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Big bad illustration

The story of Little Red Riding Hood is most probably the world’s most retold tale (Beckett 2008 p1) and if that is so, the killing of the wolf is told many, many times over, in many cultures and languages.

So, just how does illustration handle the tricky subject of the killing of a wolf? How does story-telling make it possible to kill off, without reprieve, one of its main characters, and what is illustration’s role in the process?

Is there another picture book character whose life is so easily wiped out over and over, who is made so reprehensible that society accepts the routine portrayal of guns and brandished axes in a children’s picture book?

I want to explore how illustrative techniques create the meaning of meanness? How do the elements of an illustration act as signs, as elements of signs that signify meaning with the reader? I want to explore these processes from the position of an animal advocate and better understand my own cultural influences and maybe prejudices and be aware of how I might place my illustrated wolf.

So, then, to make, a big bad wolf, make him a shadow, or place him in the shadows and make him silent and exaggerate his size. A shadowy creature has no identity. He is only significant in context of the Red character, he is a threat, a danger, a fear, a thing to fear. Writer Midge Raymond, in the blog Zoomorphic, argues that giving animals identity can help save them, ‘in doing so, we often can’t help but develop an emotional attachment to these named creatures.’ (Raymond 2016). Raymond is referring to naming, she also cites Cecil the Lion and Jane Goodall’s naming instead of numbering her wild research chimpanzees. Of course, giving a character identity can lead to stereotyping and the worst of anthropomorphic representations.

Figure 1. Sarah Moon’s photographic Red Riding Hood (2001)


Figure 2. Helen Oxenbury’s drooling wolf (2019)

Figure 3. Helen Oxenbury’s Foreward in her 2019 version of Red Riding Hood (2019)

The wolf can be made greedy, anthropomorphised with derogatory human behaviours as a kind of chimaeric human-wolf hybrid – neither wolf nor person. Dressed, the wolf often appears as an object for ridicule, as if attempting to be human, aspiring to be better than he is.

Figure 3 shows the foreward from Helen Oxenbury’s new version. The last line tells us she has made the wolf too fat to run away from the angry mob that chase him in the last scene.


Figure 4. Eric Winter’s illustrations for Ladybird books (1972)

In the Ladybird 1985-6 version, we see how the composition pins the wolf to his fate. The father’s arm prevents the wolf from escaping but also blocks the reader from intervening who can only now gaze on the events. Where else in children’s literature is violence toward animals so depicted??

I like this scene (figure 5). Anchored with the text, and seen through advocate eyes the wolf becomes the victim; his habitat, his home, his bed is destroyed, but I also think the axe is being normalised as a tool and not as a weapon which in fact it is – a weapon with which to cut down both the wolf and his home. Also, int eh illustration but not the text, we see barbed wire. Indexical of human activity, of ownership and dominance it keeps the wolf from his bed and other humans from entering the wood. I also see that, sitting just behind the wolf, the reader is barred from the forest. This scene, more than any other, is when we may feel compassion and empathy with the wolf’s experience.

Figure 5. Helen Oxenbury’s end of the wood scene. (2019)



Figure 1. Moon, S. (2001). Sarah Moon’s photographic Red Riding Hood [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 22 December 2019].

Figure 2. Oxenbury, H., (2019). Helen Oxenbury’s drooling wolf: Little Red Riding Hood. London: Frederick Warne, Penguin [Kindle version]

Figure 3. Oxenbury, H., (2019). Helen Oxenbury’s Foreward in her 2019 version of Red Riding Hoood: Little Red Riding Hood. London: Frederick Warne, Penguin [Kindle version]

Figure 4. Winter, E., (1972). Eric Winter’s illustrations for Ladybird books: Little Red Riding Hood. Loughborough: Ladybird Books

Figure 5. Oxenbury, H., (2019). Helen Oxenbury’s end of the wood scene. Little Red Riding Hood. London: Frederick Warne, Penguin [Kindle version]



Beckett, S.L., (2008). Red Riding Hood for all ages: A Fairy-Tale Icon in Cross-Cultural Contexts. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. P1

Raymond, M., (2019). No one mourns an unnamed animal: Why naming animals might help save them. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 16 November 2019]

With one blow of the axe he killed the wolf.

Speaker for the Dead.

In her book, Staying with the Trouble, ‘multispeciest feminist theorist’ (Duke University Press 2016) Donna Haraway references an Orson Wells science-fiction novel, The Speaker for The Dead. (Haraway 2016 p68). In it, a man collects the stories of the dead insectoid alien life forms killed in a cross-species war. Haraway considers this in context of an extinct bee species and the surviving bee-mimicking orchids who are dependent upon the bee for pollination. The orchid remembers the bee and a person will remember the orchid when its time comes.

‘The task of the Speaker for the Dead is to bring the dead into the present, so as to make more response-able living and dying possible in times yet to come.’

-Donna Haraway 2016


For my M.A project, in light of the politics of the protection and reintroduction of wolves in parts of the world, for the real biological species, hunted to extinction in Britain, and for their symbolic representative, the picture book wolf killed time and time again, I want to be a speaker for the dead, so as to make and encourage the making of more response-able visual representations of and for the living.


Wolves are known by researchers to be one of the shyest of all animals
in the northern wilderness and that they have high fear of humans and
will walk away, even if you approach one of their kills. In 1990, a
large pack of wolves moved into an Alaskan suburb of over a quarter of a
million people; not a single human was harmed by the wolves.
(Wolfwatch UK 2019


The Bee Orchid by xkcd (2013)

Ladybird book illustrations by Eric Winter (1985-6) -Winter, E. (1985-6). Little Red Riding Hood London:Ladybird
xkcd (2013). The Bee Orchid [Online] Available at: [Accessed 19 October 2019]


Haraway, D., (2016). Staying with the Trouble Durham, London:Duke University Press p69
Wolfwatch UK (n.d.). Wolf Facts [Online] Available at: [Accessed 19 December 2019]

It’s a monster! Barroux’s wolf

This is a board book for young children.
Here in comic form, the wolf has become his own shadow. French illustrator Barroux’s wolf stands human-like; he is devoid of detail. The high contrast draws the reader to the wolf yet he is also obscure and indistinct.

Through colour and composition, there is a visual bond between the girl and the trees; they lean, as one object, away from the wolf.
Visually the wolf does not belong; he isn’t positively connected to any other elements on the page.

In the next image, the wolf is dead, he’s been shot. If you look at the size of the wolf – does anything strike you as odd?


Here the wolf is dead. He’s been shot.

There’s no head, it’s cut off by the page, he has no face, and so no identity.

Also, if you look at the size of the wolf – does anything strike you as odd?

If I resurrect him you can see that he doubled in size –

He is at least twice the height he was in the earlier illustration – in fact only in this illustration is the wolf so large in comparison to the other characters and  the page. And not just because he has eaten two people!

Emerging from his stomach Red has stayed the same size. So, what does it mean? What is signified? I think that the greater comparative size to the other characters, and to the page, has created a monster and this further justifies his slaying. What would be different in meaning if the hunter had such visual dominance?


Barroux, (2012). Le Chaperone Rouge

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