Red Riding Hood for All Ages: A Fairy-Tale Icon in Cross-Cultural Contexts (review)
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Reviewed by
Beckett, Sandra L. Red Riding Hood for All Ages: A Fairy-Tale Icon in Cross-Cultural Contexts. Wayne State UP, 2008.

Red Riding Hood for All Ages is the follow-up to Sandra Beckett’s earlier study of the classic folktale, Recycling Red Riding Hood (Routledge, 2002). In the first book, Beckett examined twentieth-century contemporary retellings produced specifically for children from countries across the globe; in this volume, she expands her attention to encompass contemporary versions of the tale produced internationally for “all ages,” or, in other words, versions that seem to be written for, or to appeal to, both adults and children. In her justification for this volume, Beckett notes that the original Perrault tale was itself a crossover text, able to be appreciated both by very young children for the simplicity of the story, and by adults for the ironic commentary in both the narrative and the concluding moral. For Beckett, however, “crossover” means not only the crossing of generations, but of continents and cultures, as well. She includes in both this and her previous study texts from dozens of countries, many never translated into English and therefore little known on an international scale. Her broad scope is intended, she says, to demonstrate that rewriting the classic European story of Little Red Riding Hood “is a widespread international phenomenon” (8). This broad scope is the most valuable, though not the only, aspect of her study that makes it a worthwhile addition to a fairytale scholar’s library.

In her introduction—which is perhaps the most informative part of the book for a general understanding of contemporary retellings of this and other fairy tales—Beckett summarizes the history of the generational crossover appeal of the traditional story, beginning with the classic story [End Page 422] as told by Perrault and later by the Grimms in “Little Red Cap,” noting that for Perrault, “children” seemed to mean young people in their late teens, and that the Grimms originally intended their collection to appeal to “all Germans, both young and old alike,” rather than simply children. Beckett then considers the inherent intertextuality of the tale, an element that she points out is the essential basis of its crossover appeal, since it allows authors and illustrators to present very adult themes (sexuality, violence, and death) in terms simple enough for young children to understand. Beckett argues that the “intertextual play with this favorite childhood story can be recognized by young readers, while at the same time evoking a nostalgic pleasure in adults, explains much of the tale’s appeal with crossover authors” (3).

Beckett observes that the same characteristics that she noted in her earlier study about contemporary “reversions,” as she terms them, of the story for children also can be seen in those versions that have been produced for more mature audiences. Retellings for any age group “may be playful and witty [to varying degrees], intent upon subverting or even perverting the traditional tale. Such retellings deliberately demythologize or demystify the hypotext” (5). Modern retellings broaden the themes of the classic story to encompass “important psychological and metaphysical issues, such as solitude, fear, freedom, love, compassion, and death” (5), and postmodernism continues to be a strong influence on retellings, further facilitating the crossover appeal of the story. Inventive wordplay, intertextual allusions, sophisticated narrative techniques, and “hybridization of genres” are commonly found in all modern versions (6).

Visual interpretation of the story is another element in the crossover appeal of a text, with illustrations being produced today that are multilayered and complex. One of the most useful aspects of Recycling Red Riding Hood (2002) was its inclusion of illustrations from around the world, and Red Riding Hood for All Ages continues this approach, considering fifty illustrations during the course of its five chapters, both black and white and color plates, from a spectrum of illustrators from thirteen different countries. These discussions, such as how both Sarah Moon’s haunting black and white photographs for Perrault’s text and Isabelle Forestier’s illustrations for Un petit chaperon rouge by Claude Clement visually transfer the classic story from a simple encounter with a wolf to a story about...


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