ІНОЗЕМНА ФІЛОЛОГІЯ INOZEMNA PHILOLOGIA
2007. Вип. 119. С. 3-6 2007. Issue 119. Р. 3-6 ___
Kimberley Kay Reynolds
University of New Castle, U. K.
Children’s literature that deals with hopelessness and specifically with the response to it known as self-harming is a relatively recent trend. Texts such as these can provide new narrative strands that for some will simply be interesting, but for others may offer alternative versions of the stories they are telling themselves about themselves. In this way, children’s fiction – even for very young readers – may prove a valuable antidote to the current conditions that lead young people to harm themselves and so become a force for positive transformations in young people’s lives.
Key words: self-harming; depression; children’s picture-books; mental illness.
Contextualising depressive fiction
Adults do not have the monopoly on powerful negative emotions or suffering. Indeed, often the things that lead to destructive and overwhelming feelings in maturity have their roots in childhood experience. As well as having their own difficult experiences, children also witness and are affected by adults whose anger, frustration and despair lead them to behave irrationally and sometimes dangerously, whether at home, as part of more general disputes or disasters, or in the media. In the UK, one in four people will suffer from a form of mental illness in the course of their lifetimes (see .uk; statistics for the USA are comparable), but even as some boundaries around children’s literature are shifting, until recently, in Britain and America, writing for the young has rarely acknowledged this fact, preferring instead to shield children from even such a widespread form of illness as depression. This protective rationale has to date withheld one means by which even very young children could learn to recognise and articulate destructive feelings and behaviours, and in doing so, may have increased their susceptibility to powerful negative emotions. Recent research in the UK and USA suggests that ‘record numbers of young people are on the verge of mental breakdown as a result of family break-up, exam pressures and growing inability to cope with the pressures of modern life’ [2, p. 2], so it behoves us to look at ways of reversing this trend by including such topics in the fiction they read.
Since emotions are often captured better in abstract forms such as images and music than in words alone, the picturebook, with its combination of words and images and its tendency to be read aloud (so encouraging writers to explore rhythm and sound-sense as well as literal sense), can be a particularly effective medium for representing a range of emotional states, including depression and despair.
Pictures of darkness: the child in the book
The most explicit picturebook on the subject that I have encountered is Serge Kozlov’s Petit-Âne (1995), illustrated by Vitaly Statzynsky, which begins, ‘Il était une fois un petit âne qui désirait se pendre, mais ne savait comment faire.’ [Once upon a time there was a little donkey who wanted to hang himself, but he did not know how to do it.] 1 Petit-Âne asks several of his friends to help him, but all say they cannot, and the pictures, which are in a cheerful style reminiscent of folk art (bright colours, extensive use of decoration), show several of them weeping as they listen to Petit-Âne’s request. The little donkey’s original despair is compounded by their refusal. His bright colours fade to grey, with only some vestigial pink details. At last, as night falls, he meets his best friend, Ourson, and asks if he will help. Ourson is ready with a rope and a nail, and the deed is done by hammering the nail in the sky, where ‘il se mit à briller comme une étoile’[it shines as brilliantly as a star], and securing the rope over it. The final double page spread shows Petit-Âne hanging from the rope, watched from the ground by Ourson.
Petit-Âne received a hostile critical reception when it appeared in France, after which the publishers withdrew the book from their catalogue [3, p. 2]. Its depiction of suicide as something inexplicably longed for and accomplished in a book for children clearly makes adults very anxious, despite the fact that Petit-Âne is shown as a stuffed toy and there are familiar fictional tags (‘Once upon a time’) to make it clear that this is a story and to distance it from real life.
The author and illustrator also include intertextual links to Saint-Exupéry’s much-loved The Little Prince (1943), another book which ends in the death of the main character. The Little Prince is a child who, from the outset, is filled with great sadness and who, it transpires, has been preparing for death in the course of the book. These links begin on the front cover, which shows Petit-Âne and Orson standing on a curved surface that is reminiscent of the Little Prince’s astral universe. The unquestioning acceptance of Petit-Âne’s decision is similar to the way the pilot listens to, accepts and witnesses the Little Prince’s death. These links point to a reading of Kozlov’s tale in which Petit-Âne’s death can be read as symbolizing his spiritual rebirth [3, p. 6–7]. The links to The Little Prince are underlined in the blurb on the back cover: ‘Tout le monde n’a pas la chance d’être le Petit Prince…Heureusement Petit Ours est là qui sait, lui, quell pays notre petit âne rêve d’atteindre…’ [Not everybody is lucky enough to be the Little Prince. Happily, Ourson is there and he knows which country our Petit-Âne dreams of reaching] suggesting that this is the reading author, illustrator and publisher intend. Whatever the intention, the manifest story confronts readers with a suicidal figure who, like Ungerer’s blue cloud, clearly represents a child.
