Search This Blog

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Number 290: Agha Shahid Ali "The Wolf's Postscript to 'Little Red Riding Hood'"

The Wolf's Postscript to 'Little Red Riding Hood'

First, grant me my sense of history:

I did it for posterity,
for kindergarten teachers

and a clear moral:

Little girls shouldn't wander off

in search of strange flowers,

and they mustn't speak to strangers.

And then grant me my generous sense of plot:

Couldn't I have gobbled her up

right there in the jungle?

Why did I ask her where her grandma lived?

As if I, a forest-dweller,

didn't know of the cottage

under the three oak trees

and the old woman lived there

all alone?

As if I couldn't have swallowed her years before?

And you may call me the Big Bad Wolf,

now my only reputation.

But I was no child-molester
though you'll agree she was pretty.

And the huntsman:

Was I sleeping while he snipped

my thick black fur

and filled me with garbage and stones?

I ran with that weight and fell down,

simply so children could laugh

at the noise of the stones

cutting through my belly,

at the garbage spilling out

with a perfect sense of timing,

just when the tale

should have come to an end.

Agha Shahid Ali

Hap Notes: Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001) was born in New Delhi. His father was from a Kashmir family that strongly believed in education and Ali's grandmother was one of the first women to be educated in Kashmir (side note: this is where we get the name for cashmere– from the Kashmir goats first found in the region and prized for their soft fur underlayer used for the fabric). Ali's father went to Ball State for a while and so the poet lived some of his youth in Muncie, Indiana. After his family returned to Delhi he went to universities there and returned to the U.S. for his doctorate in English at Penn State.

Ali held teaching positions at the University of Delhi, Penn State, SUNY Binghamton, Princeton University, Hamilton College, Baruch College, University of Utah, and Warren Wilson College. He is the author of a dozen books, most of them award winning poetry. He was one of the first poets to make the ghazal ( a Persian form of poetry that uses repetition, rhyme and couplets) a familiar form in the U.S.

His awards include fellowships from The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Ingram-Merrill Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation and a Pushcart Prize. He died very young, at 52, from a cancerous brain tumor.

In today's poem we see the wolf in the famous fairytale explaining, in so many words, how "bad" is a necessary part of good. There is no Jesus story without Judas, there is no cautionary tale of Red Riding Hood without the wolf. Ali's wolf goes so far as to say he purposely sacrificed himself for the moral of the tale, future generations and the amusement of children.

The Red Riding Hood tale is a strange one in many cultures. In Perrault's version, "Le Petit Chaperon Rouge" (side note: yes, chaperon is a cap with a small cape attached for protection from the cold and it is where we get the word chaperone– someone who protects us) the story is supposed to serve as a warning to young maidens to beware of predatory men (a girl who lost her virginity at the time, circa late 1600s, was said to have "seen the wolf"). Perrault's "Red" gets into bed with the wolf and gets eaten.

Perrault explains his tale: "
From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there one with an amenable disposition — neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!"

In other versions of the tale "Red" eats part of the grandma, becoming a cannibal, before the wolf eats her. The red color in the story stands for a great deal but it all boils down to blood, pretty much.

When I was a kid, no eating took place in the story. Grandma got locked in the closet and a huntsman came in the nick of time to kill the wolf.

Sometimes the wolf ate the grandma (and "Red") but the huntsman comes in and cuts open the wolf releasing them both.

All in all, Red Riding Hood is a pretty scary story full of sex and violence (like most fairytales, I suppose. See Bruno Bettelheim's "The Uses of Enchantment" or Sondheim's musical "Into the Woods")

It's Saturday so here are our cartoons, music and etc:

First, Sam the Sham and the Pharohs with "Little Red Riding Hood" :

Here's Bugs Bunny with "Little Red Riding Rabbit":

Here's one of my all-time faves–the Tex Avery classic "Red Hot Riding Hood":

This is a very unusual Walter Lanz Dinky Doodle Red Riding Hood cartoon from

A Walter Lanz 1953 Red Riding Hood with a Coke:

Always the voice of narrator Edward Everett Horton amuses in Rocky and Bulwinkle's "Fractured Fairytales" version of Red Riding Hood:

Remember this movie from 1984, The Company of Wolves? (predating Twilight with its sexual subtext):

Oh ba-ruther–only a glimpse of Gary Oldman saves this from total uselessness (although The Muppets trailer is pretty okay):

I suppose since it's Halloween we ought to at least nod to Wolfmother and "Witchcraft":

Have you seen these thematic Living Dead dolls? This is Red Riding Hood and the Wolf:

It's a loose connection but so worth it to hear, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels with "C.C. Rider" (sometimes called "Jenny Take a Ride"):

1 comment:

  1. Hey, a really good blog. We did this poem in Literature class and our teacher suggested we look at it from the Postcolonial perspective, as in the wolf represents the "colonized" and the red riding hood represents the "colonizer"...and the re-telling of it from the wolf's point of view- creation of a piece of Postcolonial writing.