When I was a teaching assistant, I taught an essay called the Adaptation/Variation, which allowed students to choose a text and change it in form, in character, in style, in any variety of means with one task in mind—interpretation. Most often, students chose fairy tales because they were familiar from their youth and had seen an array of adaptations.
I stopped teaching this essay because a task of this magnitude—to not only create a brand-new text but to also write an essay analyzing the changes made and how it builds meaning on the original and on its own—needs more than a few weeks’ time. Thus, I’d tossed it out of my classroom for a while.
But it lingered in the back of my mind as the semesters continued because I had written this paper before I taught it. I loved the lessons I’d built for it. So with the opportunity to teach a fundamentals of reading and writing class, linked with my freshman composition class, I decided to revamp the assignment, make it longer, and focus it on writing creatively and for fun. Yes, they still have a purpose, but as children become adults, they’re taught to be less creative and more logical, more structured within what’s the right way or wrong way to do things rather than appealing to different learning styles…all right, this can descend into rant territory quite easily. I’ll save that for the classroom. But I do understand their frustrations when they ask me for the “right way to write their essay,” and I tell them that it’s depends on their interpretation of the prompt. Yeah, they love that.
Anyways, their new assignment is to write their own version of the fairy tale, much like the prompt we gave to our authors for After the Happily Ever After. During their initial drafts, I saw them grumble and struggle and hate it as much as any student hates homework. But by the end, each student exclaimed at the creativity the story allowed, how it was their favorite because they had fun developing their own stories and creating something meaningful of their own.
But enough about me and my students, my doubts and pride—let’s look at one of the lessons, which are always my favorite part.
Day One: We analyze adaptations (videos) of “Little Red Riding Hood.”
First, I summarize the version most of them remember from childhood. Red skips through the forest with a basket of treats for Grandma. The wolf intercepts, beats her to grandma’s house, gobbles grandma up, and waits for Red to show. She remarks on his eyes, ears, hands, and teeth and their size. The wolf pounces. A hunter sweeps in to save the day, either before or after Red was gobbled up, too. Everyone lives happily ever after, except for the wolf, who’s dead.
With this in mind, I note the two most general interpretations of the story:
-The red hood represents the sun, the wolf darkness (especially when she is swallowed), and being cut out is a rebirth.
-Transformation from childhood to adulthood or a sexual awakening—the red cloak represents menstruation or the hymen, the dark forest is seen as womanhood, and the wolf threatens the girl’s virginity and symbolizes man, a lover, seducer, or a sexual predator. And ultimately, entry into adulthood is biologically, not socially, determined.
Simple. Of course, they giggle when I mention sex and menstruation, but I’m far too used to that by now.
We move on to my YouTube play list.
This is a poem adaptation as well as a video adaptation. Again, we see the same themes for the first two minutes. At 2:20, we see the variance in more obvious ways with a wink at the popular take. This modernized version also makes Red her own hero rather than depicting her as a victim. Instead, she’s empowered. So I ask my students the ever-important question: Why?
This version plays a more distinctly satirical/parody of the tale. Hence the prologue, the sarcasm from Red, the not-so-cunning wolf, the bears…the silly moral of always giving wolves bad directions. The tone is the major difference. What does it say about the innocence or ignorance of children? If Red didn’t know the wolf was dangerous or understand how the world works, would she have gotten eaten instead?
Here we have a parody that borders ridiculousness. Well, saying borders may be a bit nice, but it’s a nice example of why students need to keep themselves from veering too far off track. This version also doesn’t comment on Red’s journey as much as they do on conspiracies, consumerism, and a culture they are more familiar with than they suspect.
Then, these two are connected in obvious ways,
Little honest tidbit, the first is my absolute favorite song, like ever. And these videos hold another double-whammy. We have the story on screen and the story in the song, they combine to not only sexualize Red, as in the original, but to typecast the males. One is either the wolf/beast/animal, or one is the harmless friend. Yet, I like to believe that the two are not mutually exclusive.
I love the reactions to this clip. How Johnny Depp is far creepier than the other wolves and how my students react to the question, why? What about him disturbs us so? Is it the dark colors, the crazy glint in Depp’s eyes, how he describes her flesh as plump, how he says “Hello, little girl,” or maybe his pedo-stache?
Another oldie but goodie. Red Hot Riding Hood reflects the turning point for women’s rights and thus a more modernized version that victimizes the wolf as a sorry sap and patsy for grandma to seduce. The phallic symbols and emasculation are prominent. Did you catch them? Hint: Watch his car during the chase.
This movie trailer, and the movie, is aware of the task at hand, and the differing storylines allows them to be a little meta. This is a great jumping off point for their own stories as we discuss perspective and how the truth for us is not the same truth for others, and both differ from the real/genuine truth, of which few of us truly experience.
Now, I will leave you how I leave my class after all of that hard analysis work. With the simple variation from Sesame Street, which shows how one small change can mean everything.
Want to dive into some whimsical variations and fractured fairy tales? Get your copy of After the Happily Ever After today. Add it to your New Year’s reading list.
Alisha is both an academic and a gritty genre girl. Her story, “She of Silken Scarves” throws Snow White and Cinderella’s stories together in the Charming Kingdom with a 007 twist. With the Zika Virus, Vaccinations, Chemtrails, and GMOs, the DWARVES rally to overthrow the elite. Feel free to follow her author dallyings on Facebook.
Got a different take or suggested interpretation for the story or adaptations above? Let Alisha know in the comments below, and she will add them to her discussion in class.
Photo Credit: “Red riding hood” by Ryky