There is a long tradition of using animals and toys as substitute child figures in children’s literature because of the connections and affinities between them. Anthropomorphising toys and animals (or, as in Petit-Âne, a combination of the two) provides a degree of disguise and distance which can be useful when dealing with sensitive or disturbing topics. In this case, it could be that the disguise is at least as much for the adult, for whom the idea of child suicide is devastating and unspeakable, as for potential child readers. Under normal circumstances (as opposed to conflict and natural disasters), children have little experience of death and find the concept strange – sometimes even amusing. Like sex, this area outside experience is something that interests them, and children’s play often includes episodes of ‘being dead’, whether this is through being ‘shot’, or playing at being a ghost or acting out a story in which a character dies. Acting out violent impulses on toys is not uncommon either, though it is not always palatable to adults.
If a sibling, friend or classmate dies, children may seek to understand what this means and explore their feelings about it through fantasy and play. Petit-Âne can be understood as a narrative that enacts this curiosity about death as well as one that is concerned with suicide. Although the donkey is certainly hanged at the end of the story, the final image shows him suspended from his middle, not by his neck as the preceding picture suggests he will be, and his death is presented as neither traumatic nor dramatic. This lack of tragedy may associate the events with the world of child’s play, reflecting the reassuring things adults often say to children when someone has died (they are out of pain, they have gone to heaven or a similarly happy place, they are not really gone because they live on in our memories); however, it was precisely the beauty and serenity of the final images that appalled French critics. For them, Petit-Âne’s smiling face on the last page of the book constitutes an invitation to young readers to imitate him. This ignores both children’s understanding of the differences between fiction, play and reality, and the needs of those who, for whatever reason, have suicidal thoughts or know someone who has killed her/himself and are unable to articulate or understand their feelings, questions and reactions.
For some readers, Petit-Âne offers a point of identification and way of relieving emotions. It is not the only picturebook to address this kind of subject, however. Three more examples deserve attention. The first is a Dutch picturebook (references here are to the French translation) that explores the experiences and behaviour of the kind of child who might well develop suicidal thoughts. Jules (1996), by Gregie de Maeyer with illustrations by Koen Vanmechelen, features a character who is crudely made in the shape of a little boy from blocks of wood. He is tormented by his peers (who we never see) because of his appearance, beginning with his red hair.
To stop their teasing, he first cuts off his hair, then his big ears. Although he can no longer hear his abusers, he can still see them, so he takes out his eyes and so it goes on until nothing remains of him but a head without eyes, ears or tongue. Up to this point, nothing he does to himself eases his feelings of anger and self-loathing, and each time he attacks himself he looks more strange, provoking new bouts of bullying. Jules cuts, burns and violently mutilates himself to the point where he has virtually ceased to exist. He even places his legs on the railway track so that a train detaches them. Suicide would seem to be the logical next step.
Jules does not kill himself, although his tormentors attack him and pull him to bits. The book’s powerful representation of what it feels like to be bullied shifts to a more optimistic, more didactic, register with the arrival of a little girl, who finds what remains of Jules and begins to care for him. She puts his head in her doll’s pram, strokes him and draws a mouth on his blank face and inserts a pencil in it so that he can tell her his story. The last page sees him begin to write, but before he starts to explain how the others taunted him (‘…un jour, on s’est moqué de moi), Jules announces that he likes his name, likes his red hair, his red cheeks and all the things that previously had driven him to despair. This new self-acceptance and affirmation, a response to being shown – and recognising himself – as lovable, reassures readers that he will survive.
Not all children do survive, however, and the loss of a child is one reason why a parent may succumb to a period of depression. A rare picturebook that makes it possible for adults and children to share insights into what this is like is Michael Rosen’s Sad Book (2004). Michael Rosen has been writing and performing for children in the UK for many years – long enough for some of his first readers to be parents themselves. He has a large following, and because he is also an active broadcaster, is in the public eye more than most writers for children. Rosen uses his own childhood and his observations of family life with his children as the basis for much of his material. When one of his sons, Eddie, who had appeared as a young child in Rosen’s books, but was by then a teenager, died without warning of meningitis, the loss was felt widely. Eventually Michael Rosen talked about his experience in a radio broadcast for adults and, with long-time collaborator, illustrator Quentin Blake, created Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. Both the broadcast and the picture-book can be seen as ways of dealing with grief; they also provide generous insights that may help others understand their own emotions and reactions to bereavement or those of people around them.
The sombre front cover signals that this is not going to be one of Rosen’s customarily zany and amusing books. It shows the usually exuberant Rosen as a grey figure walking under an enveloping grey cloud with Sid, a much-loved dog character from an early poem, also shown as grey. They are all contained within a frame, a controlling and distancing device that again is strikingly different from Rosen’s usually expulsive energy and Blake’s response to it. Solemn grey endpapers continue the mood, but the first page shows the familiar, smiling face of Michael Rosen in the yellow and red palette Blake often uses when illustrating Rosen’s work, although Blake manages to capture a haunted sense behind the smile. The text reads:
This is me being sad.
