Most of us have probably come across the story of Little Red Riding at some point during our childhood. The Red Rider can be read as a legitimate sequel that takes things in an entirely new direction. Get ready to see the classic tale reimagined as you’ve never seen it before. What if the “wolf” was something else entirely? Something far more sinister – and only one of many?
What if Red Riding Hood hunted werewolves?
The above premise is what instantly drew me in to this book. I consider The Red Rider an outstanding example of what Hollywood screenwriter John Truby calls “undercutting the genre.” Basically, every story genre makes use of a “symbol web” composed of images (symbols) with special power that has value to the audience. Arthurian lore, for example, has the recognizable symbols of the Round Table, Excalibur, etc. A masterful storyteller can take advantage of audience familiarity and twist these symbols around so they defy expectations – in this case transforming a children’s fairy tale into a supernatural action thriller with a Zorro-style vigilante. The idea of re-purposing classic stories is one that has always fascinated me – what if you allowed a reader to simultaneously experience a familiar childhood wonder right alongside the more heightened emotions of the thriller genre? I hope to explore this concept in my own writing someday, and I congratulate author Randall Allen Dunn for blazing the trail.
A “werewolf” theme actually fits quite well with the original Little Red Riding Hood story when you think about it. The Red Rider further expands things by taking the werewolf legend itself back to its original roots. Hollywood has so transformed the concept in modern times that we often entirely forget that the werewolf of historical folklore is not the unwilling victim of a curse but a sorcerer acting out of malevolence. The book is therefore not simply a monster story but an epic clash of good and evil portrayed in overtly Christian spiritual terms. I was reminded at many points throughout the narrative of the following passage from Proverbs:
There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men. (Proverbs 30:14)
In my view, a well-written monster or horror story takes the imagery of this verse and portrays it in concrete terms. Taken literally, terms like “teeth as swords” and “jaw teeth as knives” imply an image quite close to things like vampires, werewolves, and all manner of imagined beings. It illustrates a key point – all these things are merely externalized manifestations of the evil existing within human beings.
The narrative itself immediately drew me into the heroine’s story. Haunted by a nightmarish encounter with a “wolf that spoke” Red Riding Hood – “Helena” – carries physical scars marking her as an outcast in her village community. She soon becomes the only one who can defend her home against a monstrous force – the same that devoured her grandmother and marred her own face. The character’s arc is well-drawn and compelling. One can literally feel her frustration and rage at the passivity of those around her in the face of evil running rampant. This actually made the book itself a somewhat frustrating experience due to the constant resistance the protagonists faces from those on her own side. Ultimately, there is only one person with the will to stand up and fight back: Helena herself. It reminded me of a point I’ve made elsewhere: horror is passive – outrage is active.
One other thing I appreciated is that the story avoids reliance on profanity or graphic sexual content (there is one scene where a villain character is clearly contemplating rape, but that’s as far as it goes). There is a high degree of violence, which more sensitive readers might find to be a bit much, but I wouldn’t call it gratuitous.
I do have some quibbles, of course. The characters’ dialogue tends to lapse into 21st century language and terminology, which lessens reader immersion in an otherwise well-constructed setting (18th-century France with some obvious historical liberties). It was clear at times that the characters were taking certain actions because the author needed them to instead of as a natural extension of who they were. Key plot elements were revealed rather quickly, such as the identity and nature of her enemies, which affected narrative tension and drive. The main villain’s plans and motivations came off as slightly cliched. These are all ultimately minor details, however, in the grand scheme of the story. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good action thriller with spiritual overtones and some balanced elements of horror. I look forward to cracking open the next installment in this saga.