Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf by Roald Dahl

Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf

As soon as Wolf began to feel
That he would like a decent meal,
He went and knocked on Grandma's door.
When Grandma opened it, she saw
The sharp white teeth, the horrid grin,
And Wolfie said, "May I come in?"
Poor Grandmamma was terrified,
"He's going to eat me up!" she cried.
And she was absolutely right.
He ate her up in one big bite.
But Grandmamma was small and tough,
And Wolfie wailed, "That's not enough!
I haven't yet begun to feel
That I have had a decent meal!"
He ran around the kitchen yelping,
"I've got to have a second helping!"

Then added with a frightful leer,
"I'm therefore going to wait right here
Till Little Miss Red Riding Hood
Comes home from walking in the wood."

He quickly put on Grandma's clothes,
(Of course he hadn't eaten those).
He dressed himself in coat and hat.
He put on shoes, and after that,
He even brushed and curled his hair,
Then sat himself in Grandma's chair.

In came the little girl in red.
She stopped. She stared. And then she said,
"What great big ears you have, Grandma."
"All the better to hear you with,"
the Wolf replied.
"What great big eyes you have, Grandma."
said Little Red Riding Hood.
"All the better to see you with,"
the Wolf replied.
He sat there watching her and smiled.
He thought, I'm going to eat this child.
Compared with her old Grandmamma,
She's going to taste like caviar.

Then Little Red Riding Hood said,
"But Grandma, what a lovely great big
furry coat you have on."

"That's wrong!" cried Wolf.
"Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I've got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I'm going to eat you anyway."

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.

A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, "Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat."
--Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl wrote several of these fairy tale poems in his book Revolting Rhymes. It's a fun read for kids that are old enough to know the original stories well enough to get a kick out of them being turned on their heads. I first found this poem in a collection of children's stories and poems by famous authors. I used it as one of the poems I read to my 4th grade Drama and Dance classes during Poetry Week at Lowell.

There are several things I like about the poem. First, it has an easy conversational rhythm that is just prominent enough to remind you that somebody worked on it and decided on each of these words. At the same time, he sacrifices his rhythm entirely when the characters are speaking their traditional lines. The point of this poem is that we know how the story goes -- until it goes in a completely different direction. Leaving in lines like, "All the better to hear you with," lulls the reader into a ice false sense of security.

Then there are the rhymes. Mostly, they're single syllable solid rhymes that any child might come up with in a rhyming game. Occasionally, though, he throws in something that doesn't quite work unless you've got an accent that tacks r's on to the end of some words that have them and drops them from the ends of words that do (for example, "Compared with her old Grandmamma, She's going to taste like caviar).

Finally, of course, there's the surprise ending: "The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers. She whips a pistol from her knickers." Suddenly, she's not the familiar little girl from the fairy tale anymore. But in a very few words she's something just as familiar -- she's the sharp-shooting, sly, wise-cracking hero of the Westerns and cop shows we see all the time on TV. It's so masterfully done that it's no wonder his works are still very popular among readers and moviegoers alike.

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