Maybe you think I’m being happy in this picture.
Really I’m being sad but pretending I’m being happy.
I’m doing that because I think people won’t like me if I look sad.
Over the next thirty pages readers go through the various emotions Michael Rosen explains he has at different times in response to Eddie’s death, and get to see how he behaves in different situations. Simple sentences and descriptions reveal how at times the feeling of sadness is overwhelming and that this can make him behave in ways that are difficult for those around him (including the cat!). At points it seems that putting his feelings on the page is making it possible to manage them and remember more of the happy times: towards the end of the book, brightly coloured vignettes of Eddie in the school play, and the two of them playing football on the sofa lead to associations with other good memories and happy moments. But this honest book does not suggest that the act of writing has been an instant cure. The final image is of a haggard, grey, Michael Rosen writing by candlelight at his desk in front of a framed picture. Since the immediately preceding images have been of birthdays, it seems likely that this is what would have been Eddie’s birthday, and he is feeling the loss as much as ever. It is a powerful image, and not an optimistic note on which to end, though by this point the reader understands that the sadness is not a permanent condition but swirls round to catch him more and less powerfully.
The insights Rosen and Blake offer in the Sad Book are clear enough to be understood by even very young readers – especially because the pictures show the moods so well. For children who are dealing with the sadness of an adult it offers insights into why they behave as they do and how hard it is to overcome feelings of desolation and despair. Readers of whatever age who have suffered from depression themselves will recognise its symptoms and the strategies Rosen uses to manage it – not least telling others about what he is feeling and admitting that his fear of alienating people if he cannot manage his emotions.
All of the picture-books I have discussed so far have featured child characters or figures who represent them, and with the possible exception of Petit-Âne, each has ended on an optimistic note. Perhaps because its central character is an adult, and because Rosen is trying to explain the long-term effects of bereavement to the children to whom he performs and who ask him questions about the death of his son, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book does not provide a happy or consolatory ending. By contrast, a child’s depression is handled in an equally powerful way by Australian author-illustrator Saun Tan in The Red Tree (2001), but this book does hold out the promise that things will get better.
The Red Tree is visually stunning. Large, complex and eloquent images represent the feelings of fatigue, dislocation, inadequacy, inability to communicate, alienation, and purposelessness characteristic of depression. The first image, in place of a title page, shows a listless girl speaking through a megaphone, but all of the words are disintegrating and dribbling out of its bell as meaningless letters. The following page shows a weathered grandfather clock in a field. The hours are represented by leaves, eleven of them are dark, though the twelfth is a brilliant red. The body of the clock seems to be an incomplete jigsaw puzzle, and through the holes it is clear that insects have infested the works. Time – the way we measure our lives - is broken and rotten.
The story proper begins with a picture of the same girl in her bedroom. She sits in bed, eyes downcast, blind raised only a crack. Apart from her red hair and a framed image of a red leaf on the wall, the image is effectively in monochrome, combining pink and grey tones in a subtle way to give the impression of sameness. Dark (dead?) leaves are falling onto the bed, floor and surfaces. The text reads ‘sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to’ and is followed by images of the girl in a diving helmet trapped in a glass bottle, walking in a city like ‘a deaf machine’, marking off time on the back of a snail and other equally effective ways of representing the many bleak moods of depression. Yet the alert reader will soon spot that the little red leaf from the first page accompanies her somewhere in each of the surreal, confusing images. When she has struggled through the day (which has felt like an eternity) and returns to her room, she finds that the leaf has taken root in her floor, ‘bright and vivid and quietly waiting.’ The final page-turn shows the room filled with a beautiful red tree that is ‘just as you imagined it would be’; the girl stands smiling beneath it.
The minimal text works with the images to convey powerful feelings. Little is verbalised, but together the words and images convey a state of mind and, without a preachy or false sense of hope, reassurance that things change and in time will get better. The tiny leaf works in an unsentimental way to symbolize hope, survival, creativity, and the ability to nurture the resources necessary to make change possible. The Red Tree is a sophisticated response to depression that uses the picturebook as an art form to great effect. Much of its strength comes from the counterpoint between the eloquent, detailed and complex visual images and the economical use of text.
Children’s literature is one way through which children and young people receive stories about how the world works and ways of thinking about themselves and the things they do. Texts such as these can provide new narrative strands that for some will simply be interesting, but for others may offer alternative versions of the stories they are telling themselves about themselves. In this way, children’s fiction – even for very young readers – may prove a valuable antidote to the current conditions that lead young people to harm themselves and so become a force for positive transformations in young people’s lives.
