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Tag Archives: Angela Carter

[Review, DVD] Red Riding Hood

Red Riding Hood (2011)

Fairy tales suffer a lot. They undergo constant revision, both by design and by accident; by people purposely seeking to subvert the traditional tales (a la James Thurber), and by misrememberings and chinese whispers of oral storytelling.

Little Red Riding Hood may well be the most reinterpreted of the classic Tales of Mother Goose: Roald Dahl’s comic verse; Angela Carter’s twisted tales in The Bloody Chamber; Toby Forward’s POV swappage. There’s a plethora of retellings available on Amazon, from  board books for toddlers to long YA tomes that Freud would be proud of. In its lifetime, the story of the hooded one has been a morality tale, a metaphor for sexual awakening, a love story. It has been a thriller and a creature feature, a revenger’s tragedy and a modern satire.

Hollywood has taken the story to heart, with the character having been portrayed on-screen in at least 117 features. The The Weinstein Company‘s Hoodwinked! was released in 2005 to a lukewarm reception, and the latest take on the tale comes from Twlight director Catherine Hardwicke.

Perrault’s Le Petit Chaperon Rouge is the simplest and most well-known version of the story. In it Red is beat to Grandmother’s house by the wolf because she stops to pick wildflowers, and after running through the ‘what big arms/legs/ears/eyes/teeth you have’ schtick, is eaten up by the wolf. There’s no rescue, no redemption, and the tale ends with a moral:

Little girls, this seems to say,
Never stop upon your way.
Never trust a stranger-friend;
No one knows how it will end.
As you’re pretty, so be wise;
Wolves may lurk in every guise.
Handsome they may be, and kind,
Gay, or charming never mind!
Now, as then, ‘tis simple truth—
Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth!

Rotkäppchen (or Little Red Cap) by the Grimms differs slightly from Le Petit Chaperon Rouge. Split into two parts, the first half mirrors the Perrault text but has Red rescued by the Huntsman after she’s been eaten. Once bitten, twice shy, the Grimm’s add a second part to the story that sees Red and Grandmother foil further similar attempts to gobble them up by a second wolf. Read the rest of this entry

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Feminism for Early Starters: Fairy tales and folk stories retold

Fairy tales are important. They’re a  massive  part of our cultural history and they’re part of curicula in schools world-wide. Children are introduced to fairy- and folk tales in the cradle, and they’re seen as an important part of childhood. Fairy tales are also, on the whole, deeply misogynistic. The traditional versions we know today were written down in cultures that actively sought to suppress women: Perrault wrote down stories told in the salons of France in 1697 in his Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé: Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oie; the Grimm brothers collected tales from German oral traditions in their Kinder- und Hausmärchen of 1812 and Hans Christian Andersen produced his first volume of fairy takes, Eventyr, in 1835.  The first of these works is almost a century before A Vindication of the Rights of Women, the last around 60 years before the first wave of feminism really got going. 

One of the joys of fairy tales is  that they are part of a strong tradition of oral storytelling. They mutate, fudge and grow, transcending arbitrary boundaries to fit the societies and cultures in which they are told. Take Cinderella. There are dozens of tales across cultures:

For many of us twenty-first century dwellers, this oral tradition means traditional tales can easily take on the foibles and sensitivities of modern living, which in turn mean that published fractured fairy tales, political in nature or otherwise, are common.

I’ll be moving on to folk tales from antiquity with a strong feminist message at a later date, but for now, here are my favourite feminist reworkings of some traditional tales.

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Feminism for Early Starters: Young Adult & Teen

So far on my quest for feminism in children’s literature finding overtly feminist titles has not been easy. That’s not to say it’s not out there, it is, but among the mountains of books published every year for young readers, titles that promote gender equality make up only a small proportion. Not so for the teen market: Feminism is strong in Young Adult fiction. For the first time, I’ve had a hard time narrowing my selection down to just three titles. So hard in fact that I forgot how to count.

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Something Amis(s)

If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children’s book‘ says Martin Amis, ‘I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write’.

In just a few words, Amis misses the point of writing for youngsters by a mile. To write for children is not to write at ‘a lower register’, it is to write for a different audience. One with a different world-view, a different set of concerns. But one with just as critical an eye.

A child of seven is sitting up in bed reading Oliver Twist. When her Daddy comes to tuck her in she says ‘Mr Brownlow has let Oliver go out, but I think Bill Sykes is going to get him!’ She speaks with fear in her voice. She is concerned for the fate of a character so well drawn that she has come to care for him. In short, she has reacted to the words on the page in the same way as an adult reader. She has lifted the overt and covert messages in the text, processed and understood them. She is an adult reader in embryo. She is me, 20 years ago, incidentally, and this is one of my father’s favourite dinner-table anecdotes.

There is a complexity in writing a novel, a story, for a child audience that is (understandably) absent from adult literature. A children’s author must understand characterisation, plot, voice, narrative value and a host of other issues that face the adult author, and at the same time they must address a child without patronising them. Perhaps Mr Amis lacks this skill. As Mark Haddon said;

Writing for children is bloody difficult. Books for children are as complex as their adult counterparts, and they should therefore be accorded the same respect.

Neil Gaiman, author of the beautiful children’s fantasy novel The Graveyard Book which won the CILIP Carnegie Medal in 2010, will probably agree. Like Angela Carter, Arthur Conan Doyle and myriad others, he is as successful in children’s literature as he is in adult literature. And he does both remarkably well. Take that Mr Amis.