My Melody: Sanrio’s Little Red Riding Hood

Maybe you’ve heard of Hello Kitty, and how she’s actually a British schoolgirl (if not then read that article & prepare to gawp with incredulity for at least 10 minutes). But what about Sanrio’s other characters? There are many of them, each with their own stories. In the case of My Melody, her origins are entwined with a well-known fairy tale.

My Melody is a little girl bunny, who was released by Sanrio in 1975. According to her character bio, she was born in a forest. She is often depicted playing amongst trees with her woodland animal friends. She also wears a hood, which nowadays is usually pink, but when she was first introduced it was red. This hood was made by her grandmother.

In 1976, a children’s book was published in Japan featuring My Melody as Little Red Riding Hood. It was reprinted in 2015, and I was lucky enough to find a copy of this edition.

My Melody Little Red Riding Hood
Image my own

The title reads ‘My Melody’s Little Red Riding Hood.’ The text in red literally translates as ‘Akazukin’ which is the Japanese name for ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’ The text at the bottom translates as ‘Little Red Riding Hood! Be careful of the wolf!’

Here are some of the inside pages:

My Melody and her mother pack a basket for granny. Image my own.
My Melody sets off into the woods. Image my own.
The wolf disguises himself as granny. Image my own.
The wolf eats granny and she is saved by the woodcutter. They stitch the wolf up, and he runs away (into a tree, silly wolf!) Image my own.

I find it interesting that Sanrio decided to use My Melody for this fairy tale. Rabbits are prey animals, so in this story the wolf is taunted by having its meal turn on it. Also, this is a good example of how fairy tales can travel and evolve for different audiences. For Japanese children, Little Red Riding Hood is a foreign fairy tale. Perhaps attaching it to a familiar character makes it more appealing to them.

My Melody is very popular in Japan. Now that I live here, I am taking full advantage of this. Many people who know me will say that I like Hello Kitty. Whilst this is true to a degree, in England I grew to like her out of lack of choice. But I’m sorry everyone, I have a confession: My Melody is actually my favourite! Whenever I’ve needed something, I have found a My Melody option. Here are some of the more obscure ways in which she is taking over my life, filling it with her little pink ears one thing at a time…

All images my own.

Cleaning Wipes

My Melody cleaning wipes
So my apartment is cute as well as clean!

Chopsticks

My Melody chopsticks
Because obviously food tastes better if the implements for eating it with are adorable. Also, it’s not shown in the picture, but written on the side of these it says ‘once upon a time, there lived a little rabbit who always wore a red hood.’

Nail Files

My Melody nail files
My Melody and her friends do a fantastic job of smoothing my snags!

Duvet Cover

My Melody duvet cover
Warm, cosy, and almost as soft as a real rabbit!

Bottle Holder

My Melody bottle cover
Keeps my water cool, my bag dry, and my bottles pink!

My Melody’s Little Red Riding Hood is a cute fairy tale bridge between cultures, and I hope to encounter more of her stories in the future.

 

Fairy Tales: Angela Carter and Little Red Riding Hood

In my previous post about ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ I looked at versions of the tale by Charles Perrault and the Grimm Brothers and how it was used as a tale of warning. However, in more modern retellings, different aspects of the story become apparent.

Angela Carter’s anthology of short stories based on fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber, was published in 1979 and caused great controversy around the topic of feminism. In this article, Carter stated that her intention ‘was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories and to use it as the beginnings of new stories.’ With this is mind, when reading her two stories inspired by Little Red Riding Hood it is clear that she took some very specific content from this tale. According to Carter, there is still much it can teach us. Instead of a tale of warning, she has made it into a tale of transformation. The content she took from Little Red Riding Hood is awareness; more specifically adolescent and sexual awareness.

The Werewolf

Read it here.

At the beginning of this story, before any characters are introduced, readers are told about the harsh lifestyle of the ‘northern country.’ Here ‘the Devil holds picnics in the graveyards and invites the witches’ and ‘wreaths of garlic on the doors keep out vampires.’ Carter impresses upon readers that superstition is prominent in this place. This prepares them for the coming tale and makes it seem more feasible, given the peculiar setting.

The Red Riding Hood character is sent to her grandmother’s house with food as per, only when she encounters the wolf, who tries to kill her instantly, she attacks it with a knife and hacks off one of its paws. Clearly she is not the standard, innocent child of Perrault’s and  the Grimm’s versions. The passive female image does not apply to her.

At the end when she discovers the wolf is actually grandmother in disguise, the grandmother is killed by the villagers. The previously mentioned superstitions foreshadow this, making the ending rather sinister. Is the grandmother actually a werewolf, or is she just a victim of superstition and paranoia? Her death is irrevocable; there is no woodcutter to rescue her. So despite Red Riding Hood surviving and happily moving into grandmother’s old house, the ending isn’t completely joyful.

Another way to read it is that because the girl is an active protagonist and goes against the idea of what females should be, she doesn’t fit into society. Therefore, she ‘prospered’ living out in the forest where she could live on her own terms. Maybe superstition provided her with a motive to get rid of grandmother, allowing her to take charge of her own life.

 

The Company of Wolves

Read it here.

This story contains another active protagonist, although of a different kind to the one seen in ‘The Werewolf.’ This girl’s power comes from seduction. She is calm, confident, and in control. From the moment she meets the wolf, she is wise to his game and freely begins to play it. When he bets her a kiss that he will make it to grandmother’s house before her she purposely dawdles, wanting him to win. Of course he does, and when she enters the house she shows no fear or grief over her dead grandmother. Like in ‘The Werewolf,’ the grandmother’s death is symbolic of the girl moving out of childhood, where she is watched over by her elders, and becoming her own person.

