10 Similarities of Myth of Persephone with a Fairy Tale Red Riding Hood

by Tolovaj

What are the resemblances of Red Riding Hood and Persephone? Can we say the popular fairy tale is actually a retelling of old Greek myth in a simplified way, suitable for children?

Brothers Grimm devoted substantial parts of their lives to prove the fairy tales originate in old myths. It seems Little Red Cap really shares a lot with an old Greek mythological story about the abduction of Persephone.

It's not only the basic plot, the tension between the bestial evil darkness and fresh naive youth, or the dynamics between the relatives in the story. It's also a story about trickery, responsibility, and consequences of wrong decisions - for everybody involved.

Let's look at 10 typical elements, shared by both well-known stories and see if the story about Little Red Riding Hood and Big Bad Wolf just brings the myth about Persephone and Hades in a new form!

1. An absent father

We all know how important is the role of the father in the child's raising. Persephone is obviously growing up alone with her mother Demeter just like Red Riding Hood grows up alone with her mother. Considering the supernatural powers of Demeter, who is one of the most important goddesses in Greek Pantheon, we can easily assign some superpowers to Red Cap's mother as well. The power of anyone's mother is definitely the first ultimate power experienced by the majority of children.

demeter-mourning

2. The inability of both mothers to protect their kids

Nobody, not even a super mother, can't protect a child from all dangers in the world. While Demeter and Red Cap's mom both warn their daughter from the dangers in the world, none of the girls succeeded to stay safe when confronted with The Beast. The wolf and Hades are simply too smart and too powerful for them.

Here we find one of the most important messages in all stories for and about children: no matter what the parents do, kids will make mistakes. In the case of our stories, these are the capital errors.

3 The confrontation of three stages in human's life.

Youth is represented by Red Cap and Persephone. They are young, energetic, and careless. They both face very important changes in their lives. Their decisions will mark them for the rest of their lives.

Adulthood is portrayed through Red Cap's mother and Demeter. They both want best fro their offspring but are very limited in their influence. Mothers simply can't be there for their children all the time.

The old age is presented by granny and Hades. Granny is weak and ill. Her life force is slowly vanishing. Hades is the god of death. They both represent the end of life.

rembrandt-proserpine-and-hades
Do you see the myth of Persephone and the fairy tale Little Red Cap as two versions of the same tale?
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4 Plan by Viscous Forces

Hades makes a plan with Zeus and wolf makes a plan to overtake the Red Riding Hood. Both are very powerful but understand their supremacy would be even greater with a plan ahead.

5 Trickery

While the wolf and Hades could directly attack their victims, they rather trick them (and others - Red Cap had support in her granny, Persephone in Oceanids). Both holders of evil forces clearly understand they should not bet on their brute power only. Being smart can also be a decisive advantage.

It's interesting to note both used flowers in their deceptions.

red-riding-hood-picking-flowers

6 Flowers

Picking flowers as a symbolic representation of life is present in both stories. When the flower is picked, it's killed, just like the youthfulness of both girls is ended. Persephone strays from the group thanks to a beautiful flower and Red Riding Hood strays from the shortest path to her grandmother's home. Thanks to that they both fell into the hands of the predators.

big-bad-wolf-attacks-red-cap
Did you notice artists preferred to paint Persephone with red hair?
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This way Persephone and Red Cap look similar to each other even more.

7 Light against darkness

The symbolic fight between light and darkness, day and night, summer and winter, life and death, good and evil, ... is shown in both stories in a very graphical way. The girl is eaten by the wolf. Her day instantly turns into night, just like at Persephone, who is abducted by Hades and transported into the underworld. They are both literally swallowed by darkness.

But both eventually came back. While the collision of light and darkness is presented as a conflict which needs an instant and definitive solution at first we can later understand it more as a way to find a balance between both. There is no light without darkness or life without death.

proserpina-kidnapped-by-haddes

8 Food as the link between life and death

Red Riding Hood is carrying food to her granny so she could heal up. Food is also a reason for the wolf's death.

Food (pomegranate seed) is the reason why Persephone can't leave Hades for good. Everybody who eats food in the underworld has to stay there forever. On the other hand, Zeus, as a supreme god declared she could return home, to Demeter. So the food acts as the link between both laws - she spends some time on earth and some time under.

red-cap-with-food
Red Cap by Albert Ankler
persephone-with-food
Persephone by Anthony Frederick Sandys

9 Act of God (higher power)

In both stories, the girl falls in seemingly in unsolvable position. Red Cap obviously can't escape from wolf's stomach and Persephone can't leave the underworld.

