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"Little Red Riding Hood" ("Le Petit Chaperon Rouge") first appeared in print as a story by Charles Perrault; another, more optimistic version ("Rotkäppchen" a.k.a. "Little Red Cap") was later published by The Brothers Grimm, which has pretty much supplanted Perrault's in the collective consciousness.
In the story, a young girl, known by her favourite red hood, goes out into the woods to bring her sick grandmother some good things to eat. On the way, she is stopped by a wolf, who asks her where she is going. Too innocent to be afraid, she tells him, and they go their separate ways. Specifically: the wolf takes a shortcut to the grandmother's house, impersonates Little Red Riding Hood, and swallows the grandmother whole.
"Grandmother, what big arms you have!"
"All the better to hug you with, my dear."
The dialogue continues in this pattern (but omits Grandma, What Massive Hotness You Have!) until she makes the comment:
"Grandmother, what big teeth you have!"
"All the better to eat you with, my dear!"
And the wolf springs and devours her.
Depending on the version, the girl and her grandmother may be rescued by a passing huntsman or other benefactor, whereupon they may take revenge upon the wolf (in "Rotkäppchen", they fill the wolf's belly with stones). In Perrault's version, however, the story ends with the girl's death, followed by a moral warning young ladies to beware of "wolves", especially those who are "charming, quiet, unassuming, complacent, and sweet". French folk versions (such as this one), which do not feature the red hat, have the heroine deduce the problem before the wolf eats her, and escape by saying she needs to visit the bathroom; folklorists believe this is the older version.
An Homage to this story appears in the song "Hey Little Red Riding Hood" which makes the wolf out as a would-be suitor rather than a vicious animal wanting to consume her for food. This may be closer to the original version of the story, which some scholars believe to be a tale of seduction, with the red cape symbolizing menstruation, and therefore fertility. Of course, that does hit the slight problem that Perrault introduced the red cape. In the original folktales, no mention was made of any particular article of clothing, let alone its color.
The most recent film rendition of the story features a 2011 live-action film treatment starring Amanda Seyfried as the eponymous heroine, and a wolf based more in the supernatural realm. It's also the basis for the pilot episode of the 2011 TV series Grimm, in which a young girl in a red hoodie is abducted by a shapechanging wolf-creature.
Such a ubiquitous story is naturally a Fountain of Expies:
- A little girl who dresses in red and winds up in danger is a common motif; she's Little Dead Riding Hood.
- Also popular are revisionist retellings where Red takes matters into her own hands and kicks some wolf butt; she's Little Red Fighting Hood.
- The Big Bad Wolf has his own trope, not to mention probably inspiring the names of Big Bad and Big Badass Wolf.
- Not really related (usually), but with an obvious Homage in the Trope Namer, is Grandma, What Massive Hotness You Have!.
Adaptations or works that revolve around this fairytale include:
- The Company of Wolves
- Freeway (1996 crime/black comedy film which takes inspiration from the tale)
- Hoodwinked (a parody of the story)
- Into the Woods (takes several well-known fairy tales, including this one, and weaves them into one story)
- Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ
- Little Red Riding Rabbit
- Once Upon a Time (same deal as Into the Woods)
- The Path
- Red Hood's Revenge
- Red Hot Riding Hood
- Red Riding Hood (2011 film)
"Little Red Riding Hood" contains examples of the following tropes:
- An Aesop
- The Bad Guy Wins: In the Perrault version.
- Big Bad: It's in his name!
- Big Badass Wolf, specifically The Big Bad Wolf.
- Big Damn Heroes: "A villainous wolf preying on old women and little girls? This looks like a job for WOODCUTTER MAN!"
- Deus Ex Machina: The woodsman in the Grimm version.
- Distressed Damsel
- Downer Ending: Perrault's.
- Fan Disservice: The wolf has Little Red strip in some versions. Disservice on account of she's usually portrayed as very young and because these versions often have the Downer Ending.
- Forbidden Fruit: She's warned about leaving the trail and talking to strangers. (Not always, the warning was added in one of the Grimm versions; it's standard now, since "obey your parents" is considered a better moral for children's stories than "avoid seducers and rapists.")
- I'm a Humanitarian: In some versions of the tale the wolf tricks Little Red into eating some of Grandma's dead body. For some reason.
- Infant Immortality: Played straight in the more modern Grimm version, averted in Perrault.
- The Ingenue: Little Red Riding Hood (perhaps not in versions where she does a strip-tease after accidentally cannibalizing her grandmother).
- Just Eat Him: The wolf opts to swallow his victims whole, for maximum rescuing potential.
- Killed Off for Real: Some variations have Little Red escape but still bump off poor Granny.
- Lighter and Fluffier: The modern version of the story, which adds a happy ending and downplays the Freudian overtones.
- Little Dead Riding Hood: Almost the trope namer and perhaps the origin.
- The Lost Woods
- Our Werewolves Are Different: The wolf is not really supposed to be a werewolf, but many modern versions of the story have recast it that way.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Even at close quarters, Red Riding Hood is at most merely suspicious of the wolf, even though he has not disguised himself further than putting on the old woman's clothes. Maybe Grandma was really hairy?
- Little Red was blind?
- That would make it even creepier, as she'd have to feel how big each of Grandma's body parts are...
- Little Red was blind?
- Person with the Clothing
- Scare'Em Straight: Many versions of the story present an Aesop along the lines of "Always obey your parents" or "Don't talk to strangers"-- or you could be eaten by a wolf.
- Swallowed Whole
- Too Dumb to Live: The eponymous character, who can't seem to tell the difference between a wild animal and her own granny. Some versions play with this by describing the wolf as a shapechanger or a werewolf, which might explain why it takes so long to realize the deception. One version penned by James Thurber, averts it, where Red wasn't fooled at all because, quote,"Even in a nightcap a wolf looks about as much like your grandmother as the Metro Goldwyn Mayer lion looks like Calvin Coolidge." So she pulled a revolver out of her picnic basket and shot the wolf dead.
- And then there's the version(s) where the wolf is a lycanthrope... and also, is the grandmother.
- In The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett observes, "... some girl who can't tell the difference between a wolf and her grandmother must either have been as dense as teak or come from an extremely ugly family."
- Too Smart for Strangers: Nope, she wasn't. Often used as An Aesop.
- Unexplained Recovery: "Swallowed by a wolf eh? Well, you should both be fine. Just take it easy for a few days."
- Villainous Crossdresser
- You Can Leave Your Hat On: In some versions of the tale, the wolf instructs Little Red to strip off all her clothes one by one and throw them on the fire.