1. Johnston, Nick. ‘Blue Notes’ in The Guardian, 8 June, 2004. 2. Goodchild, 2006 – full details to follow. 3. Derrien, Marie. ‘In Search of the Future of the Book: Exploring French Picturebooks’. Unpublished Ma sters dissertation, University of Surrey, Roehampton (now Roehampton University), 2004.
ЗОБРАЖЕННЯ РОЗПАЧУ: СУЧАСНІ РОЗПОВІДІ ДЛЯ МОЛОДІ
ПРО СМЕРТЬ, ДЕПРЕСІЮ ТА ЗАПОДІЯНУ СОБІ ШКОДУ
Документально підтверджено, що останнім часом у Великій Британії загрозливо зростає кількість дітей і молоді, які завдають собі тілесних ушкоджень та роблять спроби самогубства. У статті розглянуто можливість використання дитячих книжок з малюнками, щоб діти, ототожнюючись із персонажами, краще розуміли емоції, які можуть викликати такі дії (свої чи інших людей). Проаналізовано дитячі ілюстровані книжки з Британії та Європи, в яких показано дитячі самогубства і навмисні тілесні травми, а також дорослих та дітей у стані депресії. Такі теми не традиційні для дитячих книжок, бо вважаються потенційно шкідливими і здатними викликати наслідування. Однак кожен четвертий мешканець Сполученого Королівства у певний момент свого життя має розумові/психічні розлади, тому художня література має показати дітям, з чим вони можуть зустрітися у житті. Проведений аналіз показує як дитячі ілюстровані книжки за допомогою образів, ритму та звуків можуть передавати емоційний стан. Також розглянуто такі засоби передачі змісту як антропоморфізм і гра, що одночасно маскують справжню суть потенційно загрозливих ідей та образів.
Ключовіслова: завдавання собі шкоди; депресія; дитячі книжки з малюнками; психічна хвороба.
1BABES IN THE WOODS:
VISUALIZING THE CHILD IN CONTEMPORARY RETELLINGS OF LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD
Sandra L. Beckett
Brock University, Canada
Probably no child has been represented in literature more frequently than Little Red Riding Hood. The popular fairy-tale heroine haunts the imagination of authors and illustrators around the globe, and the little girl in red has been portrayed in an endless variety of roles and with a myriad of faces. This paper examines some of these retellings to show how literature’s most famous child has been visualized by contemporary authors and illustrators throughout the world. Undoubtedly the most famous images of Little Red Riding Hood are Gustave Doré’s powerful engravings in the edition of Perrault’s tales published by Hetzel in 1861. According to Jack Zipes, Doré’s engravings continue “to frame” the manner in which we see the fairy-tale heroine today [3, p. 357]. Yet the retellings examined here demonstrate that contemporary authors and illustrators tend overwhelmingly not to imitate, but rather to subvert the conventional image of Little Red Riding Hood. Some artists avoid a stereotypical rendition of Little Red Riding Hood by representing her in an abstract manner. A number of visual interpretations of the tale leave readers free to visualize their own heroine by using techniques such as origami and stencils that create a featureless heroine. Other media, such as woodcuts and photographs, have resulted in highly original retellings with very unconventional heroines. Some illustrators revision Little Red Riding Hood through the prism of classical painting. Many artists and authors challenge the conventional image of Little Red Riding Hood by offering multiple and shifting images of the fairy-tale heroine. Contemporary retellings by authors and illustrators around the world illustrate the versatility and universal appeal of Little Red Riding Hood, a literary child whose image is constantly changing to reflect the sociocultural and aesthetic preoccupations of the times.
Key words: child; fairy tale; Little Red Riding Hood; retelling; illustration.
Probably no child has been represented in literature more frequently than Little Red Riding Hood. The popular fairy-tale heroine haunts the imagination of authors and illustrators around the globe, and the little girl in red has been portrayed in an endless variety of roles and with a myriad of faces. I have collected more than two hundred international retellings of Little Red Riding Hood from Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia, and Australia for two books, Recycling Red Riding Hood, published in 2002, and Revisualizing Red Riding Hood for All Ages, which will appear in 2007. This paper examines some of these retellings to show how literature’s most famous child has been visualized by contemporary authors and illustrators throughout the world.
Undoubtedly the most famous images of Little Red Riding Hood are Gustave Doré’s powerful engravings of the encounter in the woods and the bed scene in the edition of Perrault’s tales published by Hetzel in 1861. Doré portrays a very young girl, still with some of her baby fat, who is dwarfed by the enormous wolf she meets in the woods. Yet the intense gaze that locks her large eyes on the wolf’s in this “intimate tête-à-tête” has been interpreted by Jack Zipes and others as one of seduction and desire [3, p. 357]. Doré’s other celebrated engraving depicts Little Red Riding Hood in bed with the wolf, her hair falling rather seductively over her shoulders and a bare arm clutching the sheet to her bosom. According to Zipes, Doré’s engravings continue “to frame” the manner in which we see the fairy-tale heroine today [3, p. 357]. Yet the retellings examined here demonstrate that contemporary authors and illustrators tend overwhelmingly not to imitate, but rather to subvert the conventional image of Little Red Riding Hood. Beni Montresor imitates Doré’s engravings in his Little Red Riding Hood (1991), which was intended as a “homage to Gustave Doré,” but even he has a parodic intention. His final images present a smiling little girl who floats blissfully and serenely in the red cavity of the wolf’s belly, like a baby awaiting birth in her mother’s womb.
