What strange versions you have, Grandmother

In the UF libraries, a visiting researcher uncovers the bizarre history of the tale you thought you knew

Most of us think we know the plot points of the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood." On the way to visit her grandmother, a girl in a red hooded cape meets a wolf who eats Grandma, then dresses in Grandma’s clothes and tries to eat the girl, too.

But at the University of Florida, Angela Reynolds has discovered versions of the centuries-old story you didn't know: versions that include cannibalism, financial planning and magical wasps.

Reynolds, a librarian in Nova Scotia, came to the university to study the fable through the American Library Association's Louise Seaman Bechtel Fellowship, which funds a month of research at the Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature, part of the George A. Smathers Libraries. Among the 130,000 items in the collection are 400 "Little Red Riding Hood" tales, from 1770s English woodcuts to French pop-up books and Russian miniatures.

“The collection is absolutely amazing,” she says.

In one story, the wolf doesn’t get killed by the woodcutter, but instead becomes part of a wild beast show, whose proceeds are saved in a trust for Little Red. In another, a wasp, a bird and a fairy disguised as a crone help Little Red defeat the wolf.

In a few versions, Grandma, Little Red and the wolf all survive. Most, however, have a body count. Reynolds’ research has even turned up versions where the wolf tricks Little Red into eating Grandma and drinking her blood.

“I leave here and get back to my apartment with all these images and ideas in my head,” Reynolds says.

Why risk nightmares to study the tale? Aside from her lifelong love for the story, it provides glimpses into the values and norms of another time.

“Little Red Riding Hood’ is so pervasive. It’s all through the history of children's books,” she says. “You get a feel for how people felt about the elderly and children at that time.”

Back in Canada, Reynolds will create activities and programs for kids and adults based on what she’s learned from the UF collection. She also hopes to develop a visual timeline of Little Red and her exploits. She's also bearing a permanent reminder of her devotion to Little Red and her time at the Baldwin: a tattoo of one of the illustrations she found there.

To page through digitized versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” – and more than 6,000 other books in the Baldwin Library – visit ufdc.ufl.edu/juv.