Thursday, December 6, 2012

Little Red Riding Hood and the Philosopher's Stone?

Remember this post about the significance of the colors in the art of Little Red Riding Hood?  I think this excellent article by John Patrick Pazdziora could shed more light on why colors in LRRH, and all fairy tales, create such powerful imagery.*

John Hoffman

Given the hypothesis that Snow White is an alchemist's tale**, what happens if we apply the same theory of colors and transformation to Little Red Riding Hood?

Thoughts, readers?  The stage is yours.

*  Also see this article dealing with a similar subject as applied to Disney's Tangled.

**  And therefore opening it up, I believe, rather than limiting it, to all sorts of significant interpretation.  There's the beginning of a thought here on the transformative power of stories that is shiver-good.  Mr. Pazdiora's concluding line that fairy tales are not meant to be questioned because they question us strikes very near my own sentiments.



  1. I love your winter backdrop! It's beautiful.

    I'm no expert, but in conventional versions of the tale, isn't Red Riding Hood eaten by the wolf and then cut out of it by a lumberjack? Death and rebirth are an important part of the alchemical cycle, so it wouldn't surprise me at all to think that the tale bears that influence.

    1. Thank you!

      And great point. That hadn't even occurred to me. Maybe she had to earn that red hood by walking through the white woods and "dying" in the stomach of the black wolf.

  2. I agree. I like the imagery of death and rebirth you both mentioned. And 'dying' in the stomach of the wolf is a great thought. As far alchemy goes, I think there is a lot going on in this tale. John mentions the marriage of oppositions in alchemy. In the Little Red Riding Hood tale, there are a couple of contraries that fuse together:
    male and female (the wolf and Red)
    young and old (grandmother and young Red)
    death and life (what Jenna has already mentioned- death and rebirth)

    The wolf definitely is part of the Nigredo stage. The first words Red Cap says after she is freed (or re-born) is "how frightened I have been! How dark it was inside the wolf!"
    I don't know quite what to do with the Albedo stage.

    Alchemy is also about the soul rising to meet the spirit and the spirit descending to meet the soul. At the end, the wolf is a symbol of a soul which will never ascend to meet its spirit . His body is laden with heavy stones and he cannot physically or spiritually rise.
    I'm still trying to wrap my head around everything that literary alchemy is, so hopefully this makes sense. Thank you for sparking my thoughts!

    1. Absolutely, and thank you for your comments! If you come across any good reading or further thoughts on literary alchemy, please share!

      Remind me, which is the Albedo stage?

  3. Hmm..I think alchemy is really popular right now, but I don't know that I'm convinced it's a part of Little Red Riding Hood, or any fairy tale. Red, white, and black are such basic colors, they don't need alchemy to explain their prominence in any tale. Alchemy aside, they're all basic power colors, you can do anything magically with them, their all proctective in some way and they all easy passage between worlds in some way - not because of any achemical status, but simply because of what they do.. I feel like adding alchemy adds too much confusion to something simple. But those are just my thoughts, and I'm a little biased against alchemy - it's just too much work ;)

    1. I think I understand where you're coming from. Colors have a power all their own, there's no need to attach them to a specific philosophy.

      I haven't studied literary alchemy or Jungian alchemy, though I have a basic understanding of alchemy's history, and I take it as follows:

      alchemy is just another (though powerful) human expression of our noticings of the world around us. The life-death-rebirth obsession of alchemy is by no means exclusive to it. (Like Chesterton's saying that just because there is a dying god from one culture, doesn't mean that the other culture stole the dying god idea--it's naturally occurring anywhere there is human imagination).

      So, in my view, if alchemy has anything to say about fairy tales, it is inasmuch as those primary aspects of it have to do with them--transformation, overcoming death, and the key to life and creation. xo

  4. I think the alchemic reading can be translated into more modern views about story structure (take the basic 'beginning, middle, end' idea as a starting point!) however I think the alchemic attachment is more interesting as these ideas would have been around at the time of writing (I think..?) Also, the colour association that goes with it adds an extra layer of meaning, and I think the article on Snow White is fascinating - I'm going to be looking for those colours in everything now! (Doesn't the little mermaid appear on land from white sea foam, and at the end have her feet shredded into bloody tatters? Oh no, I'll be doing this for hours...)


Don't be shy. Leave a comment!