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									              Recycling Red Riding Hood in a Comic Mode
                                      Sandra L. Beckett
                                       Brock University


Although the story of a little girl being eaten by a wolf hardly seems to be a laughing
matter, Little Red Riding Hood has been the object of countless comical remakes by
contemporary authors and illustrators who use every imaginable form of humour. At least
ninety percent of the vast corpus of retellings that I examined in my book Recycling Red
Riding Hood were in a comic mode.1 Charles Perrault‟s first literary version, “Le Petit
Chaperon Rouge,” is a tragic story which ends with the little girl being eaten by the wolf. In
non-French speaking countries, most readers are unfamiliar with Perrault‟s grim version
and know only the Grimms‟ more optimistic Rotkäppchen, in which the little girl and her
grandmother are rescued by a hunter. Although the Grimms‟ tale is not a funny story, its
happy ending would seem to make it a more obvious hypotext for a comic retelling.
However, even Perrault‟s version has been retold in a comic mode.
        Sometimes a humorous effect is obtained merely by substituting animals for humans
in the illustrations. The opening line that presents the “little girl” called Little Red Riding
Hood is accompanied by the incongruous picture of a mouse, a cat or, in William Wegman‟s
particularly amusing version, a weimaraner. Although Wegman follows the Grimms‟
version closely, the casting of canines in all the roles turns it into a comical rendition that is
unforgettable.
        Illustrators using the comic mode often appropriate techniques from the comic book.
The juxtaposition of the cartoon style and the traditional elements of the tale creates an
incongruity that is in itself quite funny. Cartoon-like characters with simple, caricatural
features immediately establish the comic tone in the works of Jack Kent, Mireille Levert,
James Marshall, and Tony Ross. Their wolves are clearly not meant to frighten but rather
to amuse young readers. Ross uses force marks to underscore humorously the furious
kicking of the grandmother‟s slipper-shod feet as the wolf attempts to stuff the last bit of
her into his mouth. In Rödhatten og Ulven (Red Hat and the Wolf), Fam Ekman uses a
plate composed of three narrow, vertical sequential frames, offering the kind of scene-to-
scene transitions found in comics, to emphasize the humorous transposition of the bed
scene to the bathroom. Philippe Corentin borrows techniques from the comic book to speed
up the rhythm of Perrault‟s tale to a frenetic pace in his hilarious parody, Mademoiselle
Sauve-qui-peut (Miss Run-for-your-life). The untiring pranks of the indefatigable little
redhead who terrorizes the barnyard and the forest are descriptively summed up in the
alliterative, onomatopoeic sounds borrowed from comics. These are juxtaposed comically
with the traditional vocabulary of the heroine‟s “Toc! Toc!” (knock, knock) on the door of
“mère-grand.” The humour is rather black in Elise Fagerli‟s picture book, Ulvehunger
(Wolfhunger), where the single onomatopoeic sound of a gargantuan burp, “RAP” (belch), is
used in the final woodcut to sum up the astonishing ending of this parodic reworking that
presents a ravenous Red Riding Hood who wolfs down the wolf before gobbling up her
grandmother.
        The sequencing and layout of the comic book work extremely well in Yvan



