A small change to the tale makes all the difference
You know how it goes: there's a curious child, a worried mother, a meal
to deliver to a frail grandmother. An errand through the forest. A chat
with a stranger. And menace lurking. Except this time the curious child
is the wolf, and the stranger in the forest is the girl, and the crux of
the story is the mystery about who is more of a menace to whom.
But what does it all mean? The traditional versions of Little Red Riding Hood have given rise to all sorts of interpretations: a didactic fable about obeying your elders, a remnant of matriarchal initiation rites, a summarized model of heliolatrous cosmology, a Freudian dream of death and reemergence, an allegory of sexual assault. Amélie Fléchais, in her retelling The Little Red Wolf, recently translated into English by Jeremy Melloul, chooses to focus on the most salient theme that this story has always presented to young readers: the fear of untamed nature.
When the wolf loses his way in the forest and meets the little girl, she regales him with a song about the origin of the enmity between the hunter and the wolves. But the wolves remember a different song, one that completes the story and makes you want to reread the book and catch the visual clues that were there all along.
The illustrations fulfill this role outstandingly. "Show, don't tell" has always been a dubious rule, but if there's any art form where it would be wiser to follow it, it's graphic novels. In The Little Red Wolf, the text is precise and just sufficient, while the images are evocative of a deeper plot underneath what's said. The secrets hidden in the forest are heightened by ironic contrast with the gentle choice of palette. Both wolf and human faces eschew anatomic accuracy and go for pure emotion. With his huge eyes and tiny snout, the little wolf is a harmless creature that just wants to see everything the world has; with his overgrown beard and haughty expression, the hunter is a force of nature more fearsome than any beast.
Upon reading the promotional blurb, The Little Red Wolf might sound like your average fairy tale reversal. However, when the full backstory is revealed, the picture that emerges is more complex than just a switching of roles. Each party in this human-wolf conflict holds a portion of the truth, and few readings are more stimulating to the young mind than a tale told through conflicting versions none of which can be ignored. When you figure out that the reason this forest has a hunter of wolves is the same reason this wolf wears a red cape, your understanding of the plot goes full circle, and with that richer perspective, you'll want to go through the experience again.
Nerd Coefficient: 7/10.
POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie/Miraculer, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.Reference: Fléchais, Amélie and Melloul, Jeremy [translator]. The Little Red Wolf [Oni Press, 2023].