THROWBACK THURSDAY: Little Red Ridinghood revisited

An early-70’s assistant editor gives a classic fable a cynical, entertaining twist


How the path to dear Granny’s house may have looked, had this story taken place on our plane of existence. Credit to Josh Miller on Unsplash.

Chuck Wood, assistant editor

Once upon a time, there was a very pretty girl named Little Red Riding Hood who lived in a forest with her mother. (Although her father is never mentioned, we can assume he was a wood-cutter, since most fathers depicted in fairy tales were woodcutters.)

One day little Red’s mother tells her that Granny is very ill. So what do you think mother gives Red to take to Granny? Medicine? No. A good book to read? No. She gives her cookies. Now, what would an arthritic, bedridden old lady with false teeth want with cookies?

So, Red goes skipping through the forest and meets a “big, bad wolf.” (No, that’s the “Three Little Pigs,” sorry.) At any rate, the wolf isn’t very nice. (You ever notice how all the carnivorous animals in fairy tales are bad? Talk about prejudice.)

Now, what would an arthritic, bedridden old lady with false teeth want with cookies?”

Not only is the wolf evil, he is also very stupid. Here is this helpless little girl wandering around alone in a forest carrying a basket of goodies. It’s an ideal set-up, and any self-respecting evil wolf would have killed the kid and taken the food. But this wolf pumps Red for information, finds out she is going to Granny’s with the food, then runs himself ragged beating her to Granny’s.

When the wolf gets to Granny’s, he eats her. (The only believable thing he does in the entire story. Some watered-down versions have the wolf stuffing Granny in the closet, but in this story we’ll take any realism we can get.) After eating her, the wolf puts on Granny’s clothes and jumps into her bed. (Why doesn’t he just hide behind the door and clobber the kid when she comes in?)

Eventually Red arrives and knocks on the door. “Come in,” says the wolf in a gruff voice. Is Red the least bit suspicious? Of course not! She’s almost as dumb as the wolf. Then Red comes in and sees the big hairy wolf in her grandmother’s clothes. Red must be practically blind as well as hard of hearing, because she is still unaware that this wolf in drag is not her grandmother. 

“Oh Granny, what a big nose you have!” says Red. “The better to smell you with!” replies the wolf with an enigmatic grin. If Red had even a flicker of intelligence, she would ask, “Granny, why do you want to smell me?” But since we know that Red is deaf, blind and stupid, there is no hope for that. This insipid dialogue continues until Red says, “Oh Granny, what big teeth you have!” The wolf, hearing the most famous cue-line in the annals of all fairy tales, leaps out of bed and growls, “The better to EAT you with!”

It finally dawns on Red that this hairy four-legged animal with the big teeth, eyes, nose etc. is not her grandmother. It also dawns on her that the beast intends to do her bodily harm. She screams and a brief chase ensues. 

By a lucky coincidence (there are a lot of lucky coincidences in fairy tales) a handsome woodcutter just happens to be walking nearby. He hears the sounds of the struggle and bursts into the cabin. With one blow of his mighty axe, he decapitates the wolf. (By now this silly little tale has taken on the dimensions of a surrealistic black comedy.)

It finally dawns on Red that this hairy four-legged animal with the big teeth, eyes, nose etc. is not her grandmother.”

Red thanks the man and asks him if he can get Granny out of the wolf. The woodcutter, it turns out, is also a master surgeon, for he is able to extricate Granny alive and breathing from the wolf’s abdomen with nothing but an axe. 

So, Granny gets her cookies, the hunter does his good deed for the day, and Red learns a valuable lesson: “Don’t talk to strange animals in the woods for they will undoubtedly run to a close relative’s house, kill him, and wait for you to arrive so they can eat you.”

This story was originally published in The Shield on February 5, 1971.