Showing no grief for grandmother is also a defence mechanism for survival. Grief would be of no use to her, so she doesn’t indulge in it. Instead, she sedately removes her clothes, implying that she is thrilled by the danger she is in. This is furthered by her undressing the wolf-man. She embraces the sexual experience, conveying the message that you shouldn’t be afraid of sexuality. Her laughter is the twist, the moment of realisation. The wolf-man says he wants to eat her, but ‘she knew she was nobody’s meat.’ Is is then apparent that she has been playing with him all along, revealing her to be cunning.

Like in ‘The Werewolf,’ the ending to ‘The Company of Wolves’ is ambiguous and slightly unnerving. No woodcutter comes to save the grandmother, and the girl sleeps ‘sweet and sound’ with the wolf-man after picking out the lice from his hair and eating them. That last part isn’t exactly normal human behaviour, and by doing it the girl becomes somewhat animalistic. She has undergone a transformation. By the end of the story she has engaged in sexual activity and obtained bestial qualities in order to save herself. Instead Carter could have made the wolf passive, but she goes that little bit further to reject the idea that you can return to ‘normal’ after having such experiences. So whilst the girl is happy at the end, the sting comes in that she is altered and poor grandmother is still a pile of bones under the bed. Carter is challenging readers to accept the change and move on.

In these stories, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ has morphed. Women are no longer so innocent, and much harder to trick. Carter’s characters are bold and edgy, and not just simply difficult for the wolves to mislead but impossible for them to overcome. Angela Carter is one of my favourite authors, and The Bloody Chamber is a vibrant collection of stories which still cause controversy due to their explicit content and rebelliousness. I believe that this will continue, and I admire Carter for her imagination and confidence.

 

 

Sources

  • Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (London: Vintage, 1995)
  • Jack Zipes, The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013)

 

Fairy Tales: Meanings of Little Red Riding Hood

Most people are told ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ as children. It’s one of the classic tales that contains has a clear social agenda: Obey your parents, and don’t talk to strangers. In most versions there is also a woodcutter or huntsman who comes to rescue Red Riding Hood and her grandmother from the wolf, reassuring children that good people exist as well as bad ones.

However, like with most fairy tales, there are numerous versions of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and it has been intervened with by many authors. Whilst the main components of the story are always present in order for it to be recognisable, the events in the narrative have been altered to draw out different meanings.

Charles Perrault and the Grimm Brothers both published versions of ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ but in different centuries and under different circumstances. Perrault was writing for literary salons, in the court of King Louis XIV at the Palace of Versailles. The Grimms were seeking to collect and preserve their culture, and were notorious for editing their material (their later editions are noticeably more sanitised than their earlier ones). The impact these circumstances had on ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is clear to see.

Charles Perrault – Little Red Riding Hood (1697)

Read it here.

Little Red Riding Hood illustration by Gustave Doré. Image in the public domain – source

In Perrault’s tale, there is no-one to save grandmother or Red Riding Hood. They are devoured by the wolf, and that’s the end of the story. An afterword in the form of a poem entitled ‘Moral’ is included. This states that ‘mainly pretty girls with charm do wrong and often come to harm’ and ‘it is no surprise that they are caught by wolves who take them off to eat.’ It also mentions that not all wolves are ‘the savage kind’ and ‘these are the most dangerous wolves of all.’

Whilst clearly still a warning, the context here is slightly different. This version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ carries the message that some men, who may initially appear harmless, are actually ‘wolves’ in disguise and seek to steal the virtue of young ladies. The absence of the saviour makes it clear that if you are taken in by one of these men, it is your own fault for not being cautious and there will be no chances for redemption. For ladies at the Palace of Versailles, this was a valid warning. If they fooled around with unsuitable lovers, then it could damage their social standing and make it harder for them to secure a respectable marriage.  

 

Grimm Brothers – Little Red Cap (1812)

Read it here.

Little Red Riding Hood illustration by Arthur Rackham. Image in the public domain – source

The Grimm version warns children that bad people exist and to listen to their parents. However, it differs in that it has an epilogue where Red Riding Hood is once again approached by a wolf but is not distracted by him. Instead, she goes directly to grandmother’s house and tells her of the encounter. Together, Red Riding Hood and grandmother await the wolf and hatch a plan to defeat him which is successful. Red Riding Hood becomes sensible and fearless, and the grandmother quick-witted and ruthless. They have no trouble with dispatching the wolf.

This extra section shows how it is okay to make mistakes so long as they are learned from. Also, there can be joy in overcoming enemies yourself as opposed to having a metaphorical huntsman or woodcutter come to your aid. In later versions this epilogue was dropped, possibly because of dominant gender ideals during the 19th and early 20th century. Women single-handedly killing wolves went against the idea that females should be domestic and caring, which at the time was what society wanted them to be.

‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is such an iconic and well-known fairy tale that has been used in many contexts to convey a variety of messages. It has also altered over time, and consequently has undergone many shifts. My favourite retellings were written by Angela Carter in her anthology The Bloody Chamber, which I have written about in my post Fairy Tales: Angela Carter and Little Red Riding Hood.

 

Sources

  • Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment (London: Penguin, 1991)
  • Charles Perrault, ‘Little Red Riding-Hood’ in Charles Perrault: The Complete Fairy Tales, translated by Christopher Betts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)
  • Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, ed. by Maria Tatar (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012)