Sunday, October 11, 2009

"Le Petit Chaperon Rouge"--Halloween fare

Rarely see Little Red Riding Hood championed at Halloween.
She isn't a mindless zombie or a frustrated mummy but nevertheless full of psychology and horror.

From essays

Donald Haase wrote...

The psychological significance of fairy tales has been one of the most pervasive topics in the history of fairy‐tale studies. There are many different theories concerning the fairy tale's psychological meaning and value, but most start with the premiss that the stories are symbolic expressions of the human mind and emotional experience. According to this view, fairy‐tale plots and motifs are not representations of socio‐historical reality, but symbols of inner experience that provide insight into human behaviour. Consequently, the psychological approach to fairy tales involves symbolic interpretation, both for psychoanalysts, who use fairy tales diagnostically to illustrate psychological theories, and for folklorists and literary critics, who use psychological theories to illuminate fairy tales.

Although the psychological approach to fairy tales is usually associated with Freudian psychoanalysis and other 20th‐century theories, it actually had its beginnings in the previous century, when nationalistic awareness motivated collectors and scholars to study folk tales as expressions of the folk soul or psyche. Focusing on the relationship of folk tales to myth, scholars looked to these stories for evidence of the values, customs, and beliefs that expressed a specific people's cultural identity. Over the course of the 19th century and into the 20th, mythic and anthropological approaches to the fairy tale relied on the notion that the study of folk tales could reveal the ‘psychology’ of ethnic cultures, especially that of so‐called primitive people. This form of ethnopsychology is exemplified in Wilhelm Wundt's Völkerpsychologie (Folk Psychology, 1900-9), which maintained that the fairy tale is the oldest of all narrative forms and reveals fundamental aspects of the primitive mind.

In contrast to ethnopsychology, Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory attempted to discern the more universal psychology of human behaviour and culture. Freud found fairy tales especially useful for illustrating his theories of the mind because they seemed so much like dreams. According to Freud, both fairy tales and dreams used symbols to express the conflicts, anxieties, and forbidden desires that had been repressed into the unconscious. In writings such as Die Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900), ‘Das Motiv der Kästchenwahl’ (‘The Theme of the Three Caskets’, 1913), and ‘Märchenstoffe in Träumen’ (‘The Occurrence in Dreams of Material from Fairy Tales’, 1913), Freud demonstrated that fairy tales used a symbolic language that could be interpreted psychoanalytically to reveal the latent or hidden content of the mind. For example, in his famous analysis of the Wolf Man-described in the essay ‘Aus der Geschichte einer infantilen Neurose’ (‘From the History of an Infantile Neurosis’, 1918)-Freud noted that his patient's dreams used the same symbolism as the Grimms' stories of ‘The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids’ and ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ to express sexual anxiety resulting from traumatic childhood experiences.

Freud's earliest followers produced numerous psychoanalytic studies of fairy tales, in which they elaborated on different aspects of his theories. Franz Riklin's Wunscherfüllung und Symbolik im Märchen (Wishfulfilment and Symbolism in Fairy Tales, 1908) pursued Freud's idea that fairy tales are a form of wish fulfilment that use dream symbolism to express repressed sexual desires. Riklin's work was supported by Herbert Silberer, who similarly argued that fairy tales demonstrate the pathology of sexual repression. In essays on ‘Phantasie und Mythos’ (‘Fantasy and Myth’, 1910) and ‘Märchensymbolik’ (‘Fairy‐Tale Symbolism’, 1912), Silberer analysed ‘The Frog King’ and a female patient's sexual dream of animal transformation to show that the fairy‐tale pattern of enchantment and disenchantment mirrors the psychological phenomenon of repression followed by the healing release that comes from psychoanalysis. In a 1928 paper on ‘Psycho‐Analysis and Folklore’, Ernest Jones also offered a psychoanalytic reading of ‘The Frog King’. In typical Freudian fashion, Jones's interpretation stressed the female's aversion to sexual intimacy, symbolized by the princess's reluctance to allow the phallic frog into her bed.

