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Little Red Riding Hood

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“Little Red Riding Hood” by Angeline (lockjaw.deviantart.com). Click picture for original image on DeviantART, opens in new window.

“Little Red Riding Hood” has proven to be a very interesting story to analyze. On the one hand, we don’t tend to think of it in relation to the other prominent fairytales. Red Riding Hood as a character does not have a definitive interpretation the way the other heroines do; she doesn’t have a Disney movie, or an attempt-to-be-Disney movie, and she’s very rarely brought to the forefront in works that reinterpret fairytales as a whole. But, despite this, her story has permeated our culture; there are any number of shorter, smaller, less-significant works based on the story that we’ve all seen at least a handful of. While she’s rarely the main character, she is never not included in fairytale mash-ups, and her story is almost solely responsible for much of the characterization of wolves as antagonists and predators.

Where many of the other fairytale heroines are identifiable by their respective symbols, Red Riding Hood herself is a symbol. Her story isn’t consistent, the details and meaning of it have changed more drastically over the years than most. She doesn’t have a persona, she can’t really be classified as a passive or active character, and her actions depend on the version of the story and what other characters are present. But we know the hood, the grandmother, the wolf, and the woods. We all know the basic elements of the story, and it doesn’t often seem that the details make a difference.

But let’s take a look at how those details have come and gone. In it’s oldest form, “Red Riding Hood” was a story told by French peasants in the oral tradition, as most fairytales began. This was at a time when it is important to note that the concept of the child did not exist as it does for us today. Red Riding Hood was described as being young, but whether she was meant to be a literal child or a young adult doesn’t matter, and this ambiguity set the groundwork for a lot of the coming changes. These early versions of the tale, as is the case with most fairytales, were much darker and more violent than the one we know today. Often instead of just eating the grandmother, the wolf would trick Red Riding Hood into eating some of the unrecognizable meat. The wolf was also sometimes a werewolf, and frequently the story contained some sexual aspect either of outright rape or implied through convincing the girl to disrobe and get into bed with him. In many ways this was more horror story than fairytale; there was a monster, and victims, and gore—and the story would often end with Red Riding Hood getting into the bed, or being eaten.

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“Red” by Deshi Deng (deshideng.carbonmade.com). Click picture for original image on DeviantART, opens in new window.

Charles Perrault published the first written version, and added a lot of the aspects most well known today. This is the version of the tale that popularized the red color of the hood, and brought the wolf away from lycanthope horror tropes in favor of an Aesop-ish talking animal. This was also where the story gained a more moralistic tone, with Perrault including an outright explanation at the end for how the story shows the dangers of young women speaking with unknown men, and that the wolves in our daily lives are not always recognizable. We’re still not necessarily looking at a story that’s been watered down for children, as the lesson applies to pretty women of any age. The wolf is the focus. Most obviously he represents any strange man, being someone that a young woman needs to fear. But he doesn’t have to attack her, he never has to force her to enter the house or get into bed with him. This could represent the dangers of being deceived, but it could just as easily be interpreted as a girl entering into a sexual relationship before she’s fully ready. The story could even be seen as a metaphor for puberty and sexual awakening, starting with the girl leaving her mother’s home and ending with her coming out of the wolf’s belly, being a kind of rebirth.

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“Little Red Riding Hood” by (wicked-fairytale.deviantart.com). Click picture for original image on DeviantART, opens in new window.

The Grimm Brothers, despite being known for darker versions of fairytales, gave us a comparably tame version of the story. Here, the heroine is undeniably a child, and the sexual connotations are removed. This version leans heavily on the lesson to obey one’s elders, and was the first version to introduce the huntsman as a rescuer; before, if Red Riding Hood survived the story, she escaped on her own. This is the most definitive example of the story specifically teaching children not to talk to strangers. While the connections to it’s roots are still clear, this version is far removed from a story about a werewolf, cannibalism, and rape. The danger is a lot less gruesome and a lot more attractive: the wolf appears as a friend, and coaxes the girl to stray from the forest path.

In this version the wolf is the antagonist simply for what he is. But, there is also support, by cautioning the girl not to stray from her path, that he is a manifestation of the dangers of the unknown, the dark woods, and what may happen if one disobeys their elders.

The interpretation that I love the most but seem to see the least, is that the wolf actually represents something within the girl. There are traces of this thought in recognizing that the tale could be about her transition into womanhood, and that the whole story is an internal struggle. The wolf can represent her fear, of the forest or of growing up. And he can represent her very sexuality, something that is both frightening and fascinating. In this sense, her agreeing to go with him in the beginning is a key aspect of the metaphor. We see something like this in Once Upon a Time, which twists the tale so that Red Riding Hood herself is the wolf. Her character arc is not just about learning to overcome this aspect of herself, but to accept and understand it.

