The story of Little Red Riding Hood changed my life. I do not jest. Had I never heard that sordid tale in my tender years, how differently things might have turned out for me.
I might have grown up believing that a mother’s advice is always good and sound; that she would never send her daughter off on a dangerous mission alone and ill prepared. But I know that mothers don’t always get it right. They can’t warn you about absolutely everything. They make mistakes like anybody else.
It might have taken me much longer, if I had never heard this tale, to develop my healthy fear and distrust of big bad strangers who say one thing and mean another, acting all smooth and friendly to your face, but underneath all that so happy to cunningly trick you and to do you harm.
I might have had too much faith in the smarts of a little girl, too much confidence, a little too much bravado for my own good. But this story made me consider. If the heroine could be so foolishly stupid as to think that an ugly wolf was actually her grandmother, what chance might I have of getting things right out there in the big frightening world all on my own?
I might not have had quite so many childhood nightmares involving big black wolfish dogs who loped towards me smiling, but with menace on their minds and in their eyes, filling me with terror, making me scream out in the night for help, deliverance from such evil.
I might have believed that a story is the undisputed truth, a chronicle of facts. Instead I learned that there are many variations of a narrative, different versions that can be twisted and reworded and revised. The Brothers Grimm sent cake and wine to grandma! The wolf swallowed her whole! (Or, was it really only fruit and cookies, and being locked up in a dark old closet for a while?)
In each Red Riding Hood adventure the Huntsman/Woodsman saves the day. He chops off a head, or slashes open a stomach and fills it up with rocks, throws open the closet door, drags the big bad wolf back to the forest where he belongs, or simply gets rid of the body and cleans up the mess so they can all sit down to tea.
If I’d never heard this story in all its incarnations, I might have had much less imagination, been less quick to invent ridiculous scenarios, what ifs and whys and endings spinning off in all directions. I might have believed in the impossibility of more than one happily ever after, instead of exploring all the delightful ways to get there.
But I also might have searched a little harder for the huntsman in my life, instead of placidly waiting for him to show up at my door to save me from the bad things in the forest.