Below are two illustrations of the moment in “Little Red Riding Hood” when the heroine of the story first encounters the wolf. Both these illustrations are effective in that they reveal as much about the thematic concerns of the artists as they do about the story itself.
Doré, in the first illustration, depicts the wolf as seductive, if intrusive, while Tyler, by emphasizing the wolf’s jaws, his imperious size, and his lecherous expression, does the opposite; in the first illustration, the little girl can arguably be viewed as a participant in her fate, whereas in the second illustration, she is cast purely as a victim. This difference is important for a number of reasons, not least of all because it allows us to recognize the complexity of fairy tales, which belong to a genre sometimes regarded as simplistic. It also draws our attention to a spectrum in art that we might describe as the ‘implicit-explicit’ spectrum: while Doré’s work succeeds through implication, inviting us to contemplate the ‘unsaid’ (what, for instance, is the wolf saying to the girl?), Tyler’s work succeeds through explication, even exaggeration, diminishing the ‘unsaid’ until it becomes almost irrelevant or non-existent.
9 thoughts on “the wolf and little red riding hood: a note about depiction”
I really love this post. Edward, are you working on a paper? Does this come from a longer analysis? Would love to read, if so.
thanks Molly. just a mini essay.
Fairy Tale Review’s next issue is the Red Issue, themed around Little Red! Look for it!
Also, fantastic post. Looking forward to reading more…
Great. For me this is a nice way of delineating how we like our stories. I mean, I like both implicit and explicit, but I harken for implicity.
Molly Bang did an excellent analysis of how illustrations work, emotionally and narratively, in Picture This. The book uses this very Little Red scene as its core tool. It is out of print, but you can email Ms. Bang and buy the book directly from her basement.
Bang wrote When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry, right? My daughter loves that book, not to mention that she sometimes resembles the titular character.
Edward, can we read your essay when you’re done with it? This is a really interesting topic and I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.
I second this comment. Would love to read the essay, too.
I really like your point about how much agency Little Red has in the second image, as compared to the first.
There’s a shop around the corner from my apartment, called “Wolfbait.” Which is a brilliant name for a shop, I think. It’s a boutique that sells mostly girls’/women’s clothing and apparel designed and made by local designers. Most of whom, I think, are women.