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Pommaux‟s parody John Chatterton détective, which borrows from the mystery genre to tell
the story of a wolf holding Little Red Riding Hood hostage to obtain from her mother the
one painting he needs to complete his wolf collection. In the parodic retelling, “Das
elektrische Rotkäppchen” (The Electrical Little Red Cap), Janosch includes two pages of
drawings set sequentially like the frames in a comic strip. In one particularly funny frame,
the wolf is in the process of contentedly devouring all that remains of the grandmother, two
mechanical lower legs, while a speech bubble tells readers just how good granny‟s very
unappetizing-looking legs taste. Since a friend‟s comics inspired Carmen Martín Gaite‟s
novel Caperucita en Manhattan (Little Red Riding Hood in Manhattan), it is not surprising
that elements of the genre are retained in the author‟s illustrations, most of which contain
speech or thought bubbles. One illustration is composed entirely of a large thought bubble
encapsulating the heroine‟s dream of being free in the city, which is expressed in a speech
bubble within the thought bubble. This influence extends even to the text of the novel, as
the narrator tells readers at one point that “a little light lit up inside [Sara‟s] head like a
bulb in the thought bubble of a comic” (201).
        Some retellings make very skilful use of speech and/or thought bubbles to present
multiple perspectives. One particularly striking example is Caperucita Roja (tal como se lo
contaron a Jorge) (Little Red Riding Hood (as it was told to Jorge)), where the bubbles allow
the juxtaposition of the contrasting interpretations given to the Grimms‟ tale by an adult
storyteller and a child listener. A speech bubble above the father‟s head illustrates the
classic tale as the storyteller imagines it, with very traditional images, while a thought
bubble above the boy‟s head illustrates the story as Jorge imagines it, with contemporary
images inspired by the familiar things of his world. In El último lobo y Caperucita (The last
wolf and Little Red Riding Hood), the innovative use of speech and thought bubbles often
provides some comic relief in a rendition that ends quite tragically. The woeful story, told
by the last wolf of a pack to his friend Little Red Riding Hood, about the good old days when
there were still lots of wolves in the forest, is embedded in an enormous speech bubble. On
another page, a speech bubble above the obnoxious, fat hunter contains the very different
version that he tells Little Red Riding Hood of his heroic exploits in the good old days when
there were still lots of wolves to kill, while a thought bubble above a smiling Little Red
Riding Hood reveals the version she imagines, in which the terrified hunter flees a huge,
grinning bear.
        In retellings that use cartoon-like characters, the humour is often of a slapstick
nature. Usually these farcical scenes are at the expense of the wolf, who is subjected to
some very harsh treatment reminiscent of the violence in cartoons. When the wolf in T’he
agafat, Caputxeta! (Got‟cha, Little Red Riding Hood!) comes closer to see what Little Red
Riding Hood has in her basket, the belligerent heroine pulls out a hammer and gives him
several blows on the head. The wolf in Le Petit Chaperon bouge (Little Red Riding Hood
moves) is repeatedly the victim of the machinations of Little Red Riding Hood, her mother,
and/or her grandmother. In one scene, the wolf licks his lips as he anticipates the cake that
he knows is in the basket on the table, but this time it has been rigged by the mother and
explodes in the wolf‟s face. In a scene inspired by comic-book superheros, Little Red Riding
Hood is transformed into a superheroine in a red cape and helmet who aggressively pursues
the wolf with a laser weapon. In the farcical scene below, the wolf follows Mère-Grand’s
archaic instruction to “Tire la chevillette et la bobinette cherra,” but nothing happens until
a harder pull causes the whole door to explode (6).


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        Picture-book retellings often contain clever visual jokes and gags. Many illustrators
ensure that the visual jokes are accessible to very young readers. Mireille Levert paints the
portrait of her Little Red Riding Hood on a dinner plate to underscore the wolf‟s thoughts
as he walks along behind the “plump little morsel.” James Marshall punctuates Little Red
Riding Hood‟s promise “never, ever to speak to another stranger, charming manners or not,”
with a surprise sight gag on the final verso that shows the little girl once again on the
forest path, but this time shunning a large, gentlemanlike crocodile. In Tara Yumura‟s
rendition of the Grimms‟ epilogue in Akazukin (Little Red Riding Hood), the wolf falls, not
into a trough of water, but into a keg of Terry Johnson‟s Old Time Tennessee Sour Mash
Whiskey. Some visual gags are rather sophisticated and self-reflexive, poking fun at the
construction of fiction. The protagonist of Beware of the Storybook Wolves accidentally
rewrites the story of Little Red Riding Hood, so that when the encounter scene from his
favourite book is reproduced on the last page, the wolf has been replaced by a tiny green
caterpillar, much to the surprise of the fairy-tale heroine, who was obviously expecting
someone else. In “Little Red Running Shorts,” Lane Smith wittily depicts the two main
characters abandoning Jack the Narrator; their footprints lead back to a full-page
illustration where white cut-outs of the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood indicate their
absence from what was to have been their story. In some cases, visual jokes are so
sophisticated that they may even be beyond the decoding ability of young readers. Above
the wolf lying in bed disguised as granny in Ross‟s version, is a reproduction of the painting
commonly known as Whistler’s Mother, humorously confirming the wolf‟s fear that he
doesn‟t look the least like an old lady in spite of his pink flannel nightie and cap.
        Authors of retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood” often play with time and space,
transposing the fairy tale from its vague, timeless setting to a specific location and era.
Recontextualization of the story to a contemporary, urban setting is particularly common.
The resulting incongruity and anachronisms create a very comical effect. Sometimes the
contemporary setting remains quite vague, a generic city that could be almost anywhere.
Jean Claverie humorously highlights the incongruity of the traditional incipit and the
modern urban setting of his Le Petit Chaperon Rouge in the opening line “Once upon a time
there was a large city [...].” The readers of Cami‟s Le Petit Chaperon Vert (Little Green
Riding Hood) are told that Little Green Riding Hood‟s family lives in the house that once
belonged to Little Red Riding Hood, but the illustrations humorously present an
anachronistic modern apartment. In Rødhatten og Ulven, a naive little country boy goes to
visit his grandmother in the city, where he is humorously depicted as being totally out of
place in the bustling city centre, particularly in the lady‟s dress shop, where he is dwarfed
by large figures of women in various stages of dress and undress.
        The use of a specific geographical setting often heightens the humorous effect. In the
unmistakable San Francisco setting of Ruby, a streetwise Riding Hood mouse outwits a
sneaky cat who takes a cab to her grandmother‟s Beacon Hill apartment. The heroine of
Caperucita en Manhattan lives on the fourteenth floor of a rather ugly apartment block in
Brooklyn, takes the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to visit her grandmother, and encounters the
wolf in Central Park. Susan Lowell offers a Wild West version in her Little Red Cowboy
Hat, which begins “once upon a ranch, far away in the wilds of the West,” and Lisa
Campbell Ernst‟s Little Red Riding Hood is, as the subtitle indicates, A Newfangled Prairie
Tale. Sheila Hebert Collins drops Little Red Riding Hood into the Louisiana bayous in
Petite Rouge: A Cajun Twist To an Old Tale. La Caputxeta Negra (Little Black Riding Hood)


