Friday, March 2, 2012 | By: Brianna

Poetry Friday -- Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf

This Wednesday there was a themed poetry slam at my school organized by our performance poetry group.  The theme this time came off of the list of ideas that I sent ages ago, and it turned out to be "fairy tales."  Which was perfect for me because I love fairy tales.  Almost more than life itself.  Unfortunately, due to unforeseen and stressful circumstances, I was unable to write my very own fairy tale poems so I could participate in the poetry slam.  So...I just read during the open mic and I read this lovely poem by Roald Dahl called "Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf."  It's kinda awesome, which is why I chose to talk about it on this Poetry Friday.

Thank you, Google!
First of all, this poem rhymes.  Now I'm not usually a fan of rhyme unless 1) you are Dr. Seuss, 2) you're writing for children, 3) you're Moliere and this is Tartuffe OR 4) it's so well done that I don't even notice that it rhymed until after I'm done reading it.  Because Roald Dahl is neither Dr. Seuss nor Moliere, that leaves us at either writing for children or well done rhyme, both of which I believe this poem falls into.  Sure "Grandmamma" and "caviar" are more of a slant rhyme than a true rhyme, but the rest of the end rhymes help move the poem along.  The rhyme in this poem also goes hand in hand with the rhythm.  The rhythm is really a quite bouncy one which helps the poem move in a kind of sing-song fashion, which is fitting for the subject matter and the story that's being presented.  In fact, if this poem didn't use this type of rhyme or rhythm, it might sound odd or more foreboding, far less cheery.  Although foreboding would also be appropriate what with the talk of eating children, but that's beside the point...

Another thing that I noticed which I talked about last week in "Initiation" is the use of dialogue.  Dahl uses quotation marks and dialogue tags to signal when he's using dialogue, which is a tradition of fiction.  For instance, "And Wolfie said, 'May I come in?'"  Dialogue is absolutely essential in this poem in order to follow the "show, don't tell" rule and because of the traditional, "What great big ears you have, Grandma" that goes along with Red Riding Hood regardless of what version you're reading.  (Okay, so there are different versions, and maybe it's not exact, but we're not going there today.)  When reading this poem aloud, it's really easy to take on different voices for characters such as the wolf and Little Red because the dialogue tags alert the reader to who the speaker is going to be.  And who doesn't love a deep-voiced raspy wolf to chat with a high pitched and cheery Little Red?

This poem does a good job of riding the line of the traditional Red Riding Hood story before twisting it.  After Little Red makes all her usual observations, she says, "But Grandma, what a lovely great big furry coat you have on."  The wolf breaks the pretense of the poem by saying, "That's wrong!... / Have you forgot / To tell me what BIG TEETH I've got?"  This is particularly interesting to me because though the character doesn't explicitly acknowledge that he's a part of a story, he does acknowledge the original story by chiding Little Red for straying from the "script."  It's definitely one of the most fun things about this poem that the wolf corrects Little Red.  But Little Red strays so far from the script that she "whips a pistol from her knickers. / She aims it at the creature's head, / And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead."  And then we're left with a feisty Little Red in a wolfskin coat.  This departure from the original tale is plausible enough that the reader doesn't just throw the poem to the ground in disgust, and interesting enough that it retains the reader's attention and even earns the approval of the reader.  In short, what this poem does, it does very well.

1.  Write a rhyming spin-off of a traditional fairy tale.  Keep in mind rules of rhythm and rhyme, and try not to use lame rhymes if you can help it.  Think "Grandmamma" and "caviar"...
2.  Use some dialogue if you haven't already.  Signify it with italics or quotation marks, but probably not both.
3.  At the very end of this poem, the storyteller references himself (we're going with the masculine pronoun because of Dahl...) as "I" who ran into Little Red in the wood.  Write something in which the narrator appears in the action but as an observer or a commentator after the fact.
4.  Write about wolves.  Or what if the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood was actually...a bear?  Or a leopard?  What would happen then?
5.  Write this story from Granny's perspective.

"The small girl smiles.  One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature's head,
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead."
- Roald Dahl, "Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf"


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