Reviews 2011

Die Geschichte vom Rotkäppchen: Ursprünge, Analysen, Parodien eines Märchens [History of Little Red Riding Hood: Origins, Analyses, Parodies of a Fairy Tale]

Die Geschichte vom Rotkäppchen. Ursprünge, Analysen, Parodien eines Märchens [History of Little Red Riding Hood. Origins, Analyses, Parodies of a Fairy Tale] . 14th revised edition. Hans Ritz. Kassel: Muriverlag, 2006. 271 pages. €10 (paperback).

Fairy tales never seem to stop generating new versions taking the tales in different directions as well as generating an increasingly large body of criticism. The book under discussion offers a less traditional approach to the academic and scholarly study of Little Red Riding Hood. It aims to understand the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood in as many different ways as possible, while educating and bringing pleasure to the reader. The fact that this book is published as a 14th revised edition shows its power to attract an audience.

The book has no clear organization, but starts by analyzing a version of the tale and moves from one version to another in an organic way. The first version discussed is a French tale translated into German by Ernst Tegethoff in which Little Red Riding Hood eats her grandmother’s flesh and drinks her grandmother’s blood. The book then moves on to discuss the Brother Grimm’s versions and the problem of the grandmother’s bedclothes, Little Red’s red cap, and other features of the tale. Numerous other versions and analyses of the tale are mentioned and studied including texts by Erich Fromm, Bruno Bettelheim, James Thurber, Tomi Ungerer, and so on. Ritz provides a wealth of information on different versions and his critical analyses show the different ways in which parodies work. Some are built on role exchanges with Little Red no longer a victim, other parodies add a beginning which aims to explain the ‘original’ story while still others imagine a future for Little Red. Following the discussion of the tale itself is a discussion of sources and secondary materials.

The overview and analysis of secondary literature starts with an attack on most fields of study and the purpose of the discussion of the secondary material is to poke fun at it and to satirize it. This part of the book aims to set straight a number of what Ritz perceives to be ‘falsehoods’ spread by different researchers without naming names. Ritz is quite ironic yet arrogant at the same time dismissing most scholars of fairy tales as charlatans (In keinem mir bekannten Denkbereich gibt es so viele Scharlatane wie in der Märchen forschung. p. 115). Ritz discusses a number of ‘misconceptions’ regarding the origin of the tale, such as where and when versions developed, and argues that the only answer for some of these questions is that we simply do not know. He then continues to attack various fields of study. Feminist approaches to fairy tales as well as psychoanalytical ones are considered irrelevant. All other ideological approaches to fairy tales are attacked as well. Ritz also explains how the wolf received his bad reputation arguing that a wolf is neither good nor bad, but exists outside this moral paradigm. Finally, differing philosophical approaches to Little Red Riding Hood are discussed, starting from Plato and Aristotle, including Kant, Hegel, Marx, Engels, and ending with Wittgenstein, Gramsci, Adorno and Benjamin.

Although different versions of the Little Red Riding Hood tale are discussed throughout the book, one section of the book (pp. 135-173) provides a selection of different versions of Little Red Riding Hood, including less well known versions, that approach the tale from different viewpoints . Little Red Riding Hood is parodied in the style of different fields of study, including the view of chemistry, theology, mathematics, linguistics, and so forth. Political versions are included, such as a DDR version and a National Socialist version. There are also versions with a military background, and versions set in the world of advertising as well as versions written by children. Some of these texts have been slightly changed by the author (either title or other parts of the story), but the variety of stories provide interesting reading.

The book also lists works and sources for the various texts discussed in the book (pp. 174-191). This bibliography includes the bibliographical data as well as comments by Ritz and is arranged according to the page on which the source occurs. There is no index and no alphabetical list of sources to allow for easy access.

This book is a 14th revised edition and the book therefore also contains the different addendums the author added to the previous editions (pp. 192-271). These include appendices added to the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th editions of the book. These appendices provide information about the sources used and the material collected. The format of the appendices is similar to the main text itself. Mistakes in previous editions have been corrected; new primary texts and versions have been added and discussed, while secondary literature in the field of fairy tale is criticized and swept aside.

On the one hand, the author demands a rigorous source checking of writers involved in discussing this tale, but on the other hand he argues for a different, less scientific approach to the Little Red Riding Hood tale. Readers expecting a clear scholarly and academic publication will be disappointed by the book, as this is clearly not a purely scholarly publication. Nevertheless, the book does include references that can take the reader further, and despite its lack of a systematic approach, it does provide interesting and fascinating insights into Little Red Riding Hood despite the occasional rants.

Mieke Desmet
Tunghai University, Taiwan