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is “an African version of Little Red Riding Hood.”
        One of the most common strategies used to render the tale in a comic mode is the
parodic transformation of the main characters. In the case of the heroine, it is often one or
more unexpected changes to the physical or mental traits that characterize the familiar
figure. Probably the heroine‟s most characteristic trait is the colour red that has been part
of her name since Perrault penned the first literary version of the tale. Authors and
illustrators who retain the colour red often turn it into a joke. In Tomi Ungerer‟s
“reruminated” version of the tale, there is a humorous superposition of rather incongruous
red images. The wolf-Duke‟s watchcrow reports that the little girl trespassing on his
domain is “dressed in reds all over like a stop sign” and is “as red as a little beet” (84-85). Le
conte du Petit Chaperon rouge (The tale of Little Red Riding Hood) actually suggests that
maybe “the riding hood was nothing but a little red light lost among all the green lights in
the forest” (393). This nonsensical version by Pef provides a series of ludicrous hypotheses
as to why Little Red Riding Hood was red, including one that pokes fun at the sexual
meaning so often attributed by psychoanalysts to the red hood. The heroine of Le petit
chaperon bouge likes to tell jokes, and the one she tells the wolf to explain why her hood is
red — “so that she is mistaken for a wild strawberry” — (2) is somewhat risqué, as the
expression “aller aux fraises” means to go into the woods with a gentleman friend.
        Although many modern Riding Hoods continue to dress in the traditional colour, the
distinctive red clothing is generally given a humorous twist. The chubby little heroine of
Petits Chaperons Loups (Little Riding Hood Wolves) dons a wolf costume over top of her
traditional costume, while the wolf dresses up as Little Red Riding Hood. The sophisticated
satire in Kelek‟s full plate that transplants her Little Red Riding Hood into the Venetian
Renaissance interior of Vittore Carpaccio‟s The Birth of the Virgin, will certainly be lost on
young readers. The almost naked baby Mary of Carpaccio‟s painting is replaced with a
fairy-tale heroine completely covered from head to foot in a red hood and Venetian gown. In
Ungerer‟s poster, on the other hand, a buxom Little Red Riding Hood wearing only a red
bonnet and stockings hangs her red panties on the clothesline as a lascivious-looking wolf
scrubs the rest of her red underclothing.
        More commonly, the humorous effect is obtained by modernizing the distinctive item
of clothing. It is because she wears a red anorak that the protagonist of Claverie‟s retelling
is called Little Red Riding Hood, “in memory of an old, almost forgotten story,” claims the
narrator tongue-in-cheek. As the title of “Little Red Running Shorts” indicates, this
rebellious, modern heroine, who runs so fast she beats the wolf to granny‟s house, sports
red running shorts. The fairy-tale heroine adopts a western look in Little Red Cowboy Hat.
The ever changing wardrobe of the heroine of Le Petit Chaperon bouge includes the
conventional red riding hood she wears on the cover, but sometimes it is worn with red
lipstick, scarf, and heels. On other occasions, she dons a red bathing cap, goggles, and
snorkelling equipment, or the red cape and space-age helmet of a superheroine. A red
baseball cap is worn over the long red braids of the tomboyish protagonist who quickly
muzzles a dumbfounded wolf in Waldtraut und der Wolf. The heroine who takes the stage
in La terrible bande à Charly P. (The terrible band of Charly P.) is a rock star whose long
red cape is worn over a track suit, along with sneakers, a peaked cap, and dark sunglasses.
Roald Dahl‟s pistol-packing Riding Hood first appears in her “cloak of red” and “silly hood,”
but the next time the narrator meets her she is wearing a “lovely furry wolfskin coat” (32).
Pierrette Fleutiaux cleverly reworks the beginning of Perrault‟s tale to present a liberated


