Red Riding Hood (2011), by Sarah Blakey-Cartwright and David Leslie Johnson

A novelization of a new movie directed by Catherine Hardwick (Twilight saga), Red Riding Hood presents a collage of modern sensibilities and traditional fairy-tale tropes and setting.  Valerie, the protagonist, is a loner, Grandmother lives in a treehouse in the forest, apart from the rest of the village, and the two young men who vie for Valerie’s hand—Henry and Peter—represent stereotypic male types: the physically strong but psychologically weak, and the tall dark handsome “stranger.”  The plot is one of medieval persecution of the witch-hunt variety, but quite well written and engaging.  The blend of modern psychological knowledge (of Claude, the simpleton, being merely different, not cursed) with Father Solomon’s combination of righteousness and superstition creates a conflict for Valerie—and the reader—on a number of levels.  In the end, we do not know, really, who the wolf is.  Or how long it has been haunting the village. I think this was the greatest flaw in the text, for me: the werewolf story genre necessitates some sort of underlying moral, ethical, or social message, and I find this element completely lacking.  Its absence is not obvious, though, until the final pages, and throughout the text the wondering continues, as we do bond with the characters (interestingly, all of the main players).  In the end, we are left wondering how things stand to too great a degree.  I prefer a text that allows the reader to think, but arrive at a solid conclusion—even if this seems to be authorial manipulation—rather than ending the reading experience feeling that I don’t have sufficient knowledge to extrapolate into the phase space of the narrative.

I think I need to see the movie, which I suspect will lead the viewer more solidly towards an unequivocal position.

Addendum (and spoiler alert):  Having seen the movie, I am not more impressed with this interpretation of that narrative. We do discover who the werewolf is: Valerie’s father.  In saving Valerie, Peter is bitten. He leaves the community while he learns to deal with his condition, and the final sense is his return, in werewolf form, with Valerie welcoming him with an overtly sexual gaze.  The moral seems to be: no matter how violent your lover becomes, no matter what he does to others, even the werewolf can be tolerated for “love.”

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