Parrafo magazine

Of Course, What Did You Expect, My Child?

By Bruno-Pierre Houle

Visual representations of fairy tales are not limited to children’s books. References to these stories appear in nearly every aspect of our cultural landscape and offer a variety of interpretations to these narratives. These affect our response to the tales and reshape our collective imagination. This range in fairy tale illustrations plays a significant role in the intertextual conversations that happen between retellings and critical writings. I explore this by creating my own version of The Little Red Riding Hood through a series of eleven tableaux, where each presents a different moment of the plot through a specific medium. I investigate how familiar elements can be communicated in a new context to alter anticipated patterns. This document catalogues the results of the final exhibit.

I start with the preparation of the basket because it is a crucial element of the Little Red Riding Hood plot. It is present in the narrative as far back as Delarue’s Grandmother’s Tale. Furthermore, the image of the child and the mother is a recurring feature of many fairy tales, and honoring this moment offers a useful introduction to Red.

Fairy tales share many characteristics to branding: they have long been used to promote particular sets of beliefs, and many stories have become indexes to larger themes. Red Riding Hood is perhaps one of the most iconic references to the fairy tale brand. Thus, it felt natural to begin my retelling by presenting an advertisement. I was inspired by mid-century ads’ focus onselling family values, especially the household depictions used to market new kitchens. It is a precise representation of the harmonious relationship between the mother and Red. Advertisements also imply a new product, while the period style positions the tale as a classic.

The moment of warning when Red leaves the house alludes to themes of maturity and independence carried in the tale. My telling reestablishes it from a young adult leaving the family home. This symbolic representation of the beginning of Red's journey alters some of the preconceived expectations the audience may have towards the story. It also generates identification from the spectator, as adults can likely look back at this moment of their past. I chose to make Red a boy in this instance to establish the different persona the character would take throughout the exhibit.

The use of a Polaroid image as the specific photographic medium proposes a different kind of interaction with the illustrated format. It points to a practical use of the art form because instant photography implies an action and emphasizes its materiality. This creates a strong connection between the format, the story, and the viewer, by referring to an old and utilitarian approach to capturing a memory. In this case, I explore the new steps Red is taking by immortalizing them through the nostalgic quality of Polaroid photographs.

In his essay Peasant Tales: The Meaning of Mother Goose, Robert Darnton considers how fairy tales were an index to the reality of people living in eighteenth-century France.

Although the forest represented danger at the time, it is no longer the case for contemporaryaudiences. I use the moment Red gets lost to explore the modern-day equivalent to the fear of getting lost in the woods. Tall buildings and dark alleys are a perfect allusion to the forest.

Cinema has helped foster the idea of fear projected upon major cities through genres like film noir and directors such as David Lynch. I use tropes and conventions of these styles to recreate the sense of danger the woods would have communicated in the original tale. The subjective camera takes away the spectator's agency, while the black and white, low-key imagery emphasizes the unknown and helps generate the feeling of getting lost.

The meeting between Red and the Wolf clearly admits to erotic interpretations centered on the male gaze and Red’s sexual identity. I investigate the responsibility we place on our protagonist vis-à-vis the Wolf’s attraction, and how this ultimately overshadows positive depictions of Red’s sexuality.

Pairing the moment with images from fashion, a world where there is a normalization of sexuality, allows us to expect and project its presence. Because the bodies depicted most often help corroborate male sexual attitudes, there is an assumption that every editorial is under the male gaze, which ultimately dictates how people will interpret a positive portrayal of seduction.

By combining the two, I reflect on the power an interpretation has and how in certain cases the origin of an argument is substantial enough to counter representations that aim to criticize that precise analysis. I rearrange the visual associations we have to the tale and explore how clothing can perform the moment in a new way. By playing with levels and what each character wears, I present a conversation between the power dynamics that exist among the characters and differentperspectives on seduction. This leads us to reconsider how we define the Wolf’s fascination with Red.

The point where Red strays from the road suggests a denial of the Mother’s warning. I use this scene to investigate the position of knowledge we possess as readers. I present a series of flowers to enable my audience to travel with Red. Through this, I focus on the concepts of curiosity conveyed by the scene.

Instagram helps people curate their stories and allows their viewers to project themselves into that narrative. It thrives because of our desire to know more. I examine this new storytelling device by letting the audience situate themselves as sharer and viewer. They can identify as Red if their curiosity leads them to scroll through the different pictures and get lost within the different flowers. The tableau also manifests the Wolf’s point of view because the act of scrolling through someone else’s account has predatory connotations. This juxtaposition of the two experiences challenges the fairy tale’s analysis as a tale of warning and presents an interesting interpretation of the relationship between sharing and contemplation.