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heroine whose little red pants suit her so well that everyone calls her “Little Red Pants”
(105). Janosch, on the other hand, reworks the opening of the Grimms‟ version to present a
heroine who likes her “electrical red velvet cap” so well that she is called “electrical Little
Red Cap” (102).
         Often the comic mode is established from the outset with a colour change in the title.
The heroine of Cami‟s Petit Chaperon Vert wears a little green hat so elegantly that
everyone calls her “Little Green Riding Hood,” whereas the heroine of Chapeuzinho amarelo
(Little Yellow Hat) wears a yellow hat that reflects the fact that she is yellow in the
figurative sense. Philippe Dumas and Boris Moissard heighten the comic effect by adding a
particular shade of colour in “Le Petit Chaperon Bleu Marine” (Little Navy Blue Riding
Hood), the story of a heroine who bears her nickname in honour of her grandmother, the
original Little Red Riding Hood, and because she wears a navy blue duffle coat that was
bought on sale at Galeries Lafayette. Solotareff‟s retelling begins: “Once upon a time there
was a little girl that everyone called „Little Green Riding Hood‟ because she wore a kind of
pointed, green hood” (9). With a sly wink at adults who take the time to read the paratext,
the author dedicates his book to “all the little pale-green, bottle-green, bus-green, emerald-
green, apple-green, olive-green, greenish, and dark-green riding hoods.” In addition, there
is a humorous accumulation of hoods of various colours: Little Green Riding Hood‟s older
sister wore a yellow hood, her best friend wore a blue hood, and her worst enemy, an
incorrigible little liar, wore a red hood. Gianni Rodari creates a very funny situation in “A
sbagliare le storie” (Getting stories wrong), which was translated into English as “Little
Green Riding Hood,” when a grandfather badly botches his telling of the fairy tale,
mistakenly calling the heroine, in turn, Little Yellow, Little Green, and Little Black Riding
Hood. Bruno Munari‟s playful humour is evident in Cappuccetto Bianco, where the brief
text appears on otherwise blank pages that depict a story in which everything, including
Little White Riding Hood herself, is white and therefore lost in the snow, with the exception
of one page where the heroine‟s preoccupied, blue eyes are suddenly visible.
         Many contemporary authors humorously subvert the stereotypical image of a pretty
little girl. Dick King-Smith tells the very funny story of “Huge Red Riding Hood,” who
suffocates the wolf in the bedclothes by sitting on him. “Not So Little Riding Hood” is a
feminist parody in which a would-be rapist is left pathetically begging for mercy by Scarlet,
a black-belt karate expert. In “Le Petit Chaperon Bleu Marine,” the epithet “little” is
questioned, since readers are informed that “the famous Little Red Riding Hood did not go
on eternally being „little,‟” but eventually grew up and became a “beautiful young woman”
who became a mother and later a grandmother. One of the most striking comics in F‟Murr‟s
mind twisting parodies of “Little Red Riding Hood” depicts a large, irate wolf being
attacked by scores of “filthy parasites” in the form of very tiny Riding Hoods (50). Ungerer‟s
Little Red Riding Hood is described “as pretty as anything, pink and soft,” in keeping with
Perrault‟s text and Gustave Doré‟s famous engraving, but his illustration portrays a plump
little girl who may be pink and soft, but is very homely. The epithet “pretty” is
conspicuously absent in Solotareff‟s reworking of the opening line, and Little Red Riding
Hood is even uglier than Little Green Riding Hood in Nadja‟s duck-like renditions of the
two “girls.” Corentin substitutes the adjective “mischievous” for “pretty” in his hilarious
parody about a little redhead who is “such an intolerable pain in the neck that everywhere
she is called Miss Run-for-your-life.”
         The protean Little Red Riding Hood is cast in a multitude of roles that transform the


