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Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  877 ratings  ·  72 reviews
In Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked, Catherine Orenstein reveals for the first time the intricate sexual politics, moral ambiguities, and philosophical underpinnings of Red Riding Hood's epic journey to her grandmother's house, and how, from the nursery on, fairy tales influence our view of the world.

Beginning with its first publication as a cautionary tale on the perils
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 8th 2003 by Basic Books (first published 2002)
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  877 ratings  ·  72 reviews

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Anna (Bananas)
Despite the intentionally sexualized cover, this is an intelligent and interesting exploration of a well-known character, one I hadn't given much thought to before. Red Riding Hood is different from a lot of fairy tale females in that she's a child and doesn't play a romantic role, at least not in the story most of us know.

Each chapter presents a historical version of the tale and then goes on to discuss the theme and often moral message inherent in the story. I was surprised at the various role
Mar 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2017, non-fiction
Truth be told, I didn't manage to read this one all the way till the end. I maybe had some 50 pages left, but I just couldn't do it. The way the subject was handled was boring and it dragged on and some information was repeated constantly.

It dragged and dragged on and there was little sattisfaction behind it. I suppose, in the future, I'll just stick to the audiobook format when it comes to non fiction.
After a slow start, I thoroughly enjoyed this analysis of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, from its genesis as a folk tale in many parts of the world through to analysis of the red riding hood theme in modern books, cartoons and films. It was great to see Angela Carter's wolf stories analysed, along with her "Company of Wolves" film collaboration with the director Neil Jordan. Shame the book was written too early to include an analysis of the film Hard Candy...

I loved the way the section on
My fascination with fairy tales knows no bounds. Part cultural study, part literary analysis, Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked fed that fire and lived up to my expectations. A surprisingly quick read, Orenstein presents her material in a succinct manner and makes each individual section stand on its own merits, thereby avoiding an overabundance of repetition. Her examination of the story's early history and metamorphosis over time is thorough without being dry, riveting enough to hold even a cas ...more
Jan 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-gen
Overall, I liked this book. The history of the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood"--and fairy tales in general--is especially fascinating ("Little Red" was originally written in the 17th century by Perrault as a cautionary tale warning court ladies against sexual "wolves"). But I felt that Orenstein was padding it a bit when she included pieces on the history of wolves vs. man, wolves in literature, an extensive look at Anne Sexton's personal history, and how the classic tale is respun in the mo ...more
Emma Sea
An interesting meander around some of the motifs from various versions of the classic fairy tale. This encompasses werewolves, lesbian BDSM porn flicks, Reece Witherspoon, the Sun King, rape laws (and lack thereof), Odysseus, suicide, and 20th century lipstick advertising.

It was interesting enough, if not captivating. I enjoyed most meeting some new-to-me 20th century poets.

One important if tiny point, however: NO, Obi Wan DOES NOT bequeath Luke his light saber.
☼ Sarah ☼
"The fairy tale runs through us like a current. Each of us carries within an understanding of what it means to be the wolf, Grandma, woodsman, and Little Red Riding Hood." ...more
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was a little slow to start, in that its early chapters felt basic and fundamental, but once it started digging into this fairy tale, it didn’t stop. There was so much information in here I’ve never heard of, especially regarding the belief in werewolves in Europe. The later chapters examined gender roles and sexuality, which are exactly the kind of in-depth analytical essays I want to read. This book exposed me to so many variations on a single basic fairy tale, and I am so excited to ...more
Sep 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Totally engrossing cultural criticism, ranging from crazyass werewolf-mania in the countryside of 1500s France (so much cannibalism!) to Red Riding Hood porn. Each chapter starts with a version of the tale, from Grimm to Anne Sexton to Freeway, and Orenstein makes it clear how the drastically changing tale always mirrors the concerns of its age.
Aug 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"[Fairy tales] are a form of theater....where cultural and social values and desires play out." ...more
Amy Layton
I happened to see this book in the stacks as I was searching for folk tales to share with my storytelling class.  I told myself that I was already reading way too much, and could I really handle another book in the middle of the term?  I came back the next day for it and I didn't regret it one bit.  

This book was so interesting that I couldn't stop reading it.  It begins with the origins of the tale and its implications and DANG.  I didn't know half of what Orenstein discussed--and she discusses
Cindy Smith
Aug 27, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
interesting info included, especially the historical aspects of the tale.
one aspect that I found annoying was that it appeared as if the chapter intros were added after the text was written and some intros seemed misplaced or repetitive. ex. the chapter with the 3 page movie synopsis as the intro and then the same info almost verbatim is the first couple of pages of the chapter.
Oct 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
I very much enjoyed this. I’ve been taken with the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, particularly from the perspective of sexism and control. Little Red Riding Hood as the instructive (and judgment) on female sexual behavior, and female obedience to the male order, whether the ravishment of the wolf or the saviorism of the woodsman.

Orenstein’s college thesis turned book introduced me to a myriad of other interpretations—albeit primarily western ones. Even some earlier stories have Red (somet
Dec 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: real-stuff, 2021
Having read this as research for my bachelor thesis some odd 7-8 years ago, it was a real treat coming back and reading it for pure pleasure this time around. Orenstein is an engaging writer that makes an academic text a real fun read.