Some artists avoid a stereotypical rendition of Little Red Riding Hood by representing her in an abstract manner. In Le Petit Chaperon Rouge published in Paris in 1965 by the Swiss artist Warja Lavater, the fairy-tale heroine becomes a simple red dot. Lavater’s “imagerie,” which takes the form of an accordion book, retells the story of the little girl in red in what the artist calls “pictorial language” or “pictograms,” that is “by using abstract shapes and colors instead of words” [2, p. 186]. A tiny Little Red Riding Hood dot is devoured by a huge black dot/wolf in the climactic scene. This simple form of representation frees readers from the stereotypes of conventional illustration and allows them to imagine their own Little Red Riding Hood. Lavater’s innovative approach to illustration, which was quite revolutionary in the 1960s, addresses, at least in part, Bruno Bettelheim’s concern that the illustration of fairy tales robs the story of much of the personal significance that it would have if the characters were given substance by the child’s imagination rather than by that of an illustrator [1, p. 60].
In 1975, ten years after Lavater’s version, the French artist Jean Ache uses a strikingly similar visual code, which he calls “narrative abstraction,” to illustrate Perrault’s Le Petit Chaperon Rouge in Le monde des ronds et des carrés (The world of circles and squares), a bilingual book (in French and Japanese) published in Japan. In Ache’s retelling, the heroine is a little red or orange-red dot or circle and the wolf is a black square. While the heroine remains a simple dot, the wolf is a more complex figure: a diagonal, jagged white line represents the wolf’s jaws that open menacingly to swallow the little red dot. Two years earlier, Ache had done a series on the theme of Little Red Riding Hood “in the manner of” seven famous twentieth-century artists for the magazine Pilote. The variation in the manner of Piet Mondrian, in which Little Red Riding Hood is a red square, undoubtedly led to the abstract version published in Japan.
In the origami picturebook Akazukin-chan (Little Red Riding Hood), published in Japan in 1996 by Yoshihide and Sumiko Momotani, Little Red Riding Hood assumes a more human form, but the featureless heroine constructed from red paper remains quite generic. The Momotanis’ visual interpretation of the tale leaves readers free to visualize their own heroine. In fact, instructions are provided so that readers can construct their own origami version of Little Red Riding Hood. In the charming French picture-book retelling, Mon Loup (My Wolf, 1995), Anne Bertier’s Little Red Riding Hood, whose name is Violette, is also a simple silhouette. On the cover, the little black figure of the heroine, in her distinctive pointed bonnet, stares up at her tall, elegant wolf. The simple black and white illustrations, in which stencils were used to create an effect of cut silhouettes, are surprisingly expressive. Throughout the simple love story, Violette can be haughty and distant, playful, sad, angry, sulky, forgiving, sick, caring, enchanting, and loving. Lane Smith makes use of silhouettes in a very different manner in the retelling “Little Red Running Shorts” from The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, the hugely successful picturebook he did with Jon Scieszka. When Jack the Narrator gives the characters their cue, Little Red Running Shorts and the Wolf refuse to tell the story, claiming that the narrator has appropriated their narrative and already told all in his introduction. Smith’s first picture depicts the punker heroine and the executive wolf abandoning the panic-striken narrator. Their tracks lead back to the opposite page where white cutouts of the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood indicate their absence from this story that ends before it begins.
A number of illustrators have used woodcuts to create memorable Little Red Riding Hoods. The Norwegian illustrator Elise Fagerli presents a heroine whose large red bonnet is the only splash of colour in the otherwise black and white woodcuts. Fagerli portrays a chubby little girl whose gestures at first evoke those of a typical small child. This image is quickly dispelled when the little girl with the vicious baby teeth chomps into the cake and swigs the wine meant for her grandmother. The Riding Hood who confronts the wolf is fearless and mean-looking. Readers may take her sang-froid as a sign of her inebriation, but the following scenes reveal the hungry little girl devouring first the wolf and then her tough old grandmother. The final doublespread depicts a replete, but rumpled, Riding Hood letting out a gargantuan burp as she stands before her bewildered mother. Isabelle Vandenabeele uses more red in her otherwise black and white illustrations for the Belgian picturebook Rood Rood Roodkapje (Red Red Little Red Riding Hood, 2003), Edward van de Vendel’s story of a little girl who loves the colour red. One striking woodcut depicts the little girl holding a large, bloody axe behind her back, while red blood fills her grandmother’s doorway and flows out into a pool on the ground. The little girl who holds a doll and stares at the huge black wolfskin rug on the floor of her bedroom in the final scene may look like any ordinary child, but she is thinking very unusual thoughts about being free to do “red things” and the limitless possibilities of the colour red.
