This past winter, I was delighted to watch the new movie version of Into the Woods, long one of my favorite musicals. I thought the movie did an overall good job with the material, although there were some editorial changes that I wouldn’t have made. But I especially liked their portrayal of Little Red Riding Hood. The character of Little Red in the musical as a whole makes overt the metaphoric and moralizing nature of the original Perrault telling of the story: don’t stray off the path, big bad wolf, life is better with granny, don’t go talking to strangers and walking in the woods, red is not a color for proper young ladies, etc. The musical, of course, sort of turns it on its head, as it does with all of the fairy tales involved, but makes clear that she is symbolic of the early adolescent struggle of losing one’s innocence as one gains experience.
The song she sings right after the wolf incident, is, appropriately called, “I Know Things Now.” From the original Broadway production:
And as portrayed in the movie:
To me, by casting an actress in the role is of the approximate age that Little Red is supposed to be, the message is powerful. The recognition of the reality that young people live on that brink between the excitement of new experience and the need to be protected. Between the fear of unfamiliar feelings and the comfort of what we knew before. And they are trying to figure out what they like and sometimes have mixed feelings about their experiences. And of the fact that as adults, we cannot entirely protect children.
But the most powerful tool we have to offer is knowledge. It’s the most powerful tool that any of us have, really. The more we know, the more aware we are of our world and ourselves, the more ready we are for anything that the world throws in our direction.
As I get our synagogue ready for this new year of learning, that’s the most important question I keep returning to: What are the most important things that I want others to know?