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Hunting grounds

When a setting like the woods is used in a fairy tale, the author wants us to feel something in particular. Watch Caroline Webb give us some context.
It’s worth thinking about the associations the forest had for Perrault and his contemporaries. Throughout the Middle Ages the forests had been thought of and used - treated - as an outlying space, a space beyond the safe space where human beings lived. Gradually with the development of agriculture, the tilling of fields, the raising of herd animals like sheep and cows more and more space was cleared in Western Europe. The forests were the remaining space.
At some times in some countries the forests were preserved by law as places for the king and his barons, his nobles, to hunt for game animals like deer (for venison, the meat), wild boar (pork) and generally to enjoy themselves so they were set aside as that preserves for leisure. But allowing deer and wild boar - which are themselves quite dangerous - also meant allowing space for more dangerous wild animals that were not eaten like foxes and wolves and even for allowing outlawed men. In …
during the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance - the times we’re talking about - it was still possible for men who were outlawed from their own territory, whether initially by their local baron or later on by the king, to take refuge in the forest. In England we have the stories of Robin Hood and his band of merry men hiding out in the Lincolnshire woods. That’s the idea of outlaws. The forest that Little Red Riding Hood has to pass through on the way from her house to Grandmother’s in the next village would, in the minds of Perrault’s readers, be a threatening space, a fearful space.
So Little Red Riding Hood - the innocent child - there’s nothing wrong but for Perrault’s readers the forest is itself a signal of something bad and as soon as we meet the wolf we know what that something is.

In this video, I discussed the idea of the forest or woods as a dangerous space.

Back to nature

What idea do you have of the forest, woods, or bush? How do people now think about the untamed natural environment?

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Fairy Tales: Meanings, Messages, and Morals

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