The encounter with the wolf is far more frightening than the brothers Grimm would have their readers believe. The girl is attacked ferociously, forced to defend herself with whatever is at hand. A stick, a rock, her own hands. The wolf finally flees and the little girl continues on toward her destination.
Far from a simple rustic cabin, the woman she has been sent to lives in a lavish home. Smoke is rising from the chimney as she approaches, still trembling from her encounter, and she enters the home in search of warmth and comfort.
The woman is not confined to bed, does not appear ill at all. She bears the marks from a fight, bruised about the face and neck. Her eyebrow is split from a fierce blow, though her clothing bears no stain or tear. The woman invites the girl to sit, but the girl is frightened. Here comes the litany of observations from the astute young girl, which is included in each retelling of this time-worn tale.
"What big ears..."
"What big eyes..."
"What big hands..."
In the stories, the grandmother's place has been usurped by the wolf. In truth, the older woman and the wolf are one and the same. She waited many years until she decided the girl was ready to reveal her true nature. She transforms in front of the girl to prove what she is saying is the truth. The girl attempts to flee but, in her fright, feels the Change coming over her as well. She becomes a wolf, like the older woman.
She wakes later, unsure of what has transpired. The older woman feeds her, soothes her, and wraps her in the only clothing that didn't tear when the girl transformed: her red hooded cloak. She promises to keep the girl safe and teach her to properly use her gift.
In the stories that are told to children, the little girl and her 'grandmother' are cast as victims. The naïve little girl is fooled, the grandmother devoured, the brave hunter saves the day.
In reality, the girl and her mentor are the darkness that lurks in the woods. The women are what the hunter fears when the sky begins to darken. They are the things other children are told to fear when the sun goes down.
There have always been wolves in the woods.
-- excerpt from Karl Magnusson's unpublished collection of essays, Canidae in the Modern World, collected 1933