Otto Rank expanded the discussion about the psychological origin of fairy tales in his influential study Der Mythus von der Geburt des Helden (The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, 1909) and in his Psychoanalytische Beiträge zur Mythenforschung (Psychoanalytic Contributions to Myth Research, 1919). Rank proposed that fairy tales are adult projections of childhood fantasies, and he specifically examined mythological and fairy‐tale heroes in the light of Freud's theories about the Oedipus complex and Family Romance. Freud's idea that fairy tales use the symbolic language of dreams received an intriguing twist in the prolific research of Géza Róheim. In works like The Gates of the Dream (1952) and ‘Fairy Tale and Dream’ (1953), Róheim did not simply agree that fairy tales resembled dreams; he asserted that fairy tales were dreams that had been retold by the dreamer. Applying the psychoanalytic principles of dream interpretation to variants of tales from Europe and around the world, Róheim produced intriguing readings of stories such as ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Mother Holle’, and ‘Little Red Riding Hood’.

Carl Gustav Jung, who had also been a disciple of Freud, developed a new branch of analytic psychology that has had an enormous impact on fairy‐tale scholarship and the popular reception of fairy tales. While Freudian psychoanalytic theory generally viewed pathological behaviours and symbolic expressions as manifestations of the individual's unconscious, Jung looked beyond pathology and beyond the individual mind for the source and meaning of symbols. Jung posited the existence of an impersonal and ahistorical collective unconscious that was a reservoir of images and forms universally shared by all humans. According to Jung, the symbolic language of myths, dreams, and fairy tales was composed of these timeless symbolic forms, which he called archetypes. From the Jungian perspective, archetypes were universal symbols showing the way to transformation and development.

Jung described the archetypal basis of fairy tales in works like ‘Zur Phänomenologie des Geistes im Märchen’ (‘The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairy Tales’, 1948), ‘Zur Psychologie des Kind‐Archetypus’ (‘The Psychology of the Child Archetype’, 1941), and ‘Zur Psychologie der Schelmenfigur’ (‘On the Psychology of the Trickster‐Figure’, 1954). His ideas have not only influenced the literary fairy tales of writers such as Hermann Hesse, they have also generated a great number of fairy‐tale interpretations. One of the best‐known studies is Hedwig von Beit's three‐volume work on the Symbolik des Märchens (The Symbolism of the Fairy Tale, 1952-7), which examines the archetypal basis of fairy‐tale motifs and the quest for self‐realization and redemption. The psychological quest for self‐realization is also taken up by Julius Heuscher in The Psychiatric Study of Fairy Tales (1963) and by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). The difference between the Freudian and Jungian approaches to symbols is especially well illustrated in Campbell's interpretation of ‘The Frog King’. Campbell reads ‘The Frog King’ not specifically as a story of sexual anxiety and maturation, as the Freudian Jones had done, but as an illustration of the broader archetypal theme of the call to adventure-the individual's awakening to unconscious forces and a new stage of life.

The archetypal studies by Marie‐Louise von Franz have been widely recognized as classic works of Jungian fairy‐tale analysis. Von Franz, too, has dealt with individual development and redemption in Individuation in Fairytales (1977) and The Psychological Meaning of Redemption Motifs in Fairytales (1980). She illuminates the classic shadow archetype in Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales (1974) and explores the basis of the female archetype in Problems of the Feminine in Fairy Tales.

The Jungian treatment of male and female archetypes has been criticized by feminists, who point out that Jung's archetypes are actually socio‐cultural constructions, not timeless psychological truths. None the less, some feminist scholars and psychoanalysts have followed the lead of von Franz and used Jungian analysis to elucidate women's issues in fairy tales. This is the case in Sibylle Birkhäuser‐Oeri's study of Die Mutter im Märchen (The Mother, 1976) and Torborg Lundell's examination of Fairy Tale Mothers (1989). In Leaving my Father's House (1992), Marion Woodman, a feminist psychoanalyst, presents a Jungian interpretation of Grimms' ‘All Fur’ and includes commentaries by her patients to show women how to take control of their lives in a male‐dominated society.

