In light of the recent film Red Riding Hood starring Amanda Seyfried, I would like to take another look at the history of the werewolf in the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. I know we’ve already discussed the hidden meaning behind the story’s elementary components, but what of the history behind this well-known werewolf tale?
As we all know, Little Red is stalked by a wolf that eats her grandmother and then proceeds to devour Red. Of course, this isn’t the only European tale involving wolves that hunt humans. Think of Peter and the Wolf, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Three Little Pigs, and even the Biblical allusion of wolves in sheep’s clothing. The character of the wolf has pervaded literature and folklore for thousands of years, but none nearly so memorable of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood.
But our feature wolf is no ordinary wolf: he walks, talks, and thinks like a man. He can devise elaborate schemes, he’s concerned with being found out, and in when punished for his deeds, he cries out in agony. By any means, he is a werewolf, or man wolf, although he does neglect to transform into a human and there are no full moons in sight.
There are, however, darker roots to the story that lead me to believe the tale is based on werewolf traits that are closer to our current beliefs. The lore of Little Red Riding Hood is actually believed to have been fostered the true account of Peter Stumpp. Stumpp was a man who used black magic to turn himself into a werewolf in order to perform hideous acts of killing and murder in 16th Century Germany. Along with slaughtering countless livestock, Stumpp was convicted of murdering fourteen children, two pregnant women, and their fetuses, one of which was his own incestuous child, while in the form of the wolf. He was found out when the werewolf was injured during an attack, losing his left paw, and Peter was found with an identical injury, hence the name Peter ‘Stump.’ In the end, Stumpp was executed through severe means in order to prevent him from returning.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see how a tale like Red Riding Hood could develop in order to protect children from the evils of the world. Our wolf in the story holds strikingly similar traits to that of Peter Stumpp, or of any preying convict for that matter. Nevertheless, even though Stumpp’s story holds close characteristics with that of our modern bloodthirsty werewolf, I must begrudgingly admit that there are accounts of Little Red Riding Hood being told by French and Italian peasants nearly 200 years earlier. Interestingly enough, however, our wolf in these earlier tales was often referred to as a werewolf.
In regards to these earlier tales, however, I’m inclined to believe that Peter Stubb was not the first of his kind. Where did these earlier stories originate, especially in terms of the clears usage of the word werewolf? Were there, in fact, other similar accounts that we are unaware of that fueled the didactic tale? We may never know, but we can always believe. In any case, I’ll watch Red Riding Hood with a new perspective; How about you?
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