The heroine of “Fita Verde no cabelo” (Green ribbon in the hair, 1970), by the celebrated Brazilian author João Guimarães Rosa, wears, not the traditional red hood, but a large, imaginary, green ribbon in her hair. When Roger Mello was asked to illustrate the existential retelling for a children’s picturebook edition in 1992, he decided to use a mixed media of pencil and ecoline, so that his illustrations are in shades of black and white with only touches of green. By depicting only the green ribbon in colour, Mello emphasizes its imaginary status and effectively illustrates, through his technique, the confusion of the real and the imaginary in the young girl’s mind. Although Green Ribbon is called a little girl in the text, she is portrayed as an adolescent or even a young woman in the illustrations. She is initially presented as a rather sultry tropical beauty with long dark hair, flirtatious eyes, a curvaceous figure, and bare feet. When she discovers the loss of the green ribbon, the protagonist is depicted as a very mature-looking young woman, who seems to have visibly aged on the way to her grandmother’s. This Riding Hood is, in fact, an existential heroine whose encounter with death, in the form of the grandmother-wolf, results in the prise de conscience that brings metaphysical Angst, symbolized by the wolf.
What makes Sarah Moon’s version of Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood so shocking are the black and white photographs of the child model Morgan. Little Red Riding Hood is portrayed as a twentieth-century schoolgirl who encounters a wolf in the form of the invisible driver of a large, black car. Readers of Moon’s book will have a strong feeling of déjà vu when they see Robert’s Innocenti’s 1988 illustration of Little Red Riding Hood, who bears more than a striking resemblance to Morgan running along the brick wall. The disturbing effect of Moon’s photographs of Morgan is not unlike that of Anne Ikhlef’s 1985 film, La véritable histoire du Chaperon Rouge (The real story of Red Riding Hood), which casts a seven-year-old actress, Justine Bayard, in the role of Red Riding Hood. The realism of the media used to portray a young, flesh and blood girl in Moon’s stark photography and Ikhlef’s dramatic cinematography accounts for the very powerful, shocking impact that these exceptional retellings have on viewers.
Some illustrators revision Little Red Riding Hood with the aid of past masters. The Black French artist Kelek visualizes Little Red Riding Hood through the prism of classical painting, as she does all of the fairy-tale characters presented in the plates of her edition of Perrault’s Contes, published in 1986. Her single plate for “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge” transplants the fairy-tale heroine into the Venetian Renaissance interior of Vittore Carpaccio’s The Birth of the Virgin. The artist’s clever appropriation of the elements of the original painting is best indicated by her treatment of Little Red Riding Hood herself. Although the fairy-tale heroine is a reworking of Carpaccio’s figure of a young woman in a long red dress, Kelek repositions her in the central position occupied by the baby Mary and the nursemaid in the original. By replacing the almost naked baby Mary of Carpaccio’s painting with a Little Red Riding Hood clad from head to foot in a red hood and Venetian gown, Kelek deliberately subverts the image of Doré and so many other illustrators who obligingly reveal the charms of her chubby flesh for the wolf and the viewer.
In a strikingly different mode, Jean Lecointre uses bright-coloured, garish photomontages that evoke the pop art of the 1950s in the French picturebook Les dents du loup (The wolf’s teeth, 2002). The 1950s heroine, Françoise, is a little girl in a yellow dress and white shoes when she first meets the wolf and promises to give him a candy every evening if he does not eat her. After all his teeth fall out from lack of brushing, it is a very grown-up Françoise who brings a sandwich to the pajama-clad wolf. Dressed in typical 1950s style, a fushia pink sweater over a white blouse and a beret topping her long red curls, this Riding Hood with red lipstick and red painted nails caresses the wolf’s muzzle rather seductively. Pop culture also inspired the Japanese picturebook Akazukin (Little Red Riding Hood, 1991), by Naoki Takei and Tara Yumura, in which Little Red Riding Hood is a stereotypical Western blonde wearing red nail polish, who climbs out of a wolf’s belly full of Wriggley’s gum, Lifesavers, Clorets, etc.