Because Jungian psychology stresses universal myths of higher consciousness and redemption, it has quasi‐religious or spiritual overtones, which has given it a wide popular appeal. Eugen Drewermann has combined the perspectives of theology and analytical psychology in a popular series of fairy‐tale interpretations called Grimms Märchen tiefen psychologisch gedeutet (Grimms' Fairy Tales Interpreted According to Depth Psychology, 1981- ). Drewermann's volumes have been criticized for relying too much on archetypal associations and too little on literary or folkloric expertise. Another example of Jungian psychology being mixed with religious beliefs is Arland Ussher and Carl von Metzradt's book Enter These Enchanted Woods (1954), which interprets selected Grimms' tales from a Jungian‐flavoured Christian perspective. Fairy tales have also been interpreted by adherents of anthroposophy, a spiritual movement that grew out of the work of Rudolf Steiner under the influence of psychoanalytic theories. The readings that Steiner included in The Interpretation of Fairy Tales (1929) sought to reveal spiritual truths and became a model for his followers, who considered fairy tales a kind of scripture that could inspire spiritual development. The unusual nature of anthroposophic fairy‐tale interpretation is evident in Paul Paede's book of anthroposophic medicine Krankheit, Heilung und Entwicklung im Spiegel der Märchen (Disease, Healing and Development in the Mirror of Fairy Tales, 1986). Paede's interpretation of ‘Cinderella’ contends that the story's symbolism deepens our appreciation of feet and their role in maintaining spiritual and physiological harmony in the human organism.

The psycho‐spiritual claims of Jungian analysis and anthroposophy are echoed in the many self‐help books of fairy‐tale interpretation published for the popular book trade, especially since the advent of New Age philosophy in the 1980s. For example, in the eclectic German series Weisheit im Märchen (Wisdom in the Fairy Tale, 1983-8), each volume is written by a different author who interprets a single tale to show readers how to achieve better relationships, self‐confidence, self‐acceptance, and other improvements in their lives. The Jungian psychotherapist Verena Kast claims to show the way to personal autonomy and better interpersonal relationships in her popular books of fairy‐tale interpretation, including one entitled Wege aus Angst und Symbiose (Through Emotions to Maturity, 1982). From a Christian perspective the American authors Ronda Chervin and Mary Neill published The Woman's Tale (1980), a self‐help book of pop psychology that promotes the idea that reading fairy tales can help women develop their personal identities. From another perspective, Robert Bly's Iron John (1990) offers Grimms' tale as a story that helps men heal their psychic wounds and realize their true masculine personality.

Although the psychotherapeutic value of reading fairy tales is speculative, some analysts have presented case histories as evidence of the fairy tale's efficacy in treating patients. The Jungian analyst Hans Dieckmann, for example, advocated in many different publications the diagnostic and therapeutic importance of the Lieblingsmärchen-the favourite fairy tale-based on his clinical experience with patients. According to Dieckmann, the neuroses of adults are exposed in their favourite childhood stories. Consistent with his Jungian orientation, Dieckmann maintained that therapy is facilitated when the patient consciously recognizes the identity that exists between the personal psyche and the cosmos. On the other hand, the psychoanalyst Sándor Lorand used a case history in 1935 to point out that fairy tales experienced in childhood can also have adverse effects that cause psychological trauma. He cites in particular a patient whose fear of castration was traced to the tale of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’.