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“Little Red Riding Hood” by (ourlak.deviantart.com). Click picture for original image on DeviantART, opens in new window.

Once Upon also provides a minor example of a final point I’d like to make, regarding the many re-imaginings of the tale that turn the wolf into a love interest. Unaware of her condition at first, Once‘s Red fears that her lover is the wolf. It seems like a counter-intuitive way to view the story, as the wolf is undeniably the antagonist–but this interpretation sees love and relationships as a different kind of threat. It hearkens back to the sexual awakening aspects of the story, using the wolf to represent something that isn’t necessarily bad, but still frightening. Any romance plot with a werewolf borrows elements of this theme, allowing the girl to desire the man but fear the wolf—that element of the unknown, of an adult world that she is not prepared for.

When you look at everything has a whole, maybe the reason the story is so effortlessly iconic is because those ever-changing details really don’t matter in the end. Whether Red Riding Hood is a small child or a young woman, and whether the wolf sleeps with her or eats her, and whether the huntsman and the grandmother live, die, or aid her rescue, the essential struggle is the same. Red Riding Hood is an innocent, faced with the dark realities of the world. They can seem friendly and even attractive to her, and she won’t recognize them when she must face them the first time. But however dangerous or confusing they may be, she must face them; and however afraid she is, she does have a chance to succeed.

Fairytales 101 intro post.

One Lovely Blog Award

Wow, this took me a long time to get around to. It’s amazing how frustrating it can be just to decide on what random facts you’d like to share about yourself or what blogs you want to pass an award on to. But despite the unexpected work, it was an honor to be nominated, and a pleasure spend a little more time thinking about why I appreciate the blogs I follow, and being able to let them know.

I’m sure many of you have seen this award floating around, but here’s the rundown:

The Rules:

  • Add the “One Lovely Blog Award” image to your post 
  • Share seven things about you
  • Pass the award on to seven nominees
  • Thank the person who nominated you
  • Inform the nominees by posting on their blogs

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Nominated By:

  • Fairytale Feminista—Well, you know any blog about fairytales is going to get my attention. And this one so beautifully balances both a love of a fairytales and a desire to find the character depth and relevant messages within. I’m so glad that I started following, and honored that the author found my little corner of the internet worth nominating for this award.

Seven Random Facts:

  • I’ve been starting to get into calligraphy. It’s somehow very relaxing and very frustrating at the same time.
  • As you might guess, I love coffee. But I’ve  started a bit of a love affair with *gasp* tea. Hot tea, that my born-in-south-Mississippi brain didn’t even believe existed until I moved to colder climes.
  • I’m being a good Joss Whedon fan and have FINALLY started watching Angel the series, and as you can see on my new handy dandy blog schedule I hope to be giving a run-down of my first thoughts on it soon.
  • I have a bit of a Brian Froud obsession and I’ve lost count of how many of his art books I own. I’ve always been drawn to the interpretation of fairy folk as tricksters with their own morality scale.
  • I spend way too much of my free time watching the internet show Video Games Awesome. It’s a really fun way to get a look at games that I can’t get around to playing for myself, and feel like I’m hanging out with friends rather than watching let’s play-er who takes themselves too seriously.
  • I recently graduated from college. I’m on the job hunt now, and I spend large portions of my day debating whether I should be working on getting a job or working on my blog or working on my stories or taking a moment to chill out. I’m growing accustomed to feeling very busy and very lazy all at the same time.
  • I used to not like my middle name, Renee, because it bored me. Then I found out the meaning and that it was derived from the name Renata, which I thought was beautiful, so it grew on me. Then I was reminded that Renata is the name of a character in the Twilight series… so now I don’t know what I think.

