When Did Little Red Riding Hood
Get Her Red Hood?
Ziolkowski, Jan (1992), Fairy Tale from before Fairy Tales; Egbert of Liège's “De puella a lupellis seruata” and the Medieval Background of “Little Red Riding Hood”. Medieval Academy of America, Speculum,Vol. 67, No. 3, P 549-575.
Fig 1. Above: Artist Unknown, Tales of Mother Goose 1695
In my academic enquiry, I shall be looking at the arrival of Little Red Riding Hood in the original printed text by Charles Perrault. For my analysis I am using Jan Ziolkowski's 1992 article the 'Fairy Tale from before Fairy Tales'.
Fig 2. Above: Antoine Clouzier. 'Red Gravure', etching from Charles Perrault's
Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités: 1697 Contes de ma mère l'Oye.
Since embarking on my academic research into Red Riding Hood, I have been surprised by just how ancient this tale could be and how it traversed continents.
I also find it incredible how the story is able to evolve and mirror the society that it is current to, whilst still maintaining its integrity. This quality must have aided the story’s longevity, making it as relevant and popular today as it always was.
Fig 3. Matthew Twombly info-graphics from National Geographic Article,
'What Wide Origins You Have, Little Red Riding Hood!'
Despite many characteristics and details subtly evolving and changing, one main constant is the clothing of the child in the story, that has provided the literary tale with its name since 1697. Fairy tales are by nature an oral storytelling form and this story, prior to Perrault's printed version, was generally known as the 'False Grandmother' or 'The Story of the Grandmother'. So it is perplexing as to where this garment came from and how the girl came to take the lead role in the title.
Fig 4: Illustration from 'The History of Little Red Riding Hood in Verse', (London, 1808). BL, 12804.a.37.
Interestingly, if you were to remove the little red riding hood out of 'Red Riding Hood' then you lose 64% of the variant tales. Therefore, just under two thirds of the known variations of this story feature this colour and a head covering garment, so it is a very significant characteristic.
Most literary academics state that 'Red Riding Hoods' red hat/ cloak was given to her in Charles Perrault's 'Le Petit Chaperon Rouge', which was published under his ten year old son’s name, P. D'Armancour, in a book called 'Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passe', 1697.
Jeanne Morgan states, “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge has no known sources or parallels whatsoever. We have only Perrault's word for it that they are indeed 'Contes du temps passe,' in the preface's allusion to stories 'que nos aieux ont inventes.” Jeanne Morgan. 1985. P103.(1)
However, Jan Ziolkowski, a professor of Medieval Latin at Harvard University with a particular interest in folk tales, challenges this assumption. His study cites extracts of the epic poem “De puella a lupellis seruata” by Egbert of Liège printed in 1024 as being an example of a medieval Red Riding Hood and uses this poem to illustrate why he believes ancient printed material should not be ignored by folklore students and academics.
Egbert was a teacher at the cathedral school of Liège who used folklore and oral storytelling, intertwining it with his religious, moral teachings to exploit its familiarity and accessibility to his students.
(2) Above: Egbert of Liège's verse in Latin.
(3) Above: Jan Ziolkowski's translation of Egbert of Liège's verse in Latin text.
Egbert's transcribed tale is not the same as Perrault's tale, but as this extract from Egbert's poem illustrates, there is a direct correlation with many aspects of 'Red Riding Hood'. This surely demonstrates how ancient printed material should not be dismissed as irrelevant, in plotting the history of this story.
However as Jan Ziolowski points out, many scholars have dismissed these verses as not being a medieval precursor of 'Red Riding Hood'.
Alan Dundes, who was one of the most prominent American folklorists, dismissed any printed material from before Perrault as being irrelevant.
“It is well to keep in mind that fairy tales are first and foremost an oral form. So from that point of view, any written version is suspect” Alan Dundes.1989 P196 (5)
Marianne Rumpf disregards Egbert's poem because it lacks two key events characteristic of the tale; the wolf devouring the girl and the rescue from the wolf.