Typically, however, psychologists view the fairy tale as having a significant and positive role in the psychological development of children. These developmental psychologists consider the fairy tale not simply as a useful therapeutic tool in clinical practice, but as children's literature that should be part of every child's experience. The basic premiss is that children learn how to overcome psychological conflicts and grow into new phases of development through a symbolic comprehension of the maturation process as expressed in fairy tale. Among the earliest studies of this kind was Charlotte Bühler's Das Märchen und die Phantasie des Kindes (The Fairy Tale and the Child's Imagination, 1918), which identified psychological connections between the fairy tale and the mind of the child. Bühler pointed out that both the formal and the symbolic aspects of the fairy tale corresponded to the child's imaginative mode of perception, and that because of this correspondence the genre assumed a special function in the mental life of the developing child. In Der Weg zum Märchen (The Pathway to Understanding the Fairy Tale, 1939), Bruno Jöckel stressed the fairy tale's symbolic depiction of the conflicts and sexual maturation that occur during puberty. Josephine Bilz's study of Menschliche Reifung im Sinnbild (Symbols of Human Maturation, 1943) emphasized the maturation process more generally and showed how ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ symbolically enacts the female's development from youth to motherhood. Walter Scherf has made the case in numerous essays and in his book Die Herausforderung des Dämons (Challenging the Demon, 1987) that magic tales are dramas of family conflict in which children can identify their own problems. According to Scherf, these magic stories engage the dramatic imagination of children and allow them to overcome their conflicts, separate from the parents, and integrate themselves into society.

The discussion about the fairy tale's place in child development has been dominated by Bruno Bettelheim's book The Uses of Enchantment (1976). No study of fairy tales has been as popular or as controversial as Bettelheim's. His Freudian readings are based on the idea that fairy tales are existential dramas in which children subconsciously confront their own problems and desires on the path to adulthood. Oedipal conflicts and sibling rivalry play especially important parts in Bettelheim's analyses. Bettelheim's critics object that his psychoanalytic readings are not only reductionist but also blatantly moralistic. Opponents note, too, that Bettelheim proposes a model of socialization that is repressive and sexist. They also point to his ignorance of the fairy tale's historical development and his failure to take into account the many variants of the stories that he discusses-factors that would complicate his premiss that the fairy tale communicates timeless truths. While Bettelheim's influential work has been the focus of much criticism, these objections are typical of those lodged against the psychoanalytic view of fairy tales.

As an alternative to Bettelheim's psychoanalytic view, F. André Favat's study of Child and Tale (1977) used Jean Piaget's ideas about the stages of development to consider the affinity between fairy tales and child psychology. What draws the child to the fairy tale, according to Favat, is not the opportunity to confront conflicts symbolically as part of the socialization process. Instead, the fairy tale relaxes the tensions brought on by socialization and change, and provides a fictional realm where children can re‐experience the pleasure of a magical, egocentric world ordered according to their desires. Experimental psychologists have also worked in various ways with the fairy tale to test the theoretical claims and assertions made about the psychological importance of fairy tales for children. For example, Patricia Guérin Thomas's 1983 dissertation on ‘Children's Responses to Fairy Tales’ used Piaget's theory of cognitive development and Erik Erikson's theory of psycho‐social development to analyse the responses of children to the Grimms' stories ‘Brother and Sister’ and ‘The Queen Bee’. Although Thomas found that children do respond to the stories based on the inner conflicts and moral understanding they have at a given stage of development, she could find no evidence to support the psychoanalytic claim that fairy tales aid children in resolving psychological conflicts.

Some recent psychological studies of fairy tales have attempted to avoid the reductionism typical of psychoanalytic fairy‐tale interpretations, while others have applied new models as alternatives to Freud and Jung. The folklorist Alan Dundes has argued throughout his research that psychoanalytic theory in the study of a folk tale can be very valuable when adequately informed by a rigorous comparative analysis of the tale's variants. In her book The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales (1987), the literary scholar Maria Tatar illuminated psychological themes by using Freud's idea of the Family Romance within the interpretive constraints demanded by formal aspects, socio‐historical factors, and the editorial history of the Grimms' collection. In Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion (1983), Jack Zipes used Freud's theory of the uncanny in tandem with ideas from Favat, Piaget, and the philosopher Ernst Bloch to develop a theory of the fairy tale's liberating potential; and in his book on The Brothers Grimm (1988), he advocated a new psychoanalytic approach to violence in fairy tales that would build on the work of the Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller. In Du sollst nicht merken (Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, 1981), Miller challenged the Freudian notion that violence inflicted by fairy‐tale parents is an inverted projection of the child's own negative feelings towards the parent. Instead, using ‘The Virgin Mary's Child’ and ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ as examples, Miller theorized that some fairy tales are adults' censored projections of abuse that they actually experienced as children, a fantasy possibly more in tune with socio‐historical and familial reality than adults can admit.