Seven Nominations:

  • Plotting Bunnies—I found this one recently, and re-blogged this not long ago. The name is adorable and the blog itself has a great mix of resources and advice for writers. It  reminds me a lot of the initial vision I had for this site, before I shifted focus more to discussing stories themselves than about the actual writing process. It’s even inspired me to start bringing back some of that writing focus here.
  • Hecubus – My World—Though I think of it as a “video game blog,” there’s a healthy dose of music and movies as well The posts are very accessible, like a friend share their thoughts on a game rather than someone acting like an expert on the subject. Though the author does clearly have the solid gaming background to know what she’s talking about.
  • A Little Bit of Happiness—I actually know the author of this blog from college, and was pleasantly surprised when I started following it. I’ve seen a lot of people struggle to find their niche in blogging, and she settled on something both simple and unique: moments of happiness.
  • This Builds Character—This is a very relatable screenwriting blog; it’s one of the few I’ve found that doesn’t feel like a professor or a self-claimed professional spouting advice. There are some great discussions here on how to write believable plot and characters, with much more insight than the typical questionnaires and checklists that permeate the internet.
  • Emilia Lives Life—Here is a beautiful mix of a love of books, coffee, travelling, and life. I like living life vicariously through people like Emilia who find much more interesting things to do with their time than I do, and make writing about it seem so genuine and effortless.
  • Marie Erving—This was one of the first blogs I followed on WordPress, and I believe the main reason was because of our mutual Whedon love. Marie writes about mythology, historical fiction, scifi/fantasy, and all the other geeky passions across a wide range of media. Her writing is very relatable to anyone passionate about genre.
  • The Novice Screenwriter—Another screenwriting blog, with a very friendly and helpful atmosphere. I love that the majority of the posts are very short, providing a great balance of giving good writing advice without giving the reader too much of a distraction from what they should be writing. Many apply to writers for any medium, or even anyone just trying to focus on working at home.
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Being Commander Shepard

Too long ago, I wrote about my experience with the The Jade Empire, and I expressed the intent to write more posts focusing on video games. Though I’ve had many topic ideas since then, I never really got the bug to need to write them. My fairytales and my movies got in the way, because when it comes right down to it, my passion is in stories. Bioware, through The Jade Empire, caught my attention and inspired me to write that post nearly a year ago. And it’s Bioware that brings me back to discussing the medium today.

Sometime between then and now, my boyfriend found himself unable to bring his Mass Effect 1 & 2 save files into Mass Effect 3, and decided to replay the series from the start. This happened after I had intentions of eventually trying the Mass Effect series myself. So while he spent his days catching up to his lost save, I watched, and I put a lot of thought into what my character might do differently.

Now that I have the first two games, this is to the best of my memory the first time I’ve played a game that had both a fully voice acted protagonist and the choice of dialogue responses for them. I’ve had experiences with the personality-driven dialogue wheel, but sans voice acting, and I would definitely say now that the voice acting is the biggest part of what makes my Mass Effect character feel genuine to me.

First of all, FemShep’s voice actress Jennifer Hale is as amazing as the internet claims. She gives an incredibly nuanced performance, and I especially love that she maintains a touch of bad-ass attitude regardless of which alignment choices I make. My Commander Shepard still feels like the same person during any type of dialogue.

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Watching my boyfriend’s play-through, I realized that the same can’t be said for the male Commander Shepard. Mark Meer is still a fine voice actor, but he delivers the dialogue very matter-of-factly. At it’s best it’s just bland, on average I feel like the character is reading lines or is being too level-headed, and at it’s worst an awkward attempt at a passionate delivery makes me laugh when I shouldn’t be.

I’ve discussed (and mildly argued) this point with him, and his take on the difference is thus: that the male Shepard’s delivery is meant to be flat, because that makes it easier for players to envision themselves in the role. On the other hand, the female Shepard, having not been designed for the core (male) demographic, is instead a predefined character.

Generally you see a game written for one type of character or the other: either you get to make up a character to your tastes, or you play a character purposefully designed for the game. Often, the former is a way for the player to imagine themselves as that character.

But I have a real issue with the idea that the “blank slate” character makes for a more immersive experience. I have no problem playing characters opposite my own gender, but I could never see myself getting invested in these games if I played a male Commander Shepard. Every time he opens his mouth, I’m aware that it’s a video game. I understand the logic of the argument that his blandness allows more interpretation from the player, but for me it just reinforces the fact that he is not a real person. I have the same problem with a lot of Bethesda games, where the player characters are ultra-customizable, and silent. I can play the games and have fun, but I feel like I’m following quest objectives and not like the story has any impact on my character.

There does seem to be support for a gender divide here; disregarding the issue of what gender they’d rather play as, it seems that men prefer to play the blank slate and women prefer to play the fully realized character. I do, after all, completely boggle my boyfriend’s mind with how many hours I’ve put into my Bethesda RPGs to still have *cough* never actually bothered to finish any.

I hate putting it so simply, because I love the character creation process in all types of games and I love making my character my own. It feels wrong to say that I’d rather have my protagonist be predefined.

