The Big Bad Wolf, of dubious and questionable reputation, was a master of manipulation. With carefully chosen, seemingly helpful suggestions he was able to convince Red to turn aside from the truth that she knew well. Here is a different way to look at this familiar story and to add its lesson to your tool kit as you raise children. Be encouraged today!
Before there were videos, audio books, public schools, or even printed books there were tales told in small groups. These were told from generation to generation and were a way for children to learn ancient wisdom, how our world functions, and to help children see where they fit in. While on the surface, these stories were entertaining, they were also filled with life lessons. They had purpose. These centuries old narratives still contain wisdom.
Little Red Riding Hood is one of these. This is a truly old story originating in Europe prior to the 17th century. The most well known versions of this were written by Charles Perrault, who created the literary genre known as the fairy tale, and The Brothers Grimm. It has been told and retold in many ways. Most people with a western upbringing are familiar with it.
Here is a quick recap: a young girl is sent by her mother on an errand to bring food to her ailing grandmother who lives on the other side of the dark forest. The girl knows the way, and her mother cautions her to stay on the direct path there and back. Part way through the journey this young girl encounters a wolf who suggests that some wild flowers would be a lovely extra gift to take along to her grandmother in addition to the food.
While the girl is distracted by flower gathering, the wolf runs through the forest to get to Grandmother's house. His intention is to steal the food the girl is bringing. The wolf ends up convincing the grandmother that he is her beloved child and then eats the woman whole. The wolf then dons the clothes of the grandmother and convinces the girl, who was delayed on her journey, that he is her grandmother. The wolf then eats the little girl whole.
The girl and her grandmother are quite uncomfortable in the wolf's belly but the wolf is completely satisfied and falls asleep. His loud snoring alerts a passing woodsman who comes to check on the grandmother and finds the wolf and the whole distressing scene. With one quick move, the woodsman cuts the little girl and her grandmother out of the wolf and all are saved. Except the wolf. Hopefully, they were a bit wiser from the experience.
You only have to scratch the surface of this cautionary tale to get to the true meaning. While this story is often vilified by 21st century teachers and parents as being too violent or frightening for young children, I see no evidence of this. When the story is told by a real person in the real world without anxiety breeding sound effects, over the top visual effects, or a nefarious tone of voice, this is a simple story illustrating a very real aspect of the world.
There are dangers in our world. We must be wary and wise. There are people who appear to be nice, but whose agenda is filled with malice. Nice is not the same thing as honorable, trustworthy, or virtuous. Manipulative people with an agenda of self interest are experts at being nice. However niceness is not, in and of itself, a virtue. Nice is a surface demeanor which is easy to affect. Righteousness is deeper and of much greater value.
Our desire to be nice and to use the adjective nice as a measurement of true virtue has put our culture into a state of confusion. A person's ability to be nice has no bearing on whether or not they are a person of substance or honor. It tells us nothing about their work ethic, empathy, or intelligence. The Big Bad Wolf was nice. But virtuous? Honorable? No.
What can we teach our children using this story? Here are some ways to use this tale with your children and students.
Stay on the known path. Many modern retellings of this story have the Big Bad Wolf showing Little Red Riding Hood a short cut through the woods in order to distract her. The original tale explains that he actually convinced her to leave the path by encouraging her to bring flowers to her grandmother along with the food. The implication was that it would be nicer if she would simply leave the path to gather flowers. The wolf convinced Red Riding Hood that she wasn't really leaving the path, she was just being nice. Red couldn't have been lured away with the suggestion to do something mean, but she was lured away by the idea that she could be nicer. The wolf manipulated the girl into believing that leaving the known path was the nice thing to do. She had been told repeatedly to stay on the path that was known and sure and safe. She ignored those wise warnings and was tricked. With niceness. Remind children to adhere to the wisdom of the Holy Scriptures. No matter what. They are the known path. We leave them at our peril.
Ignore the Big Bad Wolf. Anyone who tells you to walk away from the truth you know should be heard with a grain of salt. The Big Bad Wolves of the world do not care if you fall into years or decades of unhappiness, addiction, or poor mental health. Stand strong in what you have been taught by those who are trustworthy and wise. Be very careful about whose advice you take. Be sure that you know what is good, true, and right in the eyes of God so that you recognize the things that are not. Teach your children to know the difference between righteousness and evil. Little Red Riding Hood would tell you the same.
Truth And Traditions Are Not The Same. Be mindful that there are a lot of customs and traditions in homes, schools, and faith communities that have no bearing on truth. For example, I know many older people who would never dare to attend a worship service in any faith community unless they were dressed beautifully with all the accessories and shoes. This tradition actually countermands all the teachings of Scripture. We are to come before the Lord humbly and not dressed to impress. This fashion show custom was honored in the extreme during the more formal years of the 1940s, '50s and '60s. It still has a strangle hold on some people today. There are lots of traditions that are masquerading as truth. Know truth. Live in it. Let old, tired traditions go if there is no truth to it.
Those of us who teach others' children in churches and schools or our own children in our homes can learn a lot from the ancient ones who used interactive story telling to teach valuable skills. When you tell these stories in your own voice and face to face with the children you love they are reminded that we are part of a community that looks after one another. Showing a video or listening to an audio book does not reach the heart of a child the way story telling does.