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little girl eaten by a wolf into a comic heroine. Likewise, the other characters often undergo
a humorous transformation. In Claverie‟s retelling, the mother is Mamma Gina, the wood-
fire pizza queen and great-great-granddaughter of a woodcutter, who resolutely rescues her
daughter armed with an axe that she uses to force the wolf to regurgitate his victims. The
figure of the grandmother is a particularly rich source of humour. In “Le Petit Chaperon
Bleu Marine,” the grandmother is the ex-Little Red Riding Hood herself, alive and well and
living a peaceful life in Paris as a senior citizen. The highly unconventional grandmother in
Caperucita en Manhattan is a former music-hall singer who smokes loose tobacco and has
had several husbands and lovers. Ungerer‟s caricatural portrait of a “mean and cranky
grandmama” casts the benevolent fairy-tale grandmother in the role of a malevolent witch.
Claverie‟s grandmother is an avid movie fan. The grandmother assumes a variety of comic
roles in Le Petit Chaperon bouge: she is, in turn, the wolf‟s lover, big-game hunter, and the
owner of a fast food chain, MacMie. With the aid of her granddaughter, F‟Murr‟s sadistic
grandmother serves tea laced with cyanide to wolves in order to collect pelts for a new coat.
         The wolf has probably undergone as many humorous metamorphoses as the heroine
herself. In one of F‟Murr‟s comics, the wolf, who has been studying mimesis, is no longer
limited to mimicking grandmothers and disguises himself as the driver of Little Red Riding
Hood‟s father‟s limousine. In Caperucita en Manhattan, the wolf is a millionaire cake king
by the name of Edgar Woolf, who ends up dating the grandmother. The sympathetic wolf in
“Le Petit Chaperon Bleu Marine” is the great-great-nephew of Perrault‟s wolf and avoids
riding hoods at all costs. When Little Navy Blue Riding Hood lets him out of his cage at the
zoo to restage the old story, the wolf escapes to Siberia, where he becomes a successful
storyteller, with a repertoire that includes the story of Little Red Riding Hood as well as the
one about Little Navy Blue Riding Hood. In Archie, the Big Good Wolf, the wolf is a
gumshoe who sets out to tell the true story about the “wild hood” and master of disguises,
Red. In a scene of Le Petit Chaperon bouge, inspired by the film noir, the wolf is a shady-
looking gangster, with whom Little Red Riding Hood takes out a contract on her
grandmother‟s life. Gotlib‟s “La triste histoire du loup végétarien marqué par son hérédité”
tells the sad story of a vegetarian wolf marked by his heredity, who is haunted by troubling
nightmares in which he is the victim of Little Red Riding Hood and other fairytale
characters. The doctor prescribes the adoption of a meat diet and the wolf obligingly obeys.
When the heroine of Martie Preller‟s Anderkantland first encounters the wolf, she sees him
as a well-dressed young man who is even more handsome than Cinderella‟s prince. The wolf
is portrayed as a senior citizen and retired to an old animals‟ home in Caperucita cuenta
“Caperucita”, as well as in Jane Yolen‟s “Happy Dens or A Day in the Old Wolves Home.”
The hero of Rødhatten og Ulven is assisted in the dress shop by a seductive she-wolf
salesclerk. The wolf who prances in front of the grandmother‟s mirror in Wie je droomt, ben
je zelf (You are what you dream) looks decidedly like a cross-dresser.
         The wide variety of humour used by authors and illustrators worldwide to retell the
famous tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” in contemporary children‟s literature ranges from
slapstick and caricature to subtle irony, bitter satire, and black humour. The techniques
and strategies used to transpose the cautionary tale into a comic mode seem infinite. Much
of the humour derives from clever intertextual play, which can only be fully appreciated
when the re-version is read in the light of the hypotext. Parody is particularly common in
retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood” because authors can assume that their young readers
have the necessary competence to decode allusions to what is undoubtedly the world‟s most


                                              6
popular fairy tale.2 Traditional characters, settings, archetypes, and motifs are playfully
transfigured and subverted. Many of the authors of subversive tales, those Jack Zipes calls
“counter-cultural fairy tale writers,” seem to be far less concerned with “transforming the
civilizing process”3 than they are with simply telling a funny story. Since humour has
become such a marketable ingredient of children‟s literature in recent years,4 Little Red
Riding Hood and company will no doubt continue to inspire countless comic remakes for the
entertainment of future generations of young readers.




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Notes

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1.See Sandra L. Beckett, Recycling Red Riding Hood (New York: Routledge, 2002).

2. This kind of parodic play is nonetheless more sophisticated in France where authors can assume
that children don‟t just have a vague notion of a sanitized version of the tale, but actually know
Perrault‟s version by heart at a very early age.

3. Jack Zipes, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the
Process of Civilization (New York: Wildman, 1983), p. 179.

4.See Maria Lypp, “The Origins and Function of Laughter in Children‟s Literature,” in Aspects and
issues in the History of Children’s Literature, ed. Maria Nikolajeva (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood
Press, 1995), p. 189.




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