Postmodern literary fairy tales for adults have also stimulated new ways of thinking about fairy tales and psychology. Peter Straub's revision of ‘The Juniper Tree’ (1990), for example, links fairy‐tale violence with child abuse in a way that confirms Miller's theory. Other writers like Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, and Robert Coover have understood the socio‐historical dynamics of the fairy tale and produced fairy‐tale adaptations that complicate, undercut, and frustrate conventional psychoanalytic readings-especially as they relate to the psychology of identity, socialization, gender, and sexuality. Such revisions challenge readers to rethink classical psychoanalytic premisses and search for new models to understand the psychological implications of the fairy tale in social, historical, and cultural contexts.


Dundes, Alan, ‘The Psychoanalytic Study of Folklore’, Annals of Scholarship, 3 (1985).
--“‘The Psychoanalytic Study of the Grimms' Tales’”, in Folklore Matters (1992).
Grolnick, Simon A., “‘Fairy Tales and Psychotherapy’”, in Ruth B. Bottigheimer (ed.), Fairy Tales and Society: Illusion, Allusion, and Paradigm (1986).
Laiblin, Wilhelm (ed.), Märchenforschung und Tiefenpsychologie (1969).
Lüthi, Max, “‘Psychologie und Pädagogik’”, in Märchen, rev. Heinz Rölleke (8th edn., 1990).

Jack Zipes wrote...

The first literary version of this tale, ‘Le Petit Chaperon Rouge’, was published by Charles Perrault in his collection, Histoires ou contes du temps passé (Stories or Tales of Past Times, 1697). Though it is not certain, Perrault probably knew an oral tale that emanated from sewing societies in the south of France and north of Italy. This folk tale depicts an unnamed peasant girl who meets a werewolf on her way to visit her grandmother. The wolf asks her whether she is taking the path of pins or needles. She indicates that she is on her way to becoming a seamstress by taking the path of the needles. The werewolf quickly departs and arrives at the grandmother's house, where he devours the old lady and places some of her flesh in a bowl and some of her blood in a bottle. After the peasant girl arrives, the werewolf invites her to eat some meat and drink some wine before getting into bed with him. Once in bed, she asks several questions until the werewolf is about to eat her. At this point she insists that she must go outside to relieve herself. The werewolf ties a rope around her leg and sends her through a window. In the garden, the girl unties the rope and wraps it around a fruit tree. Then she escapes and leaves the werewolf holding the rope. In some versions of this folk tale, the werewolf manages to eat the girl. But for the most part the girl proves that she can fend for herself.

Perrault changes all this in ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ by making the girl appear spoiled and naïve. She wears a red cap indicating her ‘sinful’ nature, and she makes a wager with the wolf to see who will arrive at grandmother's house first. After dawdling in the woods, she arrives at her grandmother's house, where she finds the wolf disguised as the grandmother in bed. She gets into bed with him and, after posing several questions about the wolf's strange appearance, she is devoured just as her grandmother was. Then there is a verse moral to conclude the tale that indicates girls who invite strange men into their parlours deserve what they get. After the translation of Perrault's tale into many different European languages in the 18th century, the literary and oral variants mixed, and what had formerly been an oral tale of initiation became a type of warning fairy tale. When the Brothers Grimm published their first version, ‘Rotkäppchen’ (‘Little Red Cap’) in Kinder‐ und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales) in 1812, they introduced new elements such as the Jäger or gamekeeper, who saves Little Red Cap and her grandmother. In turn, they cut open the belly of the wolf and place stones into it. When he awakes, he dies. There is also an anticlimactic tale that the Grimms attached to this version in which another wolf comes to attack Little Red Cap and her grandmother. This time they are prepared and trick him into jumping down the chimney into a pot of boiling water.

