"Little Red Riding Hood"

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"Little Red Riding Hood," or "Little Red-Cap," as the Brothers Grimm called it, has recently been revamped as a major motion picture involving werewolves.  Critics say the film is a "darker" or "more adult" version of the fairy tale, but those critics have obviously never read the Grimms' original story.

The fairy tale was probably intended as a lesson to little girls not to talk to strange men, those metaphorical wolves who would prey on unsuspecting young women.  A Freudian analysis--particularly given the importance of the cross-dressing male wolf, the bed (see image at right), and the young girl's scarlet cape--is fairly easy to perform here.

There are numerous versions of the story, some in which the wolf merely borrows Grandma's bonnet while she's out until Grandma returns and chases the wolf out, some where the story simply ends after the wolf gobbles Little Red Riding Hood up, and some that have both Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood swallowed whole by the wolf until they are saved by a huntsman who cuts them out of its belly.

The latter ending, found here in the Grimms' version, is rendered in delightfully gruesome detail: the wolf is vivisected and his belly filled with heavy stones until he collapses in death and the huntsman uses his pelt as a cloak.  There is even a little coda about another wolf who tried to go after our crimson-capped heroine, and he is ultimately drowned in a trough of sausage-water (again, quite Freudian).  

Lesson learned:
The sole consistency among all the story versions is that Little Red Riding Hood comments on what big body parts the wolf has.  Unfortunately, this aspect of the tale does not fit with my Freudian reading.  Hmm.

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm.  "Little Red Cap."  Nursery and Household Tales [Kinder- und Hausmärchen]. Berlin, 1812. 


"E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial"

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I saw E.T. at a movie theater at a very young age.  I guess one day my parents simply decided it was a good idea to make sure I would be afraid of doctors for life, and seeing E.T. would certainly make that happen.

I won't say E.T. was not instructive--in fact, I learned a lot from it.  In addition to learning that doctors would poke you with needles and electrodes and cover you in sheet plastic as you withered and died and your skin dehydrated into powdered sugar and your glowing heart stopped beating in your chest, I gleaned a lot of helpful tidbits:

1-To fake a fever to stay home from school, hold a thermometer to a lightbulb.
2-The insult "Penis Breath" is a useful one that will get your mother's attention.
3-Peanut butter candy is a cure for what ails ya.
4-Drunk aliens are funny.  But drunk children are hilarious!
5-Government agents are totally cool with gunning down elementary schoolers.

In the 20th anniversary re-release DVD, Spielberg had all the scary agents' guns digitally removed, which suggests he eventually realized how traumatic those scenes were for children.  But the damage had already been done to us children of the '80s, and instead of being allowed to forget the horrific images the film had already seared into our brains, we were barraged with E.T. merchandise, thus ensuring we would always, always remember.

There was simply no escaping E.T.  You couldn't buy Reese's Pieces without seeing E.T.'s smirking bug-eyed mug.  To counteract the candy, there were also E.T. vitamins.  There were storybooks and record albums and pajamas and what had to be the world's ugliest stuffed animals.  There was an Atari game so terrible that millions of them were simply buried to get rid of them.

And then--then! Michael Jackson was added to the mix.  The man who turns into a freakish breakdancing zombie in Thriller was often seen posing alongside the raisin-faced little alien, and their poster was being marketed to kids.  Hang that sucker up in your child's bedroom and that is the stuff that nightmares are made of.

Lesson learned:
Your moral compass will be forever skewed if, as a child, you found Peter Coyote's "Keys" character kind of cute.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.  Dir. Steven Spielberg.  Perf. Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote.  Universal, 1982.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Widescreen Edition)
(Watch the original trailer on YouTube here and tell me it's not terrifying.)


"The Story of Little Kettle-Head"

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Remember when I said that one of the few things that really made my skin crawl was gray, blank-faced, flat, blocky, zombie-puppet people?  Well, add to that list the arguably even creepier specter of gray, smiley-faced, kettle-headed people.  Particularly children.

Helen Bannerman, probably most infamous for her children's tale "Little Black Sambo," penned "Little Kettle-Head," a parable in a similar vein to Slovenly Betsy, about a little girl who "was very fond of poking fires."  Our little pyromaniac's uppance comes when she pokes one fire too many and burns her little head off. 

A quick-thinking servant replaces her head with a kettle and even draws a little smiley face on it so her parents won't suspect a thing.  Poor little Kettle-head can't talk anymore; she can only make the noise "Clip - clap - clapper - apper apper."  Her parents, of course, simply scold her for this.

Luckily, when Father Christmas comes that very night, he notices her strange head and leaves her a gift-- the decapitated head of a doll whose body has already been "chopped into little bits."  So, Mombi-style, little Kettle-head plops the doll's head on her burnt stump of a neck and the next day her parents remark favorably on her new good looks.  Of course, she's now stuck having a doll's head for the rest of her life, but, as the story assures us, she never got near fires again, "and that is how her head has never been burned off again." 

Lesson learned:
Burning your entire head off is worth it if it ultimately makes you prettier.

Bannerman, Helen.  "The Story of Little Kettle-Head."  New York: Stokes, 1904.
Read the full story here.