Public Release: 

The 'evolution' of Little Red Riding Hood

New analysis reveals whether different folktales are related or not

PLOS

IMAGE?

IMAGE: This image shows a maximum clade credibility tree returned by the Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of the tales. Major groupings are labelled by region and/or ATU international type and indicated by... view more

Credit: Tehrani JJ (2013) The Phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78871. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078871

Evolutionary analysis can be used to study similarities among folktales, according to new research published November 13 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jamshid Tehrani at Durham University in the UK.

Since the Brothers Grimm published their compilation of folktales 200 years ago, academics have noted that many plots from those European stories are similar to those from other stories all over the world. For instance, highly similar stories to "Little Red Riding Hood" have been observed in African and East Asian cultures. But whether these stories actually a share a common descent and are indeed the same type of tale has been difficult to demonstrate based on previous approaches.

In this study, the author uses phylogenetic analysis to study relationships among different folktales. Phylogenetics was originally developed to investigate the evolutionary relationships between biological species, by constructing a taxonomy tree that represents relationships of common ancestry based on shared traits. Folktales are an excellent target for phylogenetic analysis because they evolve gradually over time, with new parts of the story added and others lost as they get passed down from generation to generation.

By focusing on "Little Red Riding Hood" and related tales, the author analyzed 72 plot variables, such as character of the protagonist (e.g., single child versus group of siblings, male versus female), the character of the villain (e.g., wolf, ogre, or tiger), the tricks used by the villain to deceive the victim (e.g., false voice or disguised paws), and so on. He found that the African tales are not actually of the "Little Red Riding Hood" type, but instead are related to a tale called "The Wolf and the Kids." East Asian tales did not group with either type but probably evolved by blending together elements of both types of stories.

These finding suggest that phylogenetics can be used to identify distinct groups of folktales spread over wide regions and cultures, which may help us better understand the development and "evolution" of oral narratives in these contexts. Tehrani expands, "Folktales are excellent targets for phylogenetic analysis because, like biological species, they evolve over generations and adapt to new environments as they spread from region to region. Since folktales are mainly transmitted via oral tradition, it can be difficult to study their development using conventional tools of literary analysis, because there are so few historical texts. My study shows how we can overcome these difficulties by using the same approach that biologists have used to fill the gaps in the fossil record."

###

Citation: Tehrani JJ (2013) The Phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood. PLOS ONE 8(11): e78871. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078871

Financial Disclosure: The author was supported by an RCUK Fellowship during a part of the time in which the research was carried out. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript

Competing Interest Statement: The author has declared that no competing interests exist.

PLEASE LINK TO THE SCIENTIFIC ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT (URL goes live after the embargo ends): http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0078871

Disclaimer: This press release refers to upcoming articles in PLOS ONE. The releases have been provided by the article authors and/or journal staff. Any opinions expressed in these are the personal views of the contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of PLOS. PLOS expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information found in the release and article and your use of such information.

About PLOS ONE: PLOS ONE is the first journal of primary research from all areas of science to employ a combination of peer review and post-publication rating and commenting, to maximize the impact of every report it publishes. PLOS ONE is published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS), the open-access publisher whose goal is to make the world's scientific and medical literature a public resource.

All works published in PLOS ONE are Open Access. Everything is immediately available--to read, download, redistribute, include in databases and otherwise use--without cost to anyone, anywhere, subject only to the condition that the original authors and source are properly attributed. For more information about PLOS ONE relevant to journalists, bloggers and press officers, including details of our press release process and our embargo policy, see the everyONE blog at http://everyone.plos.org/media.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.