It seems strange to dismiss such an early version on the basis of what it doesn't include, rather than the intermutual elements that it contains; the girl, the forest, the wolf and the red riding hood, as well as having the underlying message of caution. However, Marianne's opinion is countered by this statement by Alan Dundes:
“Variation is a key concept in folkloristics. It is variation that in part distinguishes folklore from so-called 'high-culture' and 'mass culture'. (… ) folklore, with its characteristics of multiple existence and variation, is ever in a state of flux. There is no one single text in folklore; there are only texts. Folklore once recorded from oral tradition does not cease to be, but rather continues on its often merry way from raconteur to raconteur, from generation to generation.” Alan Dundes 1989. P 193 (6)
Jan Ziolkowski's paper discusses the failings of academic folklorists in that their methodology is exclusionary, adhering to dominance of either the oral or literary forms. This leads to shortfalls in the comprehensiveness of their analysis.
“ Despite a century of struggles towards a scientific narratology of folktales, folktale analysts have not attained a universally applicable diagnostics for fixing the absolute minimum of constituents that endue a story of a given type with its distinctive imprint. The complex of features that lends a story its essence will vary from tale to tale, cultural milieu to cultural milieu. This variability does not render the process of analysis futile but it does recommend that analysts be flexible.” Jan Ziolkowski. 1992. P564 (7)
In the ever changing oratory of folklore, literary adaptations have simply anchored a version to a particular era, providing us with a tiny finger print in time. They do not give us the whole picture; the subtle nuances of culture and language, but at least provide us with a piece of this giant, scattered jigsaw puzzle of oral history.
“In many ways the problem of reconstructing folklore tradition is very similar to the problem of reconstructing the evolutionary relationship of species. We have little evidence about the evolution of species because the fossil record is so patchy. Similarly, folktales are only very occasionally written down. We need to use some kind of method for reconstructing that history in the absence of physical evidence. (…) My analysis confirmed that the 11th-century poem is indeed an early ancestor of the modern fairy tale. ” Jamshid Tehrani, 2013 (8)
What is fascinating is that the 'fossils' are there, lining up to be included in the family tree. But we need flexible inclusive analysis of all sources not a hierarchy, so that important evidence is not dismissed or overlooked.
Fig 1. Artist unknown, Tales of Mother Goose, 1695,
Fig 2. Antoine Clouzier. Illustrative etching in Charles Perrault Le Petit Chaperon Rouge Paris 1697.
Fig 3. Hartigan Shea, Rachel. (2013) 'What Wide Origins You Have, Little Red Riding Hood!', A transcript of an interview between Rachael Shae Hartican and Jamshi Tehrani. National Geographic.
Fig 4. The History of Little Red Riding Hood in Verse (London, 1808). BL, 12804.a.37.
- Morgan, Jean. Perrault's Morals for Moderns, American University Series II, Romance Languages and Literatures 28 P103, New York, 1985
- Fecunda ratis, ed. Voigt, p.1.
- Fecunda ratis, ed. Voigt, p.1. (Translated by Jan. M. Ziolkowski)
- Foucault, The civilizing Process: The History of Manners, 1, trans. Edmund Jephcott, (New York) 1978. P.36
- Dundes, Alan (1989) Little Red Riding Hood. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press. P196
- Dundes, Alan (1989) Little Red Riding Hood. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press. P193
- Ziolkowski, Jan (1992) Fairy Tale from before Fairy Tales; Egbert of Liège's “De puella a lupellis seruata” and the Medieval Background of “Little Red Riding Hood”. Medieval Academy of America, Speculum,Vol. 67, No. 3. P564
- Hartigan Shea, Rachel. (2013) 'What Wide Origins You Have, Little Red Riding Hood!', A transcript of an interview between Rachael Shae Hartican and Jamshi Tehrani. National Geographic.