Thoughts on “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids”
A violent cautionary tale in the vein of “The Three Little Pigs,” “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids” is the story of a group of young goats who are told by their mother to be on their guard for the wolf as she goes into the forest to find food. The wolf comes three times, and twice the kids are too clever to let him in, but on the third try he fools them, enters, and devours all except the youngest, who hides in a clock. The mother returns to a scene of carnage. Together, and she and the youngest kid open up the wolf’s belly with scissors (he was lying not far from the house, sleeping, of course), and out come the first six kids. The mother replaces the young goats with stones and sews the wolf up, so that when he awakes, he waddles to the well for a drink and the weight of the stones pulls him in. The mother and her seven children dance and sing around the well.
Like most fairy tales, “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids” is a simple story, yet it contains more than it would appear to—themes of death and rebirth, the steadfast purity of the home versus the devilish, ever-knocking darkness of the invader, and the impossibly superhuman qualities of the mother’s domestic skills that end up saving her children.
But when I first read Maria Tatar’s notes on this tale in “The Annotated Brothers Grimm,” I misread one sentence that had me thinking a little differently about this tale, and which I still stand by, even after re-reading the sentence and finding that I had it wrong:
“The wolf…is turned into a pure predator, and unrelated creature of a different species…with the result that the domestic sphere comes to be sanctified as the site of safety and tranquility.”
She’s comparing the tale to the Greek myth of Cronos, in which a father is tricked into eating his own children, who are then resurrected from inside him, similar to the way the kids are reborn from the wolf’s belly. But in contrast, in “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids,” the wolf is an outsider, not a father.
When I first read that, I misread “sanctified” as “sacrificed,” implying to me that, through her act of cutting open and then fatally sewing up the wolf, the mother has in effect put an end to the domestically blissful scenario the story opens with. By meeting the wolf’s level of violence, she has ended the period of innocence for her kids, while also saving them.
Even after I re-read the sentence and found that Tatar meant just the opposite—“sanctified,” meaning that the domestic sphere is still the site of safety and tranquility after the wolf is dead—I like my misreading. It pointed out to me something that’s always horrified me about this story, the ease with which the mother enacts violence, and the glee the family feels having just literally dug their hooves in the wolf’s innards. They’re safe, but they’re not the same.