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.
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.
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 1. Moon, S. (2001). Sarah Moon’s photographic Red Riding Hood [Online] Available at: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/johnson4395/sarah-moons-red-riding-hood [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:http://zoomorphic.net/2016/09/no-one-mourns-an-unnamed-animal-why-naming-animals-might-help-save-them/. [Accessed 16 November 2019]