Since the Grimms' version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ appeared, their tale and Perrault's version have been reprinted in the thousands in many different versions, and they have also been mixed together along with oral variants. Most of the new versions up to the present have been directed at children, and they have been somewhat sanitized so that the wolf rarely succeeds in touching or gobbling the grandmother and the naïve girl. On the other hand, there have been hundreds of notable literary revisions by such gifted authors as Ludwig Tieck, Alphonse Daudet, Joachim Ringelnatz, Milt Gross, James Thurber, Anne Sexton, Tomi Ungerer, Angela Carter, and Tanith Lee in which the nature of sexuality and gender stereotypes have been questioned and debated in most innovative ways. For instance, there are tales in which a rambunctious grandmother eats up everyone; the wolf is a vegetarian and the girl a lesbian; the girl shoots the wolf with a revolver; and the girl seduces the wolf. Needless to say, these literary alternatives and many films, such as the adaptation of Angela Carter's In the Company of Wolves (1985) directed by Neil Jordan and Freeway (1996) written and directed by Matthew Bright, reflect changes in social mores and customs; as one of the most popular fairy tales in the world, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ will most likely undergo interesting changes in the future, and the girl and her story will certainly never be eliminated by the wolf.


Dundes, Alan (ed.), Little Red Riding Hood: A Casebook (1989).
Jones, Steven Swann, ‘On Analyzing Fairy Tales: “Little Red Riding Hood” Revisited’, Western Folklore, 46 (1987).
Laruccia, Victor, ‘Little Red Riding Hood's Metacommentary: Paradoxical Injunction, Semiotics and Behavior’, Modern Language Notes, 90 (1975).
Mieder, Wolfgang, ‘Survival Forms of “Little Red Riding Hood” in Modern Society’, International Folklore Review, 2 (1982).
Zipes, Jack (ed.), The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood (1983; 2nd rev. edn., 1993).

Candles at Halloween


Halloween and the mummies

Halloween and two Poe silent films

Halloween goodies

Halloween treats from the silent film era

Halloween treats...more


Timray said...

i am not so sure we are dealing here with such psychological depths as to fascinate the literati as it is as simple as a cheap ego being duped or a cheap ego duping. i hardly find Anna Karenina or the Flaubert expose to have any depth into the human psyche....let us be honest, we are not subjected to tales from the kennel simply because dogs have yet to learn how to tell a good tale....pun

Timothy said...

let me explain....i am very deeply skeptical of any psychoanalysis that connects the id to the ego to the ergo super the article states...."Freud's earliest followers produced numerous psychoanalytic studies of fairy tales"....i can hear tocsins going off all over the continent....while it is true literature has matured, and that may be the wrong term, into sexually explicit details it is no more mature than Roman, Egyptian or Greek orgies. Anne Sexton and her like minded authors awakened to the liberation of a very old order of Sappho so there is nothing really new there hiding in the psyche. while i can understand their anger for what they perceive as cultural slavery they really needed not to deal with society but their own failures to themselves. had they listened to men in the first place.."to thine own self be true" they could have met their lesbian counterpoint and lived happily ever after...certainly the homosexual community has existed for eons, so has the married first cousins and the royal incest feast of Egypt. now about Little Red Ridinghood...i think the whole fable-repressed sex-mystique a bit worn as is the whole postmodern theater....we have bigger fish to fry as i am often to ponder....Considering non-locality, weird convergence and relative motion versus relativity is Descartes "I think therefore I am" prescience or perchance?