Original Research

The Greedy Hippo and Red Riding Hood: The grotesque in fairy tales

Dineke van der Walt
Literator | Vol 33, No 1 | a22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v33i1.22 | © 2012 Dineke van der Walt | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 July 2012 | Published: 13 November 2012

About the author(s)

Dineke van der Walt,, South Africa


This article presents a comparative reading of two folktales that are also characterised as children’s stories (one from Venda folklore and the other a popular European narrative) in order to explore a number of similarities between these stories. These similarities include the grotesque activity of eating human flesh, the way that overly trusting people are tricked by means of a masquerade and other ‘unethical’ and ‘immoral’ activities that occur in both narratives. In The Greedy Hippo (Hippopotamus throws his weight around), the monster for instance mimics the voice of a little boy in order to trick his sister and gain access to the children’s hut, whilst in Little Red Riding Hood the wolf tricks the grandmother in the same way to gain access to her house, in order to later trick Red Riding Hood. Furthermore, in both stories, the little girls (as well as the grandmother in Little Red Riding Hood) are swallowed by vicious wild animals (either a hippopotamus or a wolf). As is often the case in fairy tales; however, the victims are saved or escape and live happily ever after. In this article, I argue that, although it seems absurd for children’s stories to deal with the grotesque, the presence of the grotesque actually serves an elevating purpose. I conclude that, because of the shock value of the grotesque, these stories not only intrigue children emotionally, but that the shocking quality of the grotesque also serves as a source of fascination for them. Therefore, the warning messages contained in the stories are more persuasively communicated and better remembered by the child audience.


No related keywords in the metadata.


Total abstract views: 5597
Total article views: 16234

Crossref Citations

No related citations found.