The Company of Wolves
“The Company of Wolves” by Angela Carter follows the story line of the classic children’s fairytale “Little Red Riding Hood” which is known universally in the western world. Despite the relationship between the two stories, “The Company of Wolves” has cunningly been written with an eerie atmosphere and plot twists to engage the reader. Reinvented into a gothic fantasy, the story highlights Red Riding Hood’s innocence and uses the Wolf as a metaphor for men to position the reader to react differently than the classic fairytale.
It becomes obvious to the reader that the story is based upon the well known fairy tale ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ but Carter has twisted the innocent children’s story into a extravagant gothic fantasy which positions the reader to grasp a greater understanding of the events leading up to the climax and the background in general. The stylist choices of magic realism differ from the classic denotation of fantasy because realistic frameworks of the real world are twisted with the supernatural resulting in murderous, sadistic or brutal situations; in this instance Red Riding Hood engaging in sexual acts with the Wolf.
From the beginning the reader is fully aware of the stylistic choice of gothic fantasy, “One beast and only one beast howls in the woods by night” is typical of gothic tales as woods are usually portrayed as a dangerous and a forbidding setting, but also provides emphasis through repetition of ‘one beast’ and ‘only one’ to draw the reader’s attention onto the fact that the Wolf is important and plays a significant role in the story.
A common aspect of gothic tales is winter which is the setting of the story, as shown through distribution of the words ‘snow’, ‘Christmas’, ‘Robin’, ‘blizzard’ and ‘cold’ throughout the story which are classic connotations relative to the season. The stylistic choice made by Carter in relation to the classic fairy style creates an eerie atmosphere and positions the reader to question if they really know the plot of the story.
Little Red Riding Hood is portrayed as an innocent little girl in the classic fairy tale which is carried through into Carters version with a few twists. Initially Little Red’s innocence is clearly defined as her virginal status is described using metaphors as ‘She is an unbroken egg; she is a sealed vessel’ and her physical appearance resembles that of a young girl ‘hair like lint, pale forehead, scarlet cheeks’. Since she has ‘started her woman’s bleeding’ it is safe to assume that her shawl is symbolic to represents just that or her innocence as she nters this period of her life. As the story progresses Little Red does not hesitate to hand over her basket when ‘he [the Wolf] offered to carry her basket’, assuming the basket is a symbol used to represents her virginity this scene illustrates how uneducated girls in this era were about sex and the risk it posed to them. Little Red is not hesitant about handing over her basket because she has no clue about what the Wolf is doing, although she does not know what was about to happen to her he certainly does.
At this specific point in the story the reader is positioned to re-evaluate the innocence of the girl, questioning whether the wolf is taking advantage of her or whether she knows what she wants. Regarding Little Red’s shawl representing her innocence, nearing the end of the story the Wolf exclaims in reply to her asking what to do with it choice of diction, “Throw it into the fire, dear one.
You won’t need it again,” clearly distinguishes that he has taken her innocence and virginity and that there is no way for it to be reversed; ‘fire’ representing an irreversible doing. The innocence of Little Red has inevitably been taken away and no long exists to the reader, the reader will no longer be able to read the original version without the constant reminder of Little Red’s deterioration of innocence in Carters version. Carter, being a classic feminist, has shaped the Wolf into a metaphor of the negative side to men.
To begin ‘One beast and only one beast howls in the woods’, in particularly the repetition of ‘one’ and ‘only one’ provides emphasis upon the fact that there is only one wolf and that he is an important asset to the story, perhaps the fact that the story could not function without this male character which makes him very important and dominant. Carter has used this to mirror her opinion that men, or some men, have a mindset that a women’s life could not function without them. The wolf is quick to ‘offer[ered] to carry her basket’, which is a symbol of her virginity.
These actions demonstrate Carters opinion on men thinking they can dominate women especially since the Wolf knew exactly what he was doing relative to Little Red who was oblivious to his actions because she is uneducated on sex. The Wolf is conveyed by the reader as a vicious sexual predator out to claim young girl’s virginity, which positions them to feel sympathetic for Little Red who represents women. The dominancy of the Wolf taking the girls virginity is pursued near the end of the story as the Wolf orders her to, “Throw it [shawl] on the fire, dear one.
You won’t need it again,” which is significant because the shawl represents her virginity which has now been burnt. The diction of the phrase ‘dear one’ is effective because it demonstrates how a man can pretend to care about a girls feelings and be sweet in order to manipulate her into doing something to his advantage. By this point in the story the reader has been positioned to view the Wolf differently from the one that gets killed in the traditional story to a dominant male character who has no respect for Little Red.
Once the reader has read “The Company of Wolves” they definitely won’t be able to see the classic “Little Red Riding Hood” in the same light again. Reinvented into a gothic fantasy, the story highlights Red Riding Hood’s innocence and uses the Wolf as a metaphor for men to position the reader to react differently than the classic fairytale. The story however does not necessarily have only negative outcomes because it could make the reader to think deeper about how other characters in different fairytales have been portrayed and how they can challenge the expectations they have been placed in.