Red Civility and the Wolf of Rudeness

“I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone.” –Edmund Burke


I’ve been thinking about Little Red Riding Hood—specifically the scene where she confronts her “grandmother” about her new look.


Wolf and Red

Little Red Riding Hood choosing her words with care. (picture by William Henry Margetson 1861-1940)

“Oh Grandmother, what big ears you have.”

“Oh Grandmother, what big eyes you have.”

“But Grandmother, what large hands you have!”

“Oh! But Grandmother, what a terrible big mouth you have!”


It occurs to me that if this had been present day, Red would never have gotten that close. She would have insulted Grandmother with some quip about, “Girl, you look like death—what’s up with that?!” and dropped the basket at the door. I don’t think anyone wanted her to get eaten by a wolf, but because she did and survived, she was the better for it.

This is a perfect illustration of what we’ve become. We’d rather go for the cheap laugh than really try to help someone. We think of kindness as falseness and are encouraged to, “keep it real.”

Well, how’s this for real? Almost every law we’ve ever fought for and enacted has been in the furtherance of civility. Our constitution was born of a people who wanted respect and fairness. Should we be proud that we are a people who legislate thoughtfulness or sad that it needs to be written into law? Probably both, but in an age where people can anonymously churn out hate in a comment section perhaps Shakespeare is right when he writes discretion is the better part of valor.

This isn’t coming out of thin air. I recently had an experience where my work had to be critiqued. I welcome the chance to hear other people’s thoughts and know it’s the only way to improve. However, one of my reviewers thought it was an appropriate venue to scrawl expletives and spew condescension in place of real criticism. I’m lucky I have a thick skin, but the sting was still there. More than anything, I was angry that the critic thought this was a good way to make a point.

Fairy tales teach us that the kind and sweet suffer, but are rewarded in the end with (their version) of a happy life. I do hope that’s true.

Its times like these I turn, not to fairy tales, but to philosophy. And when the subject is civility no one does it better than Edmund Burke. I leave you with this thought and hope it will help you when you encounter any incivility.


“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” –Edmund Burke




The female roadtrip – Red Riding Hood Grows Up

A reader and friend brought an article in The Atlantic to my attention. It is entitled:

It’s Frustratingly Rare to Find a Novel About Women That’s Not About Love

“Literary girls don’t take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.”

Although the title is provocative enough to make anyone click the link, I’ll summarize. The author, Kelsey McKinney, takes note that while plenty of novels center around the coming of age story, for men it involves an adventure and self-discovery. For women it centers around find herself through love and a man…or in this day and age it could be another woman.

In short, men look for themselves, women look for romance. At least in literature. And she bemoans this fact because in the real world there are plenty of women who do not think the be-all end-all of life is a husband and kids. Very few novels have women focused on finding themselves or pursuing a career without also adding a love subplot. She calls for more books like Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, about a girl who comes of age, but doesn’t search for love and acceptance. She just grows.

I could argue that writers see women as more well-rounded people who know that the search for love is just as important as the search for purpose, which could include children, a mate, and a career.

Or I could argue that I am just as frustrated by the lack of adventure-seeking girls and women who can thumb their noses at romance.

The truth is, I can see both sides. I think it’s just as sad that books geared towards men have them only pursuing a promotion or a trophy and I think love can be just as great an adventure as rolling down the Mississippi. However, as a writer what I see is a challenge. How do we revive the road trip that makes it possible for women to have just as much adventure as men? The answer seems to start with them as children.

I remember reading Pipi Longstocking and her parent-free adventures with her monkey and horse foiling robbers, teachers, and the police. She was wild, carefree, athletic, but she was still happy to have friends. Her road trip would have been a high-seas adventure, but with her father and therefore defeat the purpose.

Mathilda, by Roald Dahl, is also a good candidate for the “strong girl grows up to be strong woman”, but with magical powers and being so decidedly good, I imagine her adventures would be rather tame and ultimately, safe.

Perhaps we can look to a fairy tale for the answer. She went into the woods a naive girl and returned a smart young woman. All it took was being swallowed by a wolf. I think she would have grown up to be an adventurer, despite promising never to stray from the path. Did anyone actually believe she kept that promise?  This is a girl who was eaten by a wolf along with her grandmother, was cut out of its belly by a huntsman, fills the wolf’s belly with stones until he dies and when she goes back to her grandmother’s house on a subsequent trip meets with another wolf who she outsmarts with granny’s help by enticing him with the smell of sausages and drowns him. That’s a girl I would take a road trip with, wouldn’t you?

