Category: Children's Books

Sebastian Meschenmoser
Rotkäppchen hat keine Lust
[Little Red Riding Hood doesn't feel like it]


The wolf as the saviour of the story

Spoilsports can be irritating, but on occasion they can also be extremely useful. Every child has experienced the phenomenon. Someone in a game doesn’t do what he is supposed to do, and suddenly everything begins to fall apart. In Sebastian Meschenmoser’s new picture book ‘Rotkäppchen hat keine Lust’, it’s the heroine herself, Little Red Riding Hood, who refuses to play her appointed role. The child has a horror not for the walk through the forest, but for the boredom that will descend on her once she’s forced to look through her grandmother’s photo albums and - on top of that - put up with her banging on about her salad days.

The reader can tell from her determined gait and irritable look that Little Red Riding Hood is full of anger right from the start - so full, that there’s no room left in her for fear of the wolf. Indeed the dastardly creature himself is somewhat surprised to find things taking a very different turn on this occasion from the one prescribed by the Brothers Grimm in their fairy tale. The wolf therefore begins to take matters into his own hands once he realises to his horror that all the child has in her basket is a brick, a sock and a piece of chewing gum. What can he do to get the story back on track? - He bakes the birthday cake himself, and he picks the flowers for Granny by the forest’s edge.

It quickly becomes apparent that the wolf is the star of this story. On each page Meschenmoser has him exhibit a different demeanour, and these different forms of behaviour then collectively convey a sense of his richly nuanced inner life. Indeed the wolf is used to reflect a whole gallery of emotions: as page follows page we see curiosity, surprise, joy and expectation variously written across his face. We can only be impressed by the way that Sebastian Meschenmoser manages again and again to convey human attributes through the facial expressions of an animal.

The roles enacted in the story are defined anew. This Little Red Riding Hood is no timid little creature: her firm red cheeks, hefty plaits and unforgiving expression indicate that she’s not someone to tangle with. A similar Little Red Riding Hood was offered to us by Nikolaus Heidelbach in his edition of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales. For Meschenmoser it is the wolf who is the more childlike of the two protagonists, as we can see from the expectant, playful look in his eyes when he first sees Little Red Riding Hood, whereas she with her sturdy stride comes across more as a self-confident adult. Whilst the narrative here is completely self-contained - the wolf and the grandmother end up being more or less a loving couple - children will take even more delight in this book if they are already familar with the original version.

Backgrounds are depicted by Meschenmoser through his delicate use of water colour that proves very pleasing to the eye, with various shades of red exclusively used to delineate the key features, and we are readily captivated by his figurative realism. Given that his book requires us to depart from the traditional paths so familiar to us in fairy tales, we are forced to ask ourselves whether perhaps all stories couldn’t be re-told in completely fresh ways. Meschenmoser’s provocative book seeks to embolden its readers by showing them that it is perfectly legitimate to make use of familiar material in order to play around with it and take it in new directions. It thus falls to Little Red Riding Hood in her role as a temperamental spoilsport to see her own story in new terms. Children of today do experience their grandmothers differently from the way 19th century children did, and the frustrations inherent in this process do need to be spelt out for a change. Viewed in this light, Meschenmoser’s ‘sabotaging’ of the Little Red Riding Hood myth may well encourage readers to find delight in the story all over again.
Thomas Linden

By Thomas Linden, 21.03.2017

​Thomas Linden is a journalist (Kölnische Rundschau, WWW.CHOICES.DE) specializing in the areas of literature, theater and film. He also curates exhibitions on photography and picture book illustration.

Translated by John Reddick