In the series Le Petit Chaperon rouge “in the manner of...”, published in 1973, Jean Ache’s masterly recastings pastiching celebrated painters illustrate eloquently the versatility of the fairy-tale heroine. The prolific French bande dessinée artist single-handedly offers seven Little Red Riding Hood masterpieces, cleverly imitating the art of seven renowned and very different artists, Le Douanier Rousseau, Fernand Léger, Bernard Buffet, Pablo Picasso, Georgio de Chirico, Joan Miró, and Piet Mondrian. These reworkings are done with striking fidelity to the style of each artist and “co-signed,” tongue in cheek, by the pastiched artist and Jean Ache. We have already mentioned the abstract, geometric Little Red Riding Hood à la Piet Mondrian. Miró’s surrealistic Little Red Riding Hood is a whimsical, playfully distorted human form with odd geometrics, while Pablo Picasso’s heroine changes forms in every sequence to reflect the artist’s evolving style. In the strange dream world of Georgio de Chirico, Little Red Riding Hood is a shadow running through the familiar piazza Vittoria Veneto, whereas Fernand Léger’s heroine, a double of the angular, barefooted girl from his painting Leisure, Hommage to David, goes to granny’s on a bicycle. It is not a Woman in Red that is portrayed in the lush forest of Le Douanier Rousseau’s pastiche (one of his paintings is aptly titled Woman in Red in the Forest), but a naive little “girl in red.” Bernard Buffet’s rendition depicts an elongated, spiky figure outlined in black with the lonely, melancholic look so typical of his subjects.
Many artists and authors challenge the conventional image of Little Red Riding Hood by offering multiple and shifting images of the fairy-tale heroine. The German-born American multimedia artist Kiki Smith presents a very diverse range of images in a wide selection of media. Companion, an accordion book published in 2000 that, like Lavater’s, appeals to collectors and children alike, depicts a freize-like procession of Little Red Riding Hoods and wolves. The unique book culminates in a pocket with a memento of the fairy-tale heroine, a red hood, folded up inside. Telling Tales, published in 2001, is a picture story, as well as a catalogue for an exhibition by the same name. A series of colour photographs of multiple images of Red Riding Hood painted on glass portray an innocent young girl, with a naive expression, setting out on her journey. The artist offers a more troubling image of Little Red Riding Hood in the sculpture she titles Daughter (1999), an enigmatic and complex life-size figure that is part girl and part wolf. Her face, which is tilted up questioningly toward the viewer, is unexpectedly covered with dark hair or fur, as if the little girl is metamorphosing into a werewolf. Smith casts Little Red Riding Hood in a variety of different roles that foreground her complexity.
The Alsatian author-illustrator Tomi Ungerer has provided a number of subversive and sometimes controversial portrayals of the fairy-tale heroine. The bold, independent heroine of “Little Red Riding Hood,” from A Storybook from Tomi Ungerer (1974), chooses to defy social conventions and family obligations to go and live in the sumptuous castle of a lonely wolf-Duke with a very bad reputation. The Red Riding Hood Ungerer depicts on a poster he did for the 1992 exhibition Le Petit Chaperon rouge dans tous ses états has even less inhibitions. As a lascivious-looking wolf scrubs her underclothing, a buxom Little Red Riding Hood wearing only a red bonnet and stockings, hangs her red panties on the clothesline.
The French author and editor Christian Bruel has also offered numerous, varied portrayals of the fairy-tale heroine in his innovative works. In the enigmatic textless picturebook Vous oubliez votre cheval (You are forgetting your horse, 1986), illustrated by Pierre Wachs, all that is visible of Little Red Riding Hood, whose hooded red coat hangs from the bedroom doorknob, are her bare legs and feet. They evoke images of a completely naked Riding Hood sitting on the bed, as the wolf, like a well-trained dog, or even an obliging lover, brings her granny’s slippers. Little Red Riding Hood appears as a very small child in Rouge, bien rouge (Red, very red, 1986), a textless picturebook that Bruel did in collaboration with Didier Jouault and Nicole Claveloux. Claveloux’s cover illustration of a little girl dressed in red from the top of her head to her galoshes-shod feet is taken from a doublespread that appears exactly at the midpoint of the book, playfully turning Little Red Riding Hood into a kind of overdressed, underage centerfold, posing against the backdrop of a huge, crimson curtain. Bruel and Claveloux offer a variety of intriguing images of Little Red Riding Hood in their versatile textless picturebook Petits Chaperons Loups (1997), which opens up to reveal two separate books, one devoted to Little Red Riding Hood and another to the wolf. On the cover of the Riding Hood book, a chubby little heroine dons a wolf costume, apparently to play the role of the wolf, who, in turn, is dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. The images of the two books can be mixed and matched to show Little Red Riding Hood as a nurse preparing to give a needle to a very bandaged wolf in a hospital bed, or bending over her basket while a macho wolf enjoys the view leaning on a pinball machine that displays a very sexy, Betty Grable-like Riding Hood in a slinkly red dress, or slyly holding out a pen and document to be signed by a wailing, illiterate baby cub whose paws are visibly inked to make his mark.
