The Company of Wolves, Bloodmantle and other Retellings of The Little Red Riding Hood

The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood: Versions of the Tale in Sociocultural Context

My first contribution to the Once Upon a Time Challenge V was the novel Red Riding Hood based on the movie. As you can read here I wasn’t too impressed with it.

Meanwhile I’ve seen the movie as well. It’s a visual treat, I enjoyed it but it isn’t as good as The Company of Wolves which is much more mysterious.

The Brother Grimm tale, The Little Red Riding Hood has fascinated people since forever. The dense forest, the wolf, the red cloak are such powerful images. It is certainly one o the  fairy tales with the most retellings.

There is a nice collection by Jack Zipes called The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood. It contains a huge range starting with the tale by Charles Perrault to more contemporary versions like the  Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves. Carters story can also be found in her collection of fairytale retellings The Bloody Chamber. There are actually two versions in it. A very short sketch and one that is a bit longer.

I read Zipes book a few years ago and was impressed by how many different versions there are but there was none that I really liked. The Company of Wolves as a story is less convincing than the movie based on it. And there are other retellings in The Bloody Chamber that I liked much more.

The one re-telling that really impressed me is Tanith Lee’s Bloodmantle from her collection Forests of the Night. It can also be found in Wild Women. Tanith Lee’s stories can serve as proof that there is more to fantasy than meets the eye. If there is one writer who is capable of writing literary fantasy it is certainly Tanith Lee. Her writing is poetical, imaginative and very original. Here is what she says about Bloodmantle.

The forests of the mind are benighted, dark and dazzling places. Things wander there that shine, and burn, and bite.

Much of my writing, long and short, begins with nothing more – or less – than a feeling. The nearest I can come to describing this is to relate it to those curious unremembered memories, triggered maybe by a scent, or a certain seasonal light. Bloodmantle started in just that way, a sensation. Then quickly followed the notion of Roman Lupercal as a werewolf-finding feast. Wolves are creatures that live most definitely in my mind forests. I meet them with the primitive and often irrational wolf-fear, but also in fascinated love.

The girl in th red cloak of course most of us know. Innocence can be cruel.

In Bloodmantle the woman or girl isn’t only a victim. The roles change and there is potential to do harm in both, the man and the woman. The story isn’t very long but rich and multilayered, with a story inside of the story, a tale transmitted from days long gone, and a part that takes place in our contemporary world. The wolf is as much perpetrator as prey, half man, half animal and also ghost.

A very artful picture book Little Red Riding Hood illustrated by Daniel Egnéus came out this year. I discovered it during the Once Upon a Time Challenge. Here is Chris’ review  that contains some of the truly wonderful pictures.

You can also find something about Daniel Egnéus here

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Patricia A. McKillip: Winter Rose (1996)

They said later that he rode into the village on a horse the colour of buttermilk. But I saw him first – as a fall of light. And then as something shaping out of the light. So it seemed. There was a blur of gold: his hair. And then I blinked and saw his face more clearly.’ From that moment, Rois is obsessed with Corbett Lynn. His pale green eyes fill her thoughts and her dreams are consumed by tales of his family’s dark past. Of son’s murdering fathers, of homes fallen to ruin, and of a curse that, as winter draws in, is crawling from the frozen forest to engulf them all.

Ever since I read Patricia A. McKillip’s The Forgotten Beast of Eld, I wanted to read another of her books. She is one of those writers who quietly write one novel after the other and every new book is greeted with a lot of enthusiasm by her fans. Despite her many fans McKillip isn’t a fantasy writer with a huge commercial success, for the simple reason  – I’m guessing – that she doesn’t write trilogies and series. All of her novels are standalones or diptychs, with the exception of The Riddle Master Trilogy. Most of her books are out of print but you can easily get cheap used copies. McKillip’s books are lovely and enchanting and distinctly influenced by fairy tales.

Winter Rose is a retelling of the Scottish tale of Tam Lin. It is a peculiar book and maybe not a typical McKillip because readers either love or hate it. I liked it a lot but can see why others might not have been equally charmed.

While Winter Rose starts like a normal fantasy novel, as soon as reality starts to shift, the writing reads like a fever dream. It is never really clear whether Rois, the main character, is dreaming, has entered another reality or a sort of parallel world. If you want to enjoy this book you have to just let go and follow the flow and not try too much to understand it rationally. It is a bit like reading poetry. Try to picture the images she creates of a world in which the forest can claim people, in which winter swallows everything, in which thorns and ivy weave a web so dense that there is no escaping them. The images are lush and hypnotic, the language is flowery.

Winter Rose isn’t a love story in a conventional sense although Rois falls in love with Corbet the moment she lays eyes on him or rather the moment he materializes before her eyes. Corbet has never been seen in the village in which Rois, her father, her sister Laurel and Laurel’s fiancé Perrin live. It is said that Corbet’s father killed his own father and was cursed. Lynn Hall, the family home, has been standing empty since then and the forest has claimed it back. It is nothing more than an overgrown ruin.

