Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Path of Needles or Pins?

It is difficult to find when and where the paths of needle and pins appeared in the fairytale, though it is in a version of 'The Grandmother' collected by folklorist Achille Millien (1838-1927) in the French province of Nivernais, about 1870.
In Paul Delarue's recounting of these versions, the girl meets the wolf or, in this case, a "bzou" (werewolf) in the woods, who asks her:

   Fig 1 (above) Needle detail of 'The Path of Needles or Pins' by Hazel Terry
"What road are you taking, the Needles Road or the Pins Road?""The Needles Road," said the little girl."Well I shall take the Pins Road."
The little girl enjoyed herself picking up needles. Meanwhile the bzou (werewolf) arrived at her Grandmother's....
                                    Fig 1 (above) Pin detail of 'The Path of Needles or Pins' by Hazel Terry
"There are some variations in the names of the roads.... These absurd roads, which have surprised adults and provoked scholars, delight children, who find their existence in fairyland quite natural." Paul Delarue

The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, Jack Zipes says: 

"The wolf asks her if she is taking the path of pins or needles. She indicates that she is on her way to becoming a seamstress by taking the path of needles."

In Little Red Riding Hood UncloakedCatherine Orenstein says:
 "She must chose a path of pins or needles -- the tools and symbols that appear in female initiation rites around the world, and particularly in France, where sending a young girl to apprentice with the seamstress for a year or so was, according to one scholar, a bit like sending her to finishing school, and carried a sense of sexual maturation."
It is said to be a mark of maturity and responsibility to take the path of needles. Pins were used by children as a quick unskilled 'makegood' rather than taking the time to properly repair clothing by sewing. So the choice of paths is the choice between childhood innocence and maturity. 

   Fig 1 (above) 'The Path of Needles or Pins' by Hazel Terry

In my illustration I have exchanged their choice of paths, I wanted the Red Riding Hood to be a child and the wolf to be the mature character, trickster and seducer, I also included threads in the needles, I thought it made them ruder.


Fig 1,2 Details of The Path of Needles or Pins, Hazel Terry
Fig 3 The Path of Needles or Pins, Hazel Terry
Orenstein C, Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale, Basic Books, New York, 2002. 
Zipes J, The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005.

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