Kath Scott

Eat Your Heart Out: Cannibalism, Incorporation, and Transgression in Contemporary and Traditional Fairy Tales

April 10, 2021   /  

Name: Kath Scott
Major: English
Advisor: Susanna Sacks

When cannibalism is presented in media, it is often mistaken for gratuitous violence, but cannibalism was present in stories long before the warnings for such were put into place. Cannibalism is especially common in fairytales, and in the past was studied in a version of Little Red Riding Hood called “Conte de la mêre-grand” that examined the culture surrounding the construction of the tale and how cannibalism became a rite of initiation for the child in the story. Intertwined with this is the concept of Maggie Kilgour’s metaphors of incorporation, a concept which takes cannibalism as a symbolic gesture between participants in a relationship. Building on this analysis of “Conte de la mêre-grand” and considering Maggie Kilgour’s concept of metaphors of incorporation, I examine three fairytales and three pieces of modern media in the hopes of understanding why cannibalism appeared in these stories, and why those tropes persist today. I began this study with a classification system in mind, which allowed me to label and understand the relationships between characters in these stories. Following these classifications, I expand upon how these characters’ interactions shape the expressions of cannibalism, through incorporation, transgression, or both, and create meaning from these relationships. Cannibalism is not just an act of violence, but an expression of love, hate, and desire. Cannibalistic acts reveal how characters long to resist traditional patriarchal family structures and create meaning in the relationships that they do prize.


Kath will be online to field comments on April 16:
4-6pm EDT (PST: 1-3pm, Africa/Europe: late evening)

56 thoughts on “Eat Your Heart Out: Cannibalism, Incorporation, and Transgression in Contemporary and Traditional Fairy Tales”

  1. This was really fascinating (if a bit macabre), Kath. I was really interested in how you categorized the roles and actions. As I told Nicole, I saw an opera version of the Juniper tree when I was in college, and still remember the story and the main motif from the music. It was suitably creepy, as you can imagine. Congratulations!

    1. I would love to see how they constructed that opera with the element of the bird, fire, and cannibalism! I’ll have to give it a look. I think classifying the roles and actions of the characters in the tales may have been the hardest part– there are just so many elements that belong in-between categories! Thank you so much for stopping by.

  2. What a fascinating topic! You did a wonderful job exploring a subject that is normally just sensationalized. Congratulations on an excellent I.S.!

    1. Thank you, it was certainly difficult to look past the gore and violence when I began (especially in Hannibal), but in the end it doesn’t really bother me, and I highly recommend all the media and tales I presented in the project.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. What an interesting topic. The deeper meaning of stories are often missed or certainly minimized in the retelling of them, generation after generation. While Hanibal, is very outward in it’s graphic nature and impossible to understate the act of cannibalism, one could read right through Little Red Riding Hood, without giving it a second thought. Great Job Kath.

    1. I agree. It’s fascinating how the element of cannibalism in Little Red Riding Hood was almost entirely forgotten! You would think something like that would be hard to forget. I do think there is some subtlety to Hannibal- the cooking scenes with Lector are all mostly implied, never too forthcoming (perhaps until the last season). I love Hannibal and I’ve rewatched it so many times, the dynamic between Lector and Graham is a big focus of my project too. The end was incredible too, so I hope you keep watching!
      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Great job with this fascinating topic. Being German, I love fairy tales and often tell my students different versions of the Brothers Grimms’ tales, including Little Red Riding Hood. It’s so valuable to look at something from various view points – including cannibalism.
    Love the title!

    1. Thank you! I love fairytales too. My father’s mother always told me the Grimm brothers’ tales without sterilizing/changing them, and though they scared me, they were my favorites! I would love to do another project, maybe focusing on folktales from a specific region. Thank you for your comment!

  5. Wow. As a very young child I had a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and was both horrified and fascinated by what I read. Listening to your presentation has given me a fascinating perspective on something I have not really revisited since. Great work. Congratulations on your achievement!

    1. I would definitely encourage everyone to revisit the tales from their childhood, and even from different areas of the world. There’s one tale- Grandaunt Tiger- that I didn’t get to reference in this presentation, but I find equally fascinating as the other tales. I think these tales have a lot to teach us.
      Thank you for listening and commenting!

  6. I loved the connections you made between cannibalism and all these emotions. Hearing your thesis immediately made me think of ‘Saturn Devouring His Son’ by Francisco de Goya and the various interpretations of hate and love I have seen some people read into Saturn’s act of cannibalism! Congratulations on finishing your IS – this was very interesting to listen to!

