if she was taking a load outside, because he was wondering what was taking her so long. The story had modern humor and also involved the older aspects such as the little girls’ clothes, being things worn in earlier times, or the milk being in a bottle instead of the plastic jugs it comes in today. The end of the story keeps me wondering, what if the wolf just waits outside the little girls house for her to come back out? Now that the wolf knows where the little girl lives I cannot assume that the little girl would ever really be safe from the wolf. This makes me want a part two to the story, what happens the next time the little girl leaves her house. Will the wolf catch her and kill her or will the wolf move on to try to catch another victim?

    Haley Baker

  4. This version of the story seems to be loaded with symbolism. It also leaves me with alot of questions. Quite a bit of this story seems to make little or no sense to me.

    First off the little girl is sent with a hot loaf. There is no mention of how long the paths are, but my first thought is that by the time the girl gets to grandma's house, the loaf is no longer going to be hot. The second part that seems odd, is when the wolf tells her to push the door as it is "blocked with a pail of water". Why is there a pail of water in front of the door? The cat that is there in the house seems to be upset that she is eating her grandmother, but seems to not have been very upset that the wolf killed that same grandmother.

    The wolf seems anxious to get the girl in bed, but one can not help but think he has other designs on her then just eating her. The little girl is resourceful and manages to secure her freedom, but I am guessing that there is a pedophile still running loose in that forest. Also, the girl burns her clothes, so she was running home naked?

    The wolf seems very much like a man. A very dark, murderous man very much like men we read about in the news all the time, when unfortunately the little girls don't always manage to escape.

  5. I laughed at the end of this one when the wolf was asking if she was taking a load. It also kind of added to the grossness of the tale. The fact that the girl didn’t get any hints when the wolf told her she wouldn’t need her clothes or anything again. That would have sparked a questioning response from me in any scenario. It was also kind of interesting for the wolf to scheme to have the girl eat her grandmother and drink her blood. All in all it was an entertaining piece and I really enjoyed it. Though I question why the wolf stopped chasing her after she reached her house. Why wouldn’t he go after her? And the girl was seriously running all the way home naked? I mean I guess you get away anyway possible whether it be naked or with clothes. There were just several things that stood out as I mentioned.

    Brandon Dell

  6. I am pretty sure that we read this version of Red Riding Hood, it wasn’t the best or my favorite especially when Red ate her grandmother flesh and drink her blood. However unlike most Red Riding Hood stories that tell of an axe man coming to save her, in this version she manages to save herself. It is kind of interesting how many versions are full with details about the conversation between the young child and the wolf, as well as the conversation between the wolf and the grandmother. This early French version of Red Riding Hood has fewer details, very short, and at the end the young child and the wolf survived. Even though this version was shorter, but it kept you wondering about, what is to be of the young girl and the wolf? If their path may cross again, who is going to win, and who is going to pay the price with their life?

  7. “The Grandmother (An Early French Red Riding Hood)”
    This fairy tale often serves as a precautionary tale for young girls or women. It would makes sense for it to be one of the more popular stories, or at least one that we never fail to forget once we've heard it. Reading this version I noticed aspects of the story that I never did while reading the more modern retellings. One is that “Red,” who is only known as “the little girl” in this version, doesn't necessarily receive a warning form her mother, she is to discern for herself of the dangers of speaking to strangers. This means that she doesn't necessarily disobey her mother as we might have been led to believe reading other versions. So her only fault in this version is being a naïve little girl. I always thought that the moral of story was not only should girls avoid talking to strangers but that they should heed the warnings from our parents. Another thing that really brings out her naïveté is that she burns all her clothing as the wolf instructs her without questioning him. Even though she really did believe it was her grandmother, I find it odd that she is portrayed this way. It’s not until she gets a closer look at the wolf that she begins to question whether or not this really is her grandmother. I do applaud her for thinking of a way to escape the wolf without bringing much suspicion.

  8. I was slightly taken back when first reading this version of “Little Red Riding Hood”. I had heard that fairy tales have been cleaned up over the years, but was unaware as to the extent. The themes are much more adult oriented than I had ever anticipated and found myself uncomfortable reading certain parts of the tale, especially when Red Riding Hood is tricked into eating her grandmother’s flesh, and drinking her blood. In response to Red’s actions, a cat even goes as far as to calling her a “slut”, all of which is very shocking when you consider that, Disney in particular, has targeted children as their primary audience. One aspect of this version that I really enjoyed was Red being displayed as an independent female protagonist. She does not need the assistance of a hunter to save her from the wolf, a physically superior character. Instead, she outwits the wolf and escapes to safety without aid.
    -Adam Z.

  9. I was blown away when first reading this version of “Little Red Riding Hood”. Of course it was a great first story to be exposed to in the classroom. I was immediately engaged in the class upon reading it. One of the best parts of the story is how simple it appears to be for her to escape from the bzou by saying that she needs to go to the bathroom. As simple as it seems, how easy is it to find a solution when in such a dangerous bind like that? The fact that neither path (pins or needles) was an appealing path to take left me wondering why she made the journey at all. Another strange thing to me, was what happened to her when she got home naked? She escaped the wolf, but she was still exposed to the elements, anyone passing, and even her family (upon getting home) nude. How do you explain that? And given the time, would she have been ridiculed even for her little amount of clothing? I can’t help but think even though she escaped the wolf, he still took something from her, or caused some embarrassment.

