Into the Woods

Hello, hello, hello dear readers! I hope you all are having a lovely Thursday. I can assure you I am, as I get to write about something I’ve wanted to write about for a while now.

A song!

(But what do you mean, you’ve posted on songs before. Like Here Comes a Thought from Steven Universe.)

Yes! And I get to do it again! 😀 Only this time, I’m not covering fantastic, amazing Steven Universe, I’m covering a song from the fantastic, amazing musical, Into the Woods. 

For those of you who have yet to see the stage play, or the movie featuring Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick, I highly recommend it. If not for any other reason than to hear/see the performance for the song Agony, by two prince charmings. It’s satirical and it’s pretty great.

Before I go into the song, I will first touch on the background of the musical. Into the Woods is a combination of approximately five Grimms fairytales that all interweave and connect with one another to create one seamless story. These fairytales include: Cinderella, Rapunzel, The Baker and His Wife, Jack and the Giant Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood. The story is very well-written as each primary character finds themselves as the secondary character of someone else’s story (just like life 😉 ), flawlessly blending into plot lines and character developments. And the music! I am not a music theory person, however, what I can comment on are the lyrics.

I have discussed before that fairytales are lessons disguised in the fantastical to get children to listen. So, what happens when you take a fairytale –or five, for that matter– and turn them into something to watch rather than read? Dialogue is important, but when it comes to the visual arts, dialogue must be carefully selected. To say something profound with a double-meaning, the character would have to explain, meaning the other character would have to ask questions the audience might have. That’s a lot of dialogue. But if this profound thing were to be written as a song with a catchy tune, sung by a child, a lot can get swept under the rug. People may not wonder how a child could say something so deep (they really shouldn’t, kids are awesome, regurgitating sponges) or what such a thing means because tune and tone take place of meaning in songs. Often, it’s not until later the lyrics are paid attention to.

The song I’d like to touch on today is Little Red Riding Hood’s I Know Things Now written by Stephen Sondheim. It’s the song Red sings after she’s rescued from the wolf’s belly.

It begins:

Mother said,
“Straight ahead, “
Not to delay
Or be misled.
I should have heeded her advice…
But he seemed so nice.

So, ok, stranger danger, not all that new. I mean, the phrase “stranger danger” is from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, in the new IT movie, a character states he’s not supposed to talk to strangers. This is a pretty common concept, one that parents repeat to their children over and over again. I could stop here and say that the song is about avoiding those you don’t know, but Red Riding Hood doesn’t heed this advice. There’s something more to her story than just trusting a stranger, her story is about learning things the hard way. Arguably, all characters in almost every story learn lessons the hard way, as people, we sometimes learn things the hard way too, but I would argue this song is more about wisdom than knowledge.

To provide a distinction between the two, wisdom is doing, and knowledge is knowing. The two may not necessarily go hand in hand. For instance, Red knows she shouldn’t stray from her path, she has this knowledge, but she doesn’t listen to it. She doesn’t practice, or do it. Let’s move on to the next line.

And he showed me things,
Many beautiful things,
That I hadn’t thought to explore.
They were off my path,
So I never had dared.
I had been so careful
I never had cared.
And he made me feel excited-
Well, excited and scared.

Here, she is having mixed emotions about meeting the wolf on her path. That’s who this, “he,” is in the story, at least. A part of her feel frightened, but another feels excited at going off and doing new things, and seeing these new things the wolf has shown her. How does one find themselves in such a situation with a wolfish person? One might tell themselves they are frightened because it’s new, that the cringing in their stomach is fear of the unknown, not fear of the person, and certainly not their intuition warning them. After all, this is someone new, what reason would one have for mistrusting someone new?

When he said, “come in!”
With that sickening grin,
How could I know what was in store?
Once his teeth were bared,
Though, I really was scared-
That awful moment when one realizes the curdling in their stomach was their intuition. To pull a quote from the BBC’s Sherlock, “Intuitions are not to be ignored, John. They represent data processed too fast for the conscious mind to comprehend.” I would also argue this song plays with the philosophy that one shouldn’t ignore their intuition. Red knew from the start something was frightening about this person she met on her path, and she didn’t listen. I’m skipping ahead a stanza, just so we can get to the part where Red begins to tell us what it is she learned.
So we wait in the dark
Until someone sets us free,
And we’re brought into the light,
And we’re back at the the start.
Back at the start? We know that phrase isn’t literal. Red didn’t escape from the wolf’s belly just to appear at the start of the trail again, she means back at the beginning of her journey. Her personal journey. She isn’t starting over, she’s back to knowing that she shouldn’t stray from her path.
And I know things now,
Many valuable things.
That I hadn’t known before.
Do not put your faith in a cape and a hood,
They will not protect you
The way that they should.
And take extra care with strangers,
Even flowers have their dangers.
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.
Now I know:
Don’t be scared.
Granny is right,
Just be prepared.
This time, she knows a bit more than not to stray from the path. She knows to trust herself, to take care with those she doesn’t know, even if they seem nice and tell her pretty things. Scary may very well be exciting, odds are, a person is scared because something is new, but the most important distinction here, beyond the distinction of knowledge and wisdom, is that nice is different than good. The wolf was nice and he had already eaten Red’s grandmother by the time he met her. He told her pretty things and showed her beautiful things all with her grandmother slowly digesting in his stomach. Nice, really is different than good. But don’t fear, trust yourself enough to do what you know.
Isn’t it nice to know a lot!
And a little bit not…
Thank you for reading 🙂
-M
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