With a challenge to meet and a heroine ready for anything, I’ve decided to write a story about a grown Red Riding Hood seeing the world–fairy tale style.

The Tale of Red Riding Hood

Part I

                Once there was a girl who grew up quite suddenly after being eaten by a wolf. It was only natural that she should learn from such an experience and become more wary of the ways of the world and admire the strong female influences in her life.

                After her grandmother passed away, Red was left the cottage in the woods. But her adventures as a child gave her a longing to know the world better and so she closed up the house, put on her red cloak, and set off on a journey.

                Her first stop was to the city. It was the largest she had ever seen. But Red knew that wolves didn’t only lurk behind trees and bushes. They also walked the paved roads and roamed the taverns. Feeling prepared for anything life could throw at her, she entered one such tavern for lunch.

                The patrons glanced her way, wondering what a young woman was doing in a tavern alone, especially one with such an attention-grabbing cloak. She ordered her food and ate alone at a table ignoring the whispers. When the barmaid returned with her food, she stood next to the table for such a long time, that Red had to speak to her.

                “Good day to you. The food is delicious, but I don’t plan to order any more just yet.”

                “Look here, what are you doing in a place like this alone?” asked the barmaid.

                “Having a meal as all the others are doing. Why do you ask?”

                “All the other patrons are men and the women are accompanied. Are you lost?”

                “Not at all. But I have no destination in mind if that is your real question,” she replied and continued to enjoy her meal.

                “Then let me give you a word of caution. There is a man in the corner who has taken a particular interest in you. Others who have caught his eye have not been seen again.”

                “I am not a stranger to wolves on the prowl,” said Red looking at the man.

                “Pardon me?”

                “It’s no matter. I thank you for your warning,” she said and went back to her meal. The barmaid hesitated, but left Red alone thereafter. She thought her a foolish country girl and knew that fate and the city would treat her cruelly. Red had no such concerns and after finishing her lunch, paid her bill and left the tavern. Shortly thereafter the man in the corner rose from his place and followed her…

To Be Continued…

Adventures in Fairy Tale Land

As a child, when I read, heard and watched fairy tales it was always with a British accent. Mostly English, but occasionally Irish or Scottish. I was convinced, and movies seemed to back me up, that when Europeans congregated they all spoke English with an accent straight from Oxford. With that in mind, I assumed that all fairy tales were from the British Isles. From the Grimm Brothers to Hans Christian Andersen, all of them were from the English countryside. It stood to reason. Castles were in Britain. The Queen was in Britain, so it had to be true. Years, schooling and research have disabused me of that belief on an intellectual level. But in my heart, fairy tales have an accent.

So, it was with great joy and more than a touch of whimsy that I set off on my vacation to the Lake District and Edinburgh (also the reason that I’ve been so negligent with my blog. I don’t believe in internet in fairy land) hoping to have a fairy tale adventure. The countryside did not disappoint. I walked fells and through pastoral scenes that would make an shepherdess feel at home. I trudged through forests and scrambled through ghylls that held perfect hiding places for the fairy folk and maybe a wolf or two lying in wait for Red Riding Hood. I even walked through the world of Beatrix Potter, who although isn’t strictly a writer of fairy tales, is still a staple from my childhood reading menu.

Edinburgh was more gothic and therefore more Grimm, but in the nicest way possible. I climbed castle towers and ramparts almost expecting knights to lay siege. That may have been the whiskey haze, but I could see it. Swords, spears, and a stone of destiny were mythic, yet close enough to touch. Mary, Queen of Scots was like Rapunzel in the tower at Holyrood. ImageImage

This was not my first trip to the UK, but since starting my blog and committing to being a writer, it felt like a new place. Every corner was a literary opportunity and I could understand why I thought Britain was Fairy Tale Land as a child. I’ll admit that this post sounds like a long digression on how I spent my summer vacation, but I thought it was important to share the most important thing about fairy tales. Why we love them. Why we read them. Why they’re the stuff of dreams and nightmares. Please remember, dear reader, what matters most about fairy tales…