  10. The Grandmother (An Early French Red Riding Hood)

    This version of “The Little Red Riding Hood” was much different than the version I have always heard. The version I always heard was where the little girl went to deliver bread to her grandmother and when she arrived there the wolf was disguised as the grandmother but as soon as the wolf tried harming her a strong lumberjack burst in and rescued Red and her grandmother from the wolf. This is a much “cleaner” version of the one I just read. I was astonished when I read that the wolf had killed the grandmother and made Red eat the grandmother’s meat and drink her blood. This would frighten many children and I’m sure that’s why it was cleaned up. In the end Red survived and it showed how powerful and smart a young girl could be. I believe the lesson in the story was meant to teach children not to talk to or trust strangers and to listen to your parents. This lesson is strongly present but I liked the different take on this retelling of this original fairy tale.
    -Tiffany P.

  11. “The Grandmother”is abrupt, gory, and highly obscene, a telling I’m certain would offend and baffle countless people used to the sickly sweet cookie-cutter version in which both poor Red and her Grandmother are “gobbled” up and then miraculously saved by a handy huntsman. In particular, I like how Red escapes unassisted in this older account. The basic message of this version of Red seems to be that sometimes there is no easy way. Clearly the analogy of pins and needles is equal to "bad both ways." When Red encounters the Wolf he knows which way she intends to go, racing ahead to Grandmother’s house. Also the fact that he is a werewolf (bzou) signifies that he is not what he seems, An analogy used to describe the truth of human nature. The oddest part about this version is that it is titled “The Grandmother” yet the Grandmother has no great role. In this older version the part where Red’s mother warns her of talking to strangers and staying on a certain path is not present, which further strengthens the idea that her encounter with the Wolf was simply fate and unavoidable. The message being that the power of personal salvation is available at one’s own demand and resource. Red proves this when the Wolf rather stupidly allows her to go outside alone under pretense of relieving herself. That the Wolf thought a simple string tied to her would certainly prevent her escape implies his intense lack of intelligence and wit, while reinforcing that Red is just the opposite as she suspects and uses the Wolf’s weakness in her favor.

  12. Not only was this version weird, but yes it was a little raunchy. When told in class that this version would be super raunchy I expected it to be just that. Thank God it wasn't though or I could never view little red riding hood the same. The child was dumb for actually taking all of her clothes off and climbing into bed in the first place. Hello, big red flag. It's kind of humorous that she had to run home naked though, due to her own stupidity. This version does make sense though when you think about it. The wolf being a male predator. I completely understand the metaphor now as I never would have though twice about the modern version. I actually enjoyed this version. It was quite strange and I like that. Nice job.

  13. This has to be one of the most bizarre versions of Little Red Riding Hood out there and I love it. This version features more disturbing elements such as eating the flesh and blood of the grandmother and the bzou asking Little Red to take off all of her clothes. But perhaps the weirdest thing is that the wolf was willing to let Little Red relieve herself in the bed. If the wolf really wanted to trick her into thinking that he was the grandma then he should have tried a little harder. I don’t think the real grandmother would have let her defecate in the bed, if the wolf were better at convincing little red than maybe he could have had his little treat after all (like in other editions of this fairy tale). Despite these disturbing parts I found the story to be quite enjoyable. It was a new way to experience a classic Fairy Tale. I also enjoyed the variations of this story like the ability for Little Red to escape without the need of a rescuer. This makes her appear far more capable and less helpless than in other versions of the story. While Little Red is definitely portrayed as a capable little girl I still can’t but wonder why she would be unable to recognize the bzou right away. I mean for one thing she saw him just a little bit earlier in the woods. And certainly she must be familiar with what her grandmother looks like and that the bzou is clearly not her. In the end some of these sillier elements of fairy tales are the part that makes them unique and memorable to me.


  14. The Grandmother (An Early French Red Riding Hood)
    Even with the warning I wasn’t prepared for the actual story. I can’t imagine this story being told to little children before going to bed. One of the things that have always baffled me about Little Red is how she can’t seem to notice the wolf is not her grandmother. It’s more than a bit frustrating. No grandmother I know would tell a child to undress and join her in bed. That whole part was the most disturbing to me because it hinted at more than just killing the child. I have to admit that had me feeling uncomfortable because even though I knew it would be raunchy I didn’t expect it to go that far. However, I do give props to Little Red for having the sense to lie and grant herself a perfect opportunity for escape. No handsome man coming to save the damsel in distress for this one, which I’m glad for. As much as I enjoy a so called “fairytale ending,” I love surprises! – Melinda P.

  15. The work of art done by Paul Woodruff has to be my favorite from this entire piece. It reminds me of the images in the children’s books that my great grandmother used to read me as a kid, although that story was not as gruesome. Although I was warned that it was a little raunchy, I wasn’t expecting her to be eating her own grandmother. The fact that this story was read to children is quite horrid, to say the least. And in no way is there a happy ending because she gets killed in the end as well. It’s kind of a warning for children to stay on the correct path and not stray from whatever they may have been told. It almost makes you think that if her mother had not sent her out, that everything would have been perfectly okay and that everyone would have lived.

    Taylor B.

  16. While I found this version of the Little Red Riding Hood to be quite amusing, I wouldn’t disagree with the fact that it also had its disturbing moments. I mean come on, she eats her own grandmother (you’ve got to draw the line for amusing somewhere). With that being said though, the raw parts of these stories is one of the things I love the most about actual fairytales, not the Disney versions. They take twists and turns that place the reader of the tale in an extraordinary amount of different situations, which usually ends up acting as a lesson somehow. In this case we get a powerful message meant as a warning to women to be careful of predatory men, or “wolves.” The lesson being, be careful how you present yourself, because a “wolf” might notice you for the wrong reasons. Another thing I really enjoyed was the fact that the protagonist in this story outsmarted the wolf and instead of depending on someone else to save her from the wolf, she saved herself.
    -Nicole M.