In “The Concept of Childhood and Children’s Folktales: Test Case – “Little Red Riding Hood””, Zohar Shavit points out that since the concept of childhood did not really exist until the seventeenth century, there was no children’s literature before then either1. What we did see during this time, however, was the rise in popularity of the salon – which were gatherings held by the upper class usually in their homes for the purpose of reading various books and entertaining one another. While the upper class began viewing folktales as unsophisticated and suitable “only for children and members of the lower class”, this genre nevertheless increased in popularity among this crowd. As the upper class began to acknowledge childhood they also began seeing children as a source of lighthearted entertainment. With this we see that children were invited into the parlor during these gatherings so that they might amuse the adults. We can imagine that this was accomplished through the reading of these various Fairy Tales whose stated audience was children but that contained enough duality so as to hold the interest of the adults as well. With this understanding in mind, Charles Perrault was able to create his version “Little Red Riding Hood” [ref]Shavit, Zohar. “The Concept of Childhood and Children’s Folktales: Test Case ‘Little Red Riding Hood’”. latech.edu, “The Concept of Childhood and Childrens Folktales – LRRH – Shavit.pdf”[/ref]. The moral presented at the end of Perrault’s tale demonstrates the dual meaning behind this children’s story:
From this story one learns that children,
Especially young girls,
Pretty, well-bred, and genteel,
Are wrong to listen to just anyone.
And it’s not at all strange,
If a wolf ends up eating them.
I say a wolf, but not all wolves
Are exactly the same.
Some are perfectly charming,
Not loud, brutal, or angry,
But tame, pleasant, and gentle,
Following young ladies
Right into their homes, into their chambers,
But watch out if you haven’t learned that tame wolves
Are the most dangerous of all. [ref]Tatar, Maria ed. The Classic Fairy Tales. New York., W.W. Norton., 1999.[/ref]
This ending clearly demonstrates that while it could be read to children, adults would get a different meaning from it. This is something that we see happening today as well with many fairy tale movies. They are technically geared towards children, but written in such a way that adults can enjoy them as well.
In time we began to see resistance to viewing children solely as sources of entertainment. It became important to educate and guide them in morality. This is when we began to see the rise of the educational system and literature focused on the needs of children 1. So, it is not hard to understand that when the Brothers Grimm introduced their second edition of “Little Red Cap”(a hundred years after Perrault), it was noticeably different than Perrault’s version. One important element in this new version in that of the happy ending which is a distinct feature of a folktale that sets it apart from other types of literature. In “Little Red Cap”, the little girl was distracted by the wolf and encouraged to go off the path and enjoy picking the flowers which she was instructed not to do. This gave the wolf the opportunity to go to the grandmother’s house and eat her up and, subsequently, the little girl as well. There was, however, redemption for both of them – as a huntsman found the wolf and saved both the grandmother and the girl. Having learned her lesson, the girl demonstrates her wisdom by not getting led off the path ever again 2. This is a demonstration of another element that is found in the Brothers Grimm version – that of the need to teach a lesson. This goes along with the establishment and expansion of the education system which is something that did not exist as such in Perrault’s day 1.
With the concept of childhood well-established and the genre of children’s literature firmly entrenched in society, it is unlikely that Angela Carter, even given the subject matter, set out with the intention to write “The Werewolf” with children in mind. This story is heavy on occult activity and freely willing to exact punishment when needed – even to family members. As we see at the end of the story, “they drove the old woman[grandmother], in her shift as she was, out into the snow with sticks, beating her old carcass as far as the edge of the forest, and pelted her with stones until she fell down dead” [ref]Carter, Angela. “The Werewolf.” The Bloody Chamber: and Other Stories, Penguin Books, New York, 2011, pp. 108–110.[/ref]. This scene is in stark contrast to Shavit’s theory about the elements of fairy tales that are geared toward children, Carter’s work does not fit the same mold as that of the Brothers Grimm – there is no happy ending (unless you hate your grandmother) and it doesn’t really teach a lesson. To me, this story uses the basic story of “Little Red Riding Hood” but goes on to primarily focus on what happens to individuals who become involved in witchcraft – which given their blasé attitude towards it – apparently happened a good deal in that part of the country.