Personal Development

Understanding Fairy Tales: A Look Into the Big Bad Wolf Archetype

big bad wolf

by Alison Davies

I hate to say this, but I sometimes feel sorry for Mr Wolf. He gets a lot of bad press in fairy tales, when in fact he teaches us so much. Perhaps I’m too forgiving, after all, he is the epitome of all things wicked. An archetype that represents everything deceitful in the world. He is the ravaging beast who would do anything to satiate his appetite. Let’s not forget how he tricks a poor defenceless granny in Red Riding Hood, and then as if eating her isn’t enough, pretends to be her in order to swallow red riding hood too! What a conniving character you may think! And it doesn’t end there, let’s consider his role in the Three Little Pigs. He greedily huffs and puffs his way through the tale until eventually he comes to a sticky end. But is he all that bad and can his presence in the tale work some good in our lives?

It’s true that the big bad wolf appears like a dark shadow lurking in the forest of fairy tales, his character cries out to our psyche on a deep level but it’s not just because of his evil intentions. For although he is despicable, it’s more about the feelings he creates in us. He represents fear in its purest form. It doesn’t matter what that fear is or how it’s made manifest, his presence is there, always watching and waiting for the opportunity to pounce. In the Three Little Pigs he’s outside threatening to come in. He’s the wolf at the door, something we can all identify with. It doesn’t matter what our fear is, whether it’s based on reality or totally irrational, we know it’s there like the dark shape in the corner of our eye or the monster under the bed. And like the pigs it doesn’t matter how hard we try and shut it out the likelihood is its going to get us in the end. Or is it?

One clever pig managed to save his bacon by building a secure foundation for his home, so all was not lost. Instead of taking short cuts like his foolhardy chums he put the effort in and managed to create a secure environment where he could defeat the wolf at his door. If anything this simple tale shows us that we can overcome fear if we’re prepared to work at it. Personally I like to think that each house in the tale represents the mind, and the material it’s built with, the thoughts that each individual has. So if you spend time thinking negative thoughts and worrying for no reason, then the house of your mind becomes flimsy like the house made of straw. This makes it easy for your fear (the wolf) to blow it down and consume you. If you work hard at changing the way you think and balancing your body, mind and soul, through activities like meditation, visualisation and mindfulness, then you build a strong house of the mind, like the one made of bricks. This becomes impenetrable and your fear cannot get in and take over. In essence then, the wolf and the three little pigs is a blueprint that reminds us to pay attention to our thoughts and make the time and effort to have a healthy, happy state of mind.

But there’s more than one type of wolf to contend with, in life and in stories. For some people the wolf archetype represents a person, someone who makes them feel scared or inferior. I have worked with people who compared the wolf character to a friend, colleague or even their spouse. In this scenario the wolf is full of contradictions. He can be charming (as he was when he entered Granny’s house in Red Riding Hood) but equally deceitful and threatening. Again it’s good to consider the role of the wolf in this tale and his motivation. Why is he so desperate to eat Red Riding Hood? Is it just because he’s greedy, or is he genuinely hungry? Perhaps he has a family of his own to feed? There is a cycle of life in nature and that’s something that we should bear in mind in any situation. Life moves in circles, sometimes we are on top, sometimes we’re on the bottom, this is just part of the ebb and flow of outside circumstance. It doesn’t change how we feel inside or who we are. If you consider the bigger picture, the wolf is simply using all the skills and talents he has to survive. If you compare this to the wolf in your own life you might be able to take a step back and see this person differently. Consider their motivations; what makes them behave the way they do? Is it purely because they enjoy being a bully, or is there more to it? Do they perhaps feel insecure for some reason? Turn the story around and reverse the roles as you did with the wolf and your feelings of fear may change to understanding.

Whatever your view of the big bad wolf in these tales, even if you feel his heart is wretched, it’s clear he has some important lessons to teach us. Surely then, he’s not so big and bad after all?


Alison Davies
Be Your Own Fairy Tale
Available on Watkins Publishing

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