Going through a lot of the manifestations of Little Red Riding Hood through the ages (all of them would make for a very long book, I think), we see how the fairytale has adapted according to the times. Beginning as a cautionary tale for the French aristocratic lad
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
About 85% of it is *really* great. The subject is well researched, but obviously also quite a labor of love for the author, so it’s enjoyable as well as informative. She gives a lot of historical context for various versions of the tale, and outlines how the story and themes have shifted in modern discourse. I can’t say I agree with all of her assertions—most notably for me where she tries to act like she knows more about pornography than Andrea Dworkin. She attempts to paint Dworkin as a hyster ...more
Feb 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In case you couldn't tell, fairy tales are kinda my jam. I love dissecting them no matter the criticism. Guess that's why I gravitate towards retellings, since they place new emphasis on an old tale. Being versed in the origins of the tale, the early chapters veered into symbolism and historical parallels I'd seen as an English major a thousand times over. Honestly, the later chapters and what pop culture has cultivated the tale into captivated my interest tenfold. The author even analyzed two o ...more
Jan 12, 2021 rated it liked it
A fascinating study of fairy tales and particularly the enduring story of Little Red Riding Hood. I was intrigued by the evolution of this most iconic of folklores and delighted to see how it turns and twists back to its origins. Some of its hidden currents are both enlightening and horrifying. I guess if we look deep enough we all know that fairy tales have darker roots than we realise and that different societies and cultures will alter and adapt them to suit the current climate. Where are the ...more
Dec 15, 2018 rated it liked it
The author found a nice compromise between scholarly and readable. She's obviously done a lot of research, but the book is accessible to "laymen". The best part was the first few chapters where she traced the evolution of the tale in connection with cultural changes. Towards the end of the book, when she ventured into feminism and pornography, I thought the book lost focus. Overall it was an interesting topic presented in an engaging way. ...more
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating study of the Little Red Riding Hood story and how it's been modified and interpreted throughout history. Orenstein pays special attention to how various interpretations reflect ideas about gender in whatever their current culture is. Red can be an innocent in need of warning / protection or she can be a confident predator herself. The wolf has been portrayed as both hyper-male as well as an example of more nuanced masculinity in his nightdress and metaphorical pregnancy (with Red and ...more
Jul 13, 2020 rated it liked it
This was a fun and enlightening look into the history and evolution of my favorite fairy tale, including analysis of older versions of the story that are less well known and the origin of the more familiar iteration. Not all of the language is exactly up to date, but that's to be expected when language is evolving as quickly as it is these days. ...more
Cara Byrne
Feb 09, 2022 rated it really liked it
Little Red Riding Hood has made a recent resurgence in children's picture books over the past couple of years, so it's interesting to compare Orenstein's critical, 20 year old feminist book with these new titles. With praise from RuPaul and Jack Zipes, it's an intriguing work! ...more
Jul 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
i learnt a lot but I think it got a little tangential towards the end
Connor Coyne
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The best critical theory I've ever read. Brilliant, illuminating, probing, challenging. Spoiler: Little Red Riding Hood is a very, very complicated story. ...more
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: feminism
I want a book like this on all popular fairy tales please. Especially Snow White.
Nov 05, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the first 3-4 chapters, but after that it seemed repetitive. It seemed like a grad students dissertation on women’s studies and the evolving psyche of woman.
Although we all seem to be familiar with the fairy tale of “Little Red Riding Hood”; most of us are less familiar with the origins of the tale, the meaning and implications, and the evolution of the story. Catherine Orenstein explores these areas in “Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale”.

Orenstein opens “Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked” with interesting focal points concerning the history of the tale, various versions, the effects of cultural groups
Sara Jamshidi
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is about the many incarnations of the "Little Red Riding Hood" story. It discusses how these stories embody the views of the time on gender and sexuality. The author also explores the meanings of the themes and symbols beyond the stories. For example, she'll talk about the different symbolic meanings of wolves from the werewolves that struck fear in peasants during the 1500s to lecherous men during the Sun King reign in France to victims of human prejudice during the time of the endang ...more
Nathan Dehoff
Feb 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An in-depth analysis of a fairly simple fairy tale, focusing largely on how it changed over time. Some analysts have placed a lot of influence on the red hood, but there are quite similar tales that are likely older and don't specify the color of the girl's headgear. They also have the wolf tricking the girl into lying in bed with him and eating the flesh of her dead grandmother. Even in Charles Perrault's time and earlier, the wolf was portrayed as a sexual predator as well as a literal one, wi ...more
Nov 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
A great book that has particularly strong chapters on the Perrault and Grimms' versions of the famous fairy tale. It is an excellent introduction to how the tale has changed, and more importantly, why it has changed in response to particular social and cultural conditions. I wish the analysis were a little more in depth at points, but this is an appropriate introduction in many ways. Chapters go on to discuss the sexualization of the fairy tale in popular culture with revisions like that of Sam ...more
Oct 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
Meh. I'm probably not the target audience for this. I mean, I was only one class shy of a literature minor in college and a lot of my online non-book reading tends toward social justice matters including feminism, so none of the author's interpretations were new to me. To me it was blatantly obvious that this began with the author's college thesis AND that said thesis was 20+ years ago (some of the terminology is pretty dated, as is the conflating of certain concepts).

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