Jean-Loup Craipeau and Clément Oubrerie’s Le petit chaperon bouge (Little Red Riding Hood moves, 1997), an innovative French picturebook that allows readers to reconstruct 121 variations of the familiar tale, presents a Little Red Riding Hood whose role and appearance are constantly changing. On some pages she resembles the traditional heroine, despite her modern cell phone. Other illustrations depict a comic-book superheroine in a red cape and helmet and armed with a laser gun; the heroine of a thriller, in red high heels and bright red lipstick, taking out a contract on her grandmother’s life with a seedy underworld wolf; or the heroine of an adventure story, swimming up an African river in a red bathing cap, goggles, and fins.
In the sophisticated French picturebook Mon Chaperon Rouge (My Red Riding Hood, 1998), by Anne Ikhlef and Alain Gauthier, Red Riding Hood is a complex, multifaceted character cast in a variety of conflicting roles, effectively exploding the stereotypical image of the classic fairy-tale heroine. The evocative cover illustration presents a young girl whose red dress is an elegant, swirling extension of the lascivious wolf’s red tongue, making it impossible to say where the wolf ends and Little Red Riding Hood begins. On one page, the tiny figure of a prepubescent, flat-chested Red Riding Hood is held in the arms of a curvaceous, full-figured mother with moon breasts. On the next, the young girl falls asleep in a book/cradle in the middle of her mother’s story (Perrault’s tale) and dreams with a contented smile that she is Little Red Riding Hood. She is a naive young peasant girl in clogs who recites nursery rhymes as she walks through the woods. A decapitated Red Riding Hood seems to have been punished for her unwitting act of cannibalism. She smiles enigmatically at the man-wolf as she shrugs one shoulder out of her red dress in the ritualistic striptease. A nude Red Riding Hood lies on top of the wolf, her head very close to his and her hair falling seductively onto him, while their eyes lock in a powerful gaze. Ikhlef and Gauthier’s Riding Hood becomes, in turn, an object manipulated by the wolf–a Red Riding Hood cello played by a Picasso-like wolf, a courageous heroine who saves herself by impaling the wolf, a serene young girl who sleeps peacefully on the wolf’s back, a diabolical creature with devil’s horns, a temptress in the form of a new Eve, and a mysterious girl-wolf.
Little Red Riding Hood continues to inspire a whole new generation of young authors and illustrators. The exhibition at the Salon du livre et de la presse jeunesse (Children’s books and magazine fair) in Seine-Saint-Denis, France, in 2004 provided a foretaste of the Red Riding Hood images that the future holds in store for audiences around the world. The exhibition featured the best works of the nearly 2,000 young artists from every continent who participated in the unique biennial international illustration competition Figures futur, whose theme in 2004 was Le Petit Chaperon Rouge. The forty-one young artists whose works were chosen by the jury to be included in the exhibittion rendered the fairy-tale heroine in every medium and mixed media imaginable, including India ink, crayon, pen, pencil, charcoal, pastel, watercolour, acrylic on celluloid, oil, collage, montage, modeling, peelings, plants, dyed fabrics, yarn, embroidery, woodcut, engraving, monotype, silkscreen printing, photographs, Photoshop enhanced painting, digital print, computer graphics, and interactive media. In 2003, twenty-one Japanese illustrators participated in a workshop organized in Tokyo by the innovative Spanish publisher Media Vaca. Although the starting point was Perrault’s version of the tale, Media Vaca encouraged the illustrators not to limit themselves to the classic version, but to feel free to change it as they saw fit. The result was an entire volume of highly original retellings, which was published in Spain under the title Érase veintiuna veces Caperucita Roja (Once Upon... Twenty-one Times, Little Red Riding Hood).
The retellings examined in this paper demonstrate the protean nature of a heroine who is as at home in the world of the twenty-first century as she was in Perrault’s seventeenth-century France, the Grimms’ nineteenth-century Germany, or the timeless past of her origins. Little Red Riding Hood offers an image of the child that is constantly changing to reflect the sociocultural and aesthetic preoccupations of the times. The representation of the fairy-tale heroine in contemporary literature provides an endless range of images of the child: innocent peasant girl, naive country boy, tomboy, gypsy, immodest country wench, futuristic superheroine, celebrated rock star, rapper, punker, budding actress, helpless victim, dangerous hood, murderous fiend, belligerent warrior, war victim, diabolical temptress, femme fatale, ugly duck, babe in the woods, or sexy babe. Little Red Riding Hood is a malleable figure that can be reshaped and refashioned to adapt to all audiences, cultures, and periods. She effortlessly crosses temporal and cultural boundaries to assume the identity of a child of the Venetian Renaissance, traditional Japan, tribal Africa, or contemporary New York or Paris. In short, Little Red Riding Hood is a universal child.
List of References
1 Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Random House, 1975. 2 Lavater, Warja. “Perception: When Signs Start to Communicate.” In The Faces of Physiognomy: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Johann Caspar Lavater. Ed. Ellis Shookman. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1993. 182–187. 3 Zipes, Jack. The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood: Versions of the Tale in Sociocultural Context. 2d ed. NY: Routledge, 1993.