Corbet starts to renovate the house and, accepting Rois’ fathers kind dinner invitations, spends many evenings in their house, talking and laughing with them. Both girls are equally fascinated by Corbet’s mysterious story and want to know everything about him. As much as Rois is infatuated, she is no fool and senses that there is something between Corbet and her sister.

The storytelling is very hypnotic and evokes different layers of reality that are interwoven. When Rois starts to spy on Corbet and follows him into the woods, the realities start to shift for good. There is a strange presence in this other world. Something is waiting in the wood. Is it the Spirit of the Forest, a Guardian, a Faerie? Whatever it is, it is a disquieting being and seems to lure people. Is this the place where Corbet’s father is?

Another mystery that Rois tries to solve is what happened to their mother who died when Rois was just a baby. It is told that Winter took her, she wasn’t ill, she just stopped living. And why has Rois “wood eyes” and sees more than other people?

One day Corbet disappears and Rois goes after him. She crosses the threshold between this world and the other one, and discovers a lot of things that no one else knows.

There really is a lot to like in this novel. The language is poetical and rich in images and Rois is a lovely girl. She is wild and free-spirited and loves to roam the forest. She knows all the medicinal herbs and plants and makes teas and potions for the people of the village.

Despite all the positive aspects, this isn’t a book for everyone. There is simply not enough in terms of story, as said, it is much more like a fever dream.

I’m still in the mood to read another of Patricia A. McKillips novels.  Does anyone have suggestions? I got The Forests of Serre here. Which is your favourite McKillip book?

Winter Rose was my second book for the Once Upon A Time V Challenge.

Sarah Blakley-Cartwright: Red Riding Hood (2011) The Book Based on the Movie

Valerie’s sister was beautiful, kind, and sweet. Now she is dead. Henri, the handsome son of the blacksmith, tries to console Valerie, but her wild heart beats fast for another: the outcast woodcutter, Peter, who offers Valerie another life far from home.
After her sister’s violent death, Valerie’s world begins to spiral out of control. For generations, the werewolf has been kept at bay with a monthly sacrifice. But no one is safe. When an expert wolf hunter arrives, the villagers learn that the creature lives among them – it could be anyone in town.
It soon becomes clear that Valerie is the only one who can hear the voice of creature. The Wolf says she must surrender herself before the Blood Moon wanes . . . or everyone she loves will die..

A few months ago I was browsing the Internet looking for the website of Fever Ray and that’s how I found the trailer of the movie Red Riding Hood for which Fever Ray has done the soundtrack.

There are hundreds of fairytale retellings out there. The range is incredible. From literary fiction to pulpy trash you find everything.

Ever since I have read Angela Carter’s Fairytale retellings and watched the movie The Company of Wolves I had a particular liking for the Little Red Riding Hood retellings. It has a few powerful elements that not all other fairy tales have, first of all the wolf and the red cloak. When it comes to the original fairytale it is far from being one of my favourites but what it inspires newer authors to do is often interesting.

For these reasons there was no way around the book Red Riding Hood as soon as I discovered it. The book is actually based on the movie, which makes the marketing strategy clear. This is even enhanced once you realize that what you hold in your hand isn’t the complete book. The last chapter is missing and can only be read online. This isn’t such a problem by now, as the movie has been released, but when I started reading, the chapter wasn’t accessible yet because the movie wasn’t playing.

The wolf in this version, like in some of the other retellings, is a werewolf. During the Blood Moon he lurks in the darkness and comes out of his hiding to kill the people of Daggorhorn. He hasn’t done so for a long time because he normally gets an offering but different circumstances lead to the killing of Valerie’s sister and from there to the death of other villagers. There is no stopping the wolf anymore.

The book works pretty much like a paranormal thriller. It is suspected that the werewolf must be from the village. Someone among the people they all know is transforming himself during the Blood Moon. Like in a proper thriller, there are many suspects. Red herrings abound and you really have to read until the final (online) chapter to find out who is the killer. Insofar it is quite gripping. I think it is possible to find out who it is but it is still entertaining.

What did not work for me are the characters. With the exception of the grandmother they are quite flat and interchangeable. The grandmother however is interesting, a witch-like, potion-cooking old woman who lives outside of society.

Another thing I didn’t like are the inconsistencies in the story. I had a feeling it was written very fast and there were really tacky moments too.

This probably sounds as if I had regretted to read this book but this is absolutely not the case. The descriptions are what I really liked. The little village, lost in the forest, the narrow medieval streets, the picturesque settings and most of all the house of the grandmother. The description of that house made the whole reading worthwhile. The grandmother lives in a tree house, outside of the fear-ridden village, high above everyone else. The interior of that house, the security it provides, is described very appealingly. I’m not going into details, those who want to read the novel should discover this for themselves.

