The Horror Story We All Know: Stephen Graham Jones on Little Red, Paths, and American Backpackers

This is a fantastic essay by the amazing Stephen Graham Jones on age-old horror.

So two guys are walking across the moors.

Yeah, you’ve heard this one.

Couple of young Americans are backpacking through Europe, and they duck in out of the cold, find themselves in the newly made quiet of a very local bar, where they get what turns out to be some pretty sage advice: beware the moon, keep clear of the moors, and, most important, stay on the road.

This is a story older than either them, the locals, or what we call Europe.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when and where we started telling ourselves the Little Red Riding Hood story, but the why is pretty easy: it espouses the safety of the village, the urban, over the known dangers of the unknown forest—the rural, where the hills always have eyes. It’s an admonition we know well, and we don’t even need stories or parents or scary wolves to feel its truth. We just have to listen to our inner ear, each time we’re walking across a bridge, a plank, a log: the middle is where safety is. The only thing to either side is a fall. The only thing off-path, it’s some version of death. It’s a balancing act we’ve even encoded into our religions. Buddhism’s Middle Path between austerity and hedonism, say, or Christianity’s Jesus, who’s neither man nor god, but right in that beatific middle.

Little Red Riding Hood feels true to us in a way we don’t even think to question. Because of that, it’s circled the globe time and again. Any meme should hope to go so viral. It’s the cautionary tale we hold the most dear, it’s the one that’s had the longest legs, it’s the one that doesn’t lose anything when it’s adapted into culture after culture, era after era, and you keep on finding versions of it the deeper you dig into history, into folktales—into us.

The rest is here over at Highly, highly recommended.

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