The best way I can explain it, for myself if not for all FemShep fans, is that I do want to play my character my way but I also want her to be realized in front of me, and to feel real within her world. This is why I praised Bethesda in the past: their games are really good at allowing for player choice as well as creating a character with a tangible connection to the story.

I’d love to hear other opinions on this, from both genders and lovers of any types of games. What kind of character do you prefer, or find more immersive? What are your thoughts on the different voice acting styles in the Mass Effect series?

✎ Word Count Spreadsheets by Svenja Liv

Lindsey Cotman:

I’ve only just started following this blog, and have already found many wonderful resources and readings for writers. These spreadsheets that the post author has found are amazing; I wish I had something like these the one time I unsuccessfully attempted NaNoWriMo.

Between finding time for job searching, keeping up with this blog, working on my own writing projects, and just finding time for myself… let’s just say that often more than one of those things have been neglected this summer. Almost everything has come to feel like a chore, but the discovery of these very beautiful and intuitive spreadsheets has actually got me feeling excited about caring about my word count again. And caring about it to feel good about making progress, not just as a way of judging how much work I got done today and how good or bad I should feel about myself because of it.

I highly recommend you follow both Plotting Bunnies and the blog of the spreadsheet creator, Svenja Liv. I love to see writers coming together as a community, helping and encouraging each other. Let’s all remember that we’re not in this alone.

Originally posted on Plotting Bunnies:

Word-Tracker-2013-HuntsmanWith Camp NaNoWriMo coming up, I’m starting to get hyped up about word count (as one does in NaNo-land). Finding writing resources motivates me like no other, so off I went to my trusty friend Google. A minute later, I struck gold.

A generous artist and writer, Svenja Liv, has been making and sharing yearly word count spreadsheets for free! Check them out here: CLICK ME!

I was already amazed that she had prepared different themes for us to choose from. The one I chose was the Huntsman theme (depicted above) but there are also others such as Steampunk, Pirate, Forest Fairy and more. A talented artist, Svenja Liv drew these illustrations herself and designed a massively comprehensive spreadsheet that I am in awe of.

How comprehensive? Let’s take a quick run through of the key features, shall we? I’m quite new to the sheets myself so I strongly…

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Cinderella

Cinderella, both the story and the character, is right up there with Snow White in terms of recognition. Not only is she perhaps the most popular Disney princess, but her fairytale is one of the most frequently adapted to other media. From the questionably historic Ever After, to the more whimsical and idealized Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, its adaptations are certainly the most well-known. But where “Snow White” maintained lasting impact through visceral themes of fear, envy, and temptation–“Cinderella” has a much more glittering image in our culture. Hers is the classic rags to riches story, and the one that started Disney’s emphasis on wishing to make all your dreams come true.

Her popularity and the way most modern adaptations handle the story has earned Cinderella a lot of criticism. She’s the one people point to when they complain about the bad messages Disney and princess-oriented media are sending to young girls. She’s the one who they say just sits back and waits to be saved, and just wishes and dreams for everything to work out without doing anything about it herself. She’s the one who most glorifies the pretty, sparkly dresses and the tiaras and of course the shoes. If a teen idol is going to write a song or star in a movie even loosely based on a fairytale, it’s going to be Cinderella’s.

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“The first dress” by Līga Kļaviņa (liga-marta.deviantart.com). Click picture for original image on DeviantART, opens in new window.

Defenders of the classic interpretations of fairytale heroines will explain that there is nothing inherently wrong with being feminine, and that a character shouldn’t be condemned just because she wears dresses or engages in domestic tasks. But I would say that the backlash against Cinderella isn’t necessarily because of her feminine role—in many ways she’s very similar to Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, who also carry the reputation that they “don’t do anything,” but without the excessive focus on materialism that plagues Cinderella.

The problem, then, is that she’s too marketable for her own good. Whereas the other fairytale princesses are associated with symbols like apples and spinning needles, which really only work to promote a fairytale atmosphere, Cinderella’s key plot points are all pretty, marketable things. The most iconic are of course her glass slippers: made of fur or jewels or gold in many older tellings, but always something unique and nice to look at. In the original Perrault story, where the ball took place over the course of three nights, focus was also given to the fact that Cinderella was given a new ballgown to wear for each night. The ball itself is to blame for much of the story’s glamorous atmosphere. The heroine goes from a very poor, miserable home to a grand castle worthy of awe, and there she gets swept off her feet by a prince widely known to be “charming.” The basics of the story are wish-fulfillment in the purest form, and because of that, it’s easy to blame it for being too unattainable.

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