The moment the Wolf disguises itself as the Grandmother is the only one where the focus is not on Red. It makes us complicit of what is to come and represents well how knowledge of the plot can allow us to project ourselves in the narrative. I investigate notions of accountability by forcing my audience to become part of the story.People become active participants in the tale when personifying the characters on Halloween. The variety of use of Red-Riding-Hood iconography reveals the permission we take to alter the story for our own purposes. I make my audience perform the scene by reflecting their image in the Grandmother's outfit. However, the physical barrier I create with the door denies them the possibility to change the story's outcome. This emphasizes our awareness of the Wolf’s actions. I include this shift in perspective to mark the part we play as an onlooker.

Early versions showed Red undress for the Wolf before getting into bed. The commitment to sanitize the tale eliminated this scene during the nineteenth century. However, Red is still often illustrated in a nightgown. Such depictions maintain the position of vulnerability the character is forced into when she faces the Wolf. It also fosters a reading in which Red is criticized for being alluring.

Tom Tierney’s use of famous figures in the creation of his paper dolls inspired me to use this medium to generate thought-provoking interplays between the audience and the familiar image of Red Riding Hood. Paper dolls are interactive because the observer enables the clothes to be put on and taken off. Thus, the undressing scene becomes deliberate. I explore the spectrum of responsibility that is easily placed on the protagonist by challenging the audience in their immediate response towards who is accountable. To identify as Red is to accept this blame. To stay removed is to assume the Wolf’s position. In both cases, I make the viewer answerable for the action. It provides a disquieting sense of anxiety for what is about to unfold.

Depictions of Red and the Wolf in bed are charged with sexual connotations. Through this emblematic moment, I engage with Bruno Bettelheim’s interpretive framework that centers fairy tales as a device children use to make sense of the world. His focus on the erotic expression of the narrative continues to shape a problematic understanding of the story where Red is forced to perform sexuality. This overpowers other revisions that aim to shed new light on the bond between fairy tales and youth. It also denies children a different relationship to the narrative.

I contrast Bettelheim's analysis by illustrating the scene through toys. Both figures have innocent features that help deactivate some of the fixed conclusions we learn as adults. Red is made of various patterned and colorful fabrics. This collage of multiple styles is comparable to the story’s varied interpretations. The knitted appearance of the Wolf is reminiscent of something a Grandmother would make. The use of this symbolic medium allows a reflection of our ever- changing connection to the narrative.

Arguably the most notable of the tale, the moment the Wolf eats Red is distinguished by its obvious dramatic energy. The scene's climax is further accentuated by our knowledge of its outcome. This build up is expressed through a shift in perception as the Wolf's disguise is exposed through each question Red asks. What big hands? What big eyes? What big teeth? The multiplicity of versions of the stacking dolls supports a visual depiction of Red's doubt. Historically, these artifacts were created to represent variety within the same object. I engage with the medium's storytelling possibilities and illustrate the multiple steps that lead to the ultimate reveal. My audience's familiarity with the conclusion is used to stimulate theirimagination and move the narrative forward. The tableau is indicative of the array of new approaches a medium can bring to storytelling.

Critics and scholars have problematized the model in which Red can only be saved by a man or a father figure; an assessment also embraced by many retellings. Even Delarue’s tale features a crafty young girl who slips away through a ruse. I showcase Red’s ability not just to escape, but to also fight back against these preconceived ideas.

I turned to comic books to empower my protagonist. Mainly superhero comics, which are engrained with themes of justice and retaliation. I use these tropes as visual representations of Red’s ability to break away. I give her an armor and a cape to strengthen the well-known outfit. I depict Wolf as a man in a purposeful choice to blur the lines between Wolf and Hunter. I use the familiar axe as the weapon they fight for to reestablish Red as the owner of her own salvation. This alters the ingrained ideas that only a male savior can offer freedom.

With this last tableau, I embrace the predictable happy ending. Walt Disney has institutionalized several fairy tales with this method. Additionally, these animated movies shaped many tales visually in the same way the Brothers Grimm have done so in literature. The fact that Red Riding Hood's popularity is not rooted in the Disney machine makes film animation an interesting way to conclude the exhibit.

The tableau is both an end and a beginning. Red walks away, which indicates a journey to come. The animation is presented in its process phase because Red’s story is always re-written.The hand-drawn, colorless drawing keeps our protagonist from being associated with any one gender or race. The single frame acts as an index to the position my exhibit has within the larger Red-Riding-Hood universe. It presents one still from the thousands of images used to create an animated movie because my retelling is one of the countless versions of the tale. As an illustration, it stands on its own. Nevertheless, it attains its full meaning because it is in conversation with every other depiction and analysis of the story.