More wolves – this time, a l’envers

I have two books in front of me as I write. One is the book I was going to write about – Sandra Beckett’s Recycling Red Riding Hood – the other (Rosa’s) is the movie companion for New Moon

It strikes me that the relationship between Bella and the Native American werewolves is in some ways a Conte a l’envers, as Beckett describes them.

Working from the writings of Gianni Rodari (who has more than seventeen entries in the Beckett index), she explores how Red Riding Hood has become such a universal tale that it is possible to play with the plot (including the Perrault text and images) as a tale told “Upside Down, Inside Out and Backwards.” And in finding a heroine like Bella Swan, and placing her in the situation she does, Stephanie Meyer effectively creates a Conte a L’Envers, a mixed-up version where a young woman in the woods is the one who holds the power over the wolves who are her friends, her would-be lovers. Bella smacks a werewolf on the nose as if he were a boy stepping out of line in a soap-opera prom; we are somewhere Angela Carter might recognise.

As something of a footnote, it is interesting to see this reversal taken even further in the movie book I have in front of me, where the wolves, however terrifying they are as wolves, are, in human form, mostly young and lacking in much body hair, exemplified in the website a – very far from the older, predatory wolves in so much of the Red Riding Hood iconography, yet drawing on the idea of the wargus (see this entry) as on the margins of society.

Beckett takes the wonderful Zipes exploration of Red Riding Hood to a new stage. She uses a European overview – rather she uses an understanding of countless retellings in Europe – to look at what Rodari calls A sbagliare le storie, Getting Stories Wrong, and what other contemporary writers identify as Upside-down stories.  Ths method is exemplary; it allows Beckett to explore the variety of Riding Hood stories (if Zipes removes the ‘little,’ Beckett presents a rainbow of different coloured hoods!), and in doing so to look again at what makes this story so special.  Hats off to her – hoods down, whatever – for updating the critical literature to include exploration of two lacunae in Zipes’ book: The wolves in the Ahlbergs, notably in Jeremiah in the Dark Woods and the Jolly Postman, and the RRH tales of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes.

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