Universal, timeless Rotkäppchen


The Hannibal Blog has opined before on the universality of certain stories and story characters, the so-called archetypes, even citing the Grimm fairy tales as an example once.

This appears to be a hot topic of research. Jag Bhalla (to whom The Hannibal Blog increasingly outsources the more intensive research into matters linguistic and narrative ;)) now points us to new theories by anthropologists who have apparently constructed the equivalent of genealogical family trees for humanity’s oldest stories.

Jamie Tehrani

Jamie Tehrani

Dr Jamie Tehrani, a cultural anthropologist at Durham University, studied 35 versions of Little Red Riding Hood from around the world. Whilst the European version tells the story of a little girl who is tricked by a wolf masquerading as her grandmother, in the Chinese version a tiger replaces the wolf. In Iran, where it would be considered odd for a young girl to roam alone, the story features a little boy. Contrary to the view that the tale originated in France shortly before Charles Perrault produced the first written version in the 17th century, Dr Tehrani found that the varients shared a common ancestor dating back more than 2,600 years.

He said: “Over time these folk tales have been subtly changed and have evolved just like an biological organism.” …

Dr Tehrani … identified 70 variables in plot and characters between different versions of Little Red Riding Hood…. The original ancestor is thought to be similar to another tale, The Wolf and the Kids, in which a wolf pretends to be a nanny goat to gain entry to a house full of young goats. Stories in Africa are closely related to this original tale, whilst stories from Japan, Korea, China and Burma form a sister group. Tales told in Iran and Nigeria were the closest relations of the modern European version.

(And once again, permit me to add paranthetically but immodestly that I am attempting in my forthcoming book to narrate just such an archetypal storyline about success, failure & reversal in life.)

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One thought on “Universal, timeless Rotkäppchen

  1. This piece, and your one (or ones) about the Ur-story, show that the development of the story or fable follows the principles of evolution generally. Thus the original story, or amoeba, or whatever, started off being very simple, then evolved through splitting off into more and more sub-groups (or genres), and becoming more and more complex as time went on.

    So also with religions…….and……….flying machines………and………..

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