One Question Interview: Cornelia Hoogland
Cornelia Hoogland has published five poetry collections, has been short-listed for the CBC Literary Awards on multiple occasions, and is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Western Ontario. Her most recent poetry collection is Woods Wolf Girl, described as a “sensuous Canadian retelling” of Little Red Riding Hood.
What inspired a Canadian retelling of Little Red Riding Hood?
I attribute my deep and abiding love of the fairy tale Red Riding Hood to my childhood on densely wooded Vancouver Island, B.C. I’ve come to understand the fairy tale as quintessentially Canadian, and the girl herself, a Canadian heroine. The landscape of Woods Wolf Girl is the wet west coast. The rain forest. Here’s a sample:
A girl walks into the woods and
trees! Of course trees –
she recognizes the plot. A way through
viridian cedar, Douglas-fir,
Hooker’s middle green.
Follow the earth
the next corner:
saplings, licorice fern.
a long velvet dress,
shawls in orange, sienna, and indigo,
shawls of olive witches’ beard.
Woods Wolf Girl not only leads into the woods, it returns the woods and mountains to the wild. Canada’s wolves are an increasingly unique phenomenon in a world we’ve stripped of wildness. Research for this book led me to Haida Gwaii and to Bella Bella on B.C.’s west coast, as well as to the Rocky Mts. in Banff, Alberta, to study wolves and record their voices. Along the way I met people with powerful commitments to aboriginal understandings of land, place, and their connections to people through story.
In Woods Wolf Girl, the character of the Mother (who rarely gets more than a finger-wag in telling of the fairy tale) is an immigrant who is deeply shocked by the natural world that threatens to invade her house. The experiences of Canadian immigrants – moving through the land, making sense of it, and inscribing themselves upon it – are inherently part of our Canadian narrative. I write:
Tentacle vines twist
into the house, grab
at me, howling, arching their backs and spitting.
Saplings swarm my limbs, skinny little things
no higher than my chest, slap
their nervous tails.
And they call; beseechingly, they call.
Woods Wolf Girl is my interpretation of the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood – which is arguably the world’s most popular, and certainly its most retold, tale. Canadian viewers will recognize the heroine in the conventions and codes of western, horror, picture and comic book. The tale has been adapted to theatre, cartoons, poster, advertisements, musicals, films, animated films, video games, television, and the Internet. Bookstores such as Chapters sells more than one hundred different editions, and the tale is told on every continent, in every major language.
In formal and informal storytelling sessions in a number of countries (such as Brazil, Cuba, Indonesia and Greece), I have observed that Red Riding Hood is one of the few stories that most people know, in rough outline at least. The “O Grandmother, what big teeth you have” chorus comes quickly to mind, as does the red cape, and meeting the wolf in the woods. People have a personal stake in the story; most know at least three of its plot events – and here’s what I love – each person remembers it in his or her own way.
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