The year I started middle school, that song was always on the radio: Hey there, Little Red Riding Hood, You sure are lookin’ good, You’re everything a big, bad wolf could want…
At the time, I was into bouncing around the house wearing my worn and scruffy go-go boots (they slide easily across the wooden floors) and not analyzing the lyrics. But listening to the song years later, it seems as if the singer aka the wolf is preying on the young girl via lies and deception so he can take advantage of her.
Angela Carter (1940-1992) was a British writer, magical realism style, who challenged the way women were treated in fairy tales. In The Bloody Chamber, Angela borrowed themes from Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, and Alice in Wonderland for her story “Wolf-Alice”.
Alice was raised by wolves and has no idea that she’s human. Then one day hunters invaded the wolf den where she’d been raised. Her foster mother, a wolf, was riddled with bullets shot by the hunters. Initially the hunters thought Alice a cub. But when they realized she was a human, they took her to the nuns who washed and scrubbed her hoping to turn Alice into a human again. But when the Mother Superior tried “to teach her to give thanks for her recovery from the wolves,” Alice expressed no thanks preferring to scratch the floor or crouch in the corner where she defecated in front of the nuns. Poor Alice only reminded the nuns that not all prayers are meant to be answered. So they sent Alice packing off to live with the Duke in his castle.
The Duke was a strange dude. He was so old that his skin, like weathered parchment, looked like it could easily crack if he were to sneeze. He slept in an antlered bed and opened his eyes only “to devour the world in which he sees, nowhere, a reflection of himself.”
Alice, now living with the Duke and his strange habits, has her own habits, too. Her panting tongue hangs out her hands and knees calloused from walking on all fours, and her poor nose, in hopes of better understanding her new environment, keeps her nose quivering as she continues to sniff the world around her.
She, herself, sleeps in the warm ashes of the hearth” curled up like a cat then wakes up to sweep the floors and make the Duke’s bed. And, “like the wild beasts, she lives without a future. She inhabits only the present tense…”
One day when Alice was exploring the castle, she bumped into a mirror. Alice was so lonely that she “rubbed her head against her reflected face” hoping to make friends.
did the nuns place Alice, a young girl despite her wolf-like behaviour, in such an ambiguous and potentially dangerous situation. Thrown to the wolves…had they not consulted God in their prayers?
At night while the Duke was roaming the graveyards, Alice explored the castle. A favorite pastime such trying on the gowns once worn by the Duke’s grandmother. By now, “her relation with the mirror was now far more intimate since she knew she saw herself within it.”
One night “she trotted out in her new dress to investigate the odorous October hedgerows like a debutante from the castle.” Alice walks by the church where “the congregation in the church was ineffectually attempting to imitate the wolves’ chorus” in an attempt to lure the Duke so “intent on performing his cannibal rituals.”
…she’s enjoyed her reflection wearing the wedding dress so she goes out and wanders towards town. A young bridegroom is plotting the duke’s death—revenge for the duke killing his wife. People in the church are changing as the duke approaches…he’s bombarded with holy water and silver bullets.
The reeking scent of the church incense made Alice, dressed as a bride, suspicious so she starts to run. Then a battery of silvery bullets fly towards the Duke. Seeing the Duke wounded, Alice jumps from behind the tombstones and runs towards the castle with a limping werewolf running behind her.
Humans cannot understand the Duke. They want to kill the beast because they can’t understand he has no choice. It is his nature.
Once lying on his black bed, the wound duke howls in pain. Alice, suspicious, prowls around his bed. She remembered her own pain and how her adopted mother, a wolf, used to lick her wounds (Animals instinctively respond to injury in other animals by licking their wounds). So Alice, without hesitation, began to like the Duke’s face. And, as she continued to lick, the Duke’s reflection slowly became visible in the mirror.