But higher power interferes:

A hunter (often represented as a surrogate of Red Riding Hood's father) comes by, hears the wolf's snoring and decides to take action. Without this additional character, the story would end with the wolf's lunch.

Zeus (Persephone's real father), convinced by catastrophe, caused by Demeter's mourning, orders Hades (who, by the way, is his brother and doesn't listen any kind of orders) to return Persephone. Thanks to already mentioned pomegranate she can't leave for more than six or nine months. Without Zeus, she would stay in the underworld forever.

slaying-of-the-wolf-in-red-cap

10 Rebirth

A motif of rebirth is quite often in myths and fairy tales. The question of death and what comes next is very important for people for millenniums. The myth of Persephone clears the fear about the winter which brings coldness and hunger - it will be over and spring will return on earth.

The story of Red Cap tells the same. But it can be also understood as the eternal play between day and night, or, especially since Christianity, the question of death. It's an essential belief of all Christians - everybody who dies will eventually return to some kind of life.

return-of-proserpine
Updated: 08/13/2019, Tolovaj
 
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Should we mention another similarity of both stories?

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Tolovaj on 09/04/2019

Well, Mira, maybe I should add the so-called Japonism heavily influenced art in Europe, especially painters - Walter Crane (Arts & Crafts) was one of the typical representatives among artists who loved the contrasts by which wooden blocks became popular. Pre-Raphaelites who seemed to be very much in love with red too, liked art from Japan as well.

This persisted for many years (actually it can still be found in every artistic sphere, but today thanks to globalization, and we are more familiar with anime and similar stuff...).

Impressionists incorporated many ideas from Japonism to their work too. If we know some of their works became the most expensive works ever, this probably cause some kind of chain-reaction, but I am not educated enough for that kind of anticipation.

Mira on 08/25/2019

Red and the Sun! They're connected in China and Asia, yes, but not so much in Western culture. Yes, maybe fire, but not quite the Sun. And yet Persephone with red hair is intriguing. Look forward to your article :)

Tolovaj on 08/22/2019

Thanks, Mira for some interesting points. As far as immortality is concerned, we can definitely find it in both stories. I am working on article about different interpretations of the Red Cap and several of them are about immortality of the title character, being it interpreted as a Sun, Jesus, or time of the year. The menstrual blood is connected with this issue as well - blood gives life and blood can mean death too. Red is most likely connected with Sun, what leads us to life (all known life depends on Sun energy), life can carry on only through some kind of rebirth, having kids or something like that ...

Mira on 08/19/2019

I enjoyed reading this, but it would probably be useful to point out dissimilarities as well. Persephone lives forever, whereas this girl has a clear journey that ends in rebirth. She will only take this journey once. Then Persephone was a goddess of fertility. By the way, do you think Persephone's red hair and the red cap may point to fertility? As renewal through menstruation and -- important for this story -- blood? It may be pushing it too far, but I did read at some point about menstruation in various cultures and it has quite a powerful symbolism.

Tolovaj on 08/14/2019

Hi, DerdriuMariner, thanks for stopping by. I think the message of both stories is the same - our actions will change us and determine our future. Persephone and Red Cap are both 'saved', but their lives can't ever be the same again. There is no clear winner here.

It's hard to say how the myth evolved into a fairy tale, because there is a huge gap (many centuries) between the first known versions of both.

As far as the boy who went into the kingdom of dead is concerned, I am not familiar with a particular tale, but Grimms have a version of the boy who needs to get three hairs of the Devil and there are also several myths related to the underworld, but all I can remember at the moment are the ones where somebody wants to get out, or take something (or somebody) out, not going in. If I bump on the version, you mentioned, I'll send you a note.

Take care.

DerdriuMarriner on 08/13/2019

Tolovaj, Thank you for the persuasive images, information and product.
Are we supposed to believe in a happy or tolerable ending for Persephone as just as, less or more happy with Hades than with Demeter?
Do we know how the Persephone myth moved into the lands of the Little Red Riding Hood tale? Do we know if the Greek myth goes further back to some borrowing from, or transmission through, some other ancient culture, such as Alexander the Great's Trojan, Oedipus' Phoenician or some Greeks' Egyptian ancestral homelands?
In another -- but related in terms of being about myths -- direction, do you know about the story of the boy who carried a letter to the kingdom of the dead? Ismail Kadare says that it only exists as an Albanian or a Chinese tale.

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