All in all it was a fast read, a bit boring at times but still enjoyable and worthwhile thanks to the descriptions and settings. I shouldn’t forget to mention that there is also a romance part in the novel that did not work so well, or rather, the conflict keeping the lovers apart didn’t work.

I think you gathered that it is nowhere near as good as other retellings of the fairytale that’s why I decided to dedicate another post to a few of the really stunning examples.

Here is the Book’s Homepage with the final chapter.

I haven’t seen the movie yet but I might watch it since I like Fever Ray and Gary Oldman.

Red Riding Hood is my first contribution to the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

Once Upon A Time Challenge

No matter what I said about challenges at the beginning of the year, forget it. Of course I’m joining the Once Upon A Time Challenge. I loved last year’s R.I.P. hosted by Carl and this is the lighter springtime side to R.I.P’s autumnal darkness. And I love fairy tales, folklore, fantasy and mythology.

There are different levels in the Once Upon A Time Challenge, please go there and find out all about it.

I decided to sign up for the Journey which leaves everything open from reading only one book to as many as I want, fiction and nonfiction.

I’m just about to finish a few fairy tale retellings, so this is timely in any case. I have a few ideas for other books I might read but I’m not sure it’s wise to tell it yet as I have seen in the last few weeks a few projects being left behind due to time constraints. The only book I am sure to review is Red Riding Hood and a few other retellings of the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale.

Kelley Armstrong: Bitten (2001) A Werewolf Thriller

Elena, heroine of Kelley Armstrong’s impressive debut thriller Bitten, never planned that a casual sexual encounter would transform her into a werewolf. Neither did Clay, her lover and one of the leaders of the exclusive werewolf clique known as the Pack; women do not generally change or survive if they do. Elena’s considerable reservations about her new life come to a head and she walks out on the Pack to return to something like normality, finding herself a boyfriend who turns a blind eye to her occasional disappearances in the middle of the night. She may have done with the infighting of werewolves, but they have not done with her; her former family call her back when they find themselves under threat from those they have excluded and dominated. Kelley Armstrong is very good on the sheer exhilaration of shape-changing, of running on four feet through forests, suburban greenery and urban back alleys; if there is a weakness here, it is that Elena’s relationship with the taciturn, untrustworthy Clay is sometimes a little too conventionally romantic–but the dark poetry of the best of the book overcomes this entirely.

I must admit if it hadn’t been for Kailana I would never have read Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten but some of her reviews of the Women of the Otherworld series were so enthusiastic, I simply had to try it.  And to be honest “A werewolf thriller” sounded somewhat intriguing. I was not disappointed. Besides, my late grandmother being from Brittany, I grew up with werewolf tales and did belive them until my late teens. But this is not the reason why I liked it. I liked it because I could identify with the heroine. She is such a realistically drawn person. A strong woman who grew up in foster homes, looking for a family, a home, security but never seems to get it. The years alone have hardened her. But then she meets Clay. Beautiful, intelligent, mysterious Clay who offers her everything she never had. Who even goes to a lot of pain to offer her her first proper Christmas and who takes her to Stonehaven, the home of his family, Jeremy, Antony, Nick, Logan and the others. And then the unthinkable happens. He bites her. The only secret he has kept from her, that he is a werewolf, is a fatal one. Normally no one survives a werewolf bite. Only the strongest do. And there was never a female werewolf. Elena is the first.

At the beginning of the novel, Elena lives in Toronto with Philipp. She has left Stonehaven and the pack. She doesnt’ want to be an outsider of society, she wants to fit in, lead a normal live. One day however she gets a call from Jeremy, the Alpha male of the pack. Someone is threatening the pack, wants their territory and has started killing innocent people. She is reluctant to go back at first but finally  gives in. Once she is there she realises how much she missed them. Especially Clay. The novel is action packed and fast paced. There is not only one other werewolf who wants to harm them, there are many. And they eventuallly start to kill the men from the pack. If they want to survive, they have to stick together and fight as one.

Elena fights alongside her men. As said before, she is a strong person. I would wish her as a role model for young women. Powerful and determined. What really surprised me is the writing. Did you ever want to know what it would feel like to be a werewolf? The writing is so detailed, and descriptive that you might very well have the feeling you know what it is like to smell with the nose of a wolf, to tread and run with the paws of a wolf, to hunt and to race through the forest at night. The character development of Elena is interesting too. At times I totally forgot I was reading Fantasy. The core theme is “being true to yourself” and that is certainly a theme anyone can relate to.

As you see, it is very entertaining. A werewolf thriller with a touching love story and a strong heroine. Bitten is the first in the series of Women of the Otherworld. I am not very keen on series but I might read the next one sooner or later.

Any series you like or would suggest?