From Grimm’s Little Red Cap, Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood, & Christ’s Parable of The Good Samaritan
There was once a sweet young girl who lived deep in the woods with her mother. Everyone who saw this girl instantly adored her. One day, her mother was feeling ill, so she gave the girl her coin purse, her riding hood, and her mule, and sent her into town to buy some cake and wine.
Along the way, the girl passed a meadow where a patch of beautiful sunflowers was in bloom. Unable to resist, she dismounted and began to pick a bouquet to lift her dear mother’s spirits. Just then, a band of men came riding by and stopped to ask the young girl where she was going all alone. Not knowing it was unwise to speak to strange men, she held up her coin purse and told them she was heading into town to buy cake and wine for her sick mother.
“Does your mother live nearby?” they asked her.
“Not so near,” answered the girl, “for it is a half day’s journey to town and I have come three-quarters of the way already.”
“And did you leave no one behind to look after her?”
“No one,” admitted the girl, hoping the men were offering to check in on her poor mother, “for we live alone.”
Seeing there was no one in sight, the men set upon the girl. They emptied her coin purse, stole her mule, and stripped off her clothing. When they had taken all they desired, they covered her with her mother’s cloak and left her lying among the trampled sunflowers.
After some time, an old woman who lived in a nearby cottage came shuffling down the road, carrying a basket of freshly picked berries. When she saw the young girl cowering beneath a riding cloak, soaked red with blood, the old woman clutched her basket and hurried along on the far side of the road.
Next, a man who’d been cutting wood nearby came strolling down the road, whistling and carrying his ax over his shoulder. When he heard the little girl whimpering and begging for help, the woodcutter whistled all the louder and sauntered by on the far side of the road.
As night fell, the girl began to shiver with cold. Too weak even to stand, she began to cry out and, without knowing why, found she was calling the name of her own father whom she had not seen for many years. She had not been calling for him long when she saw two enormous yellow eyes peering at her out of the dark woods on the far side of the road. She trembled with fear as an old shaggy wolf crept out of the shadows into the moonlit meadow.
I will never see my beloved mother again, thought the girl, for my foolish cries have brought a wolf here to devour me.
The wolf circled her, sniffing her wounds, but did not devour her. Instead, it hoisted her onto its back and carried her off through the darkness. The girl, now quite delirious, imagined that the wolf was not a wolf at all, but her father who, hearing her cries across mountains and oceans, had flown to her side in her time of deepest need.
As she rode on his back, she spoke with him:
“Oh, Father, what big ears you have!”
“All the better to hear your cries for help, my child.”
“And what strong legs you have!”
“All the better to carry you with, my child.”
“And what thick hair you have!”
“All the better to warm you with, my child.”
“And what sharp teeth you have!”
“All the better to protect you with, for these woods are crawling with wicked men.”
When he reached a nearby cottage, the wolf pulled the bobbin with his teeth and the latch lifted. Once inside, he cleaned and bandaged the girl’s wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then, he dressed her in a nightgown he found, placed her in the bed beneath the covers, and drew the curtains. Despite his innate fear of the flame, he lit a fire to warm her. As she slept, he went out and caught a squirrel. He filled a pot with water from the well out back, skinned and gutted his catch, and cooked a stew over the fire. He sat on his haunches at the girl’s bedside until the sun rose next morning, when he was relieved to see the girl’s color had improved and she was able to take some of the stew he’d prepared.
Around midday, the wolf was changing the girl’s bandages when, in through the door, walked the owner of the cottage, the very same old woman who had passed by on the far side of the road. One look at the wild beast, crouching over the half-naked girl and licking her wounds, and the old woman ran screaming all the way back to town.
Knowing this would mean trouble, the wise old wolf told the girl he must leave her now. But, calling him Father, she begged him to stay by her side.
That very evening, the old woman returned with the woodcutter to find the shaggy gray wolf still on his haunches at the girl’s bedside. The beast did not snarl or snap or run. Even so, the woodcutter swung his ax and cleaved the wolf’s head from its body with one blow. Then, he carried the girl back to her mother’s cottage.
Afterwards, the tale spread far and wide of how the woodcutter had saved both an old woman and a little girl from the belly of the crafty wolf. Over the course of its many tellings, certain details were lost while others were altered and then altered again. But everywhere the tale was told, its hearers praised the woodcutter’s courage and cursed the wolf’s wickedness.
These days, Ryan is an adjunct instructor at Austin Community College and Concordia University, but in past lives, he supported his writing habit through myriad part-time occupations, including that of a lowly bookseller. For some reason, he spent three years earning an MFA, which has debatably helped his writing appear in numerous magazines you’ve likely never heard of, including Hypnopomp, Porter House Review, Lunate, Fudoki, Patheos, Bodega, and The Bookends Review. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Hannah, and their young children.