    1. It’s funny you mention that piece… it was probably in 4-5 books that I cite in my thesis. I hope to do a project in the future that dives into that myth as well as more tales where fathers consume their sons. Most of my I.S. was focused on mother figures, but the oral defense of my project had a lot to do with paternal roles/responsibility in the tales. I hope to reexamine the tales under that lens someday!
      Thank you for your comment and thanks for listening!

  7. Kath, this is FABULOUS! You’re argument is wonderfully nuanced. I love how you brought in communion and incorporation. I’m so glad that your FYS served you well and I am so proud of your IS accomplishments!

    1. Thank you so much! I hope you didn’t mind I referenced you, you made a big impact on my journey at the College of Wooster as you can probably tell! I couldn’t have completed (or even thought of) this thesis without your influence.

      Thank you for listening!

      P.S. I promise I’ll return your email soon! I would love to meet up in the Oak Grove sometime before I leave!

  8. Congratulations Kath! I really enjoyed your presentation and learning about the strange and dark areas of fiction you mention. You note that incorporation is rooted in the Catholic communion sacrament, and many of the works of literature you note are Western in origin. Do you think incorporation/cannibalism metaphors can be found within other religions/traditions, and if so, how do you think the connotations of the cannibalism act are different compared to your analysis?

    1. That is a very interesting question! I don’t have a strong answer for it, sadly, but I can explain a little more about my project to make it a little clearer!
      While the root of incorporation for me can be found in the sacrament of communion, I also talk a great deal about the origin of cannibalism. “Cannibalism” comes from the root “Carib,” which is the name of an American Indian people from Northern South America and the Caribbean islands. Columbus was told that these “Caribs” were man-eaters, and therefore he coined the term “cannibal.”
      These accusations were not always true, however. There were a lot of false accusations by both invading parties and indigenous peoples due to a ruling by Queen Isabel of Castile that allowed indigenous parties only to be enslaved if they practiced cannibalism, (or in this case, were said to).
      There are other instances of Cannibalism too– particularly found in mortuary cannibalism, which involves cannibalism after the death of a loved one. Communion is an example of this. In these non-Western practices, often found in Amazonian indigenous cultures, practice incorporation very literally- they believe that without consuming the deceased their soul will wander and get lost in a spiritual wood. By consuming them, they offer a grounding influence to keep them in the comfort of their people.
      So, as long-winded as that was:
      Though it’s not presented in this presentation, there is a long history of cannibalism and cannibalism as incorporation in other non-Western cultures– so the short answer is yes. I do think they can be found in non-Western cultures, and I think they have similar connotations- (though some are different due to post-battle cannibalism where some individuals would eat members of neighboring tribes conquered in the battle to gain their power, which suggests non-consensual incorporation which is impossible in my existing schema).
      Wow wow wow this is a long answer for a simple question. I hope this helps and that it doesn’t take you ten minutes to read!

      Thank you for listening, and thank you for asking such an insightful question!

  9. Great job Kath! You’re presentation was very interesting, and you defined all of the terms you used in a clear way. I appreciate your topic because it gives people a new perspective on the use of cannibalism. I’m curious as to whether other horror story tropes could be viewed through a new lens such as the one you analyzed with cannibalism. Have you thought about looking into others in the future?

    1. I haven’t actually, I’ve been rather concerned with food studies and folktales more generally, however, I would be open to it! I think there’s a lot to be analyzed in horror films especially, but some acts, like murder, for example, seem pretty clear because we think about motive naturally when they’re involved. When it comes to cannibalism, most people are too squeamish to ask the question of why the act was committed. In the future, I think I would like to look at the cannibalistic relationships between fathers and sons, and perhaps look into cannibalistic acts in stories in non-Western stories, perhaps Grandaunt Tiger for example (Chinese).

      Thank you for commenting (and being a great roommate!)

  10. Awesome Job Kath! Your presentation is beautiful and clear. I have never thought about the deeper meaning behind dark themes in stories, but now I will think back to this presentation. I know Mads Mikkelsen would be proud!

    1. God, I hope Mads would be proud! I worked hard on this for him!!!
      Thanks for commenting! If you ever want to read my section on Hannibal give me a holler!

  11. Hello Ms Scott, I must say that, simply based on its title, I hesitated to view your presentation, but I’m glad I did – it was so fascinating and well-presented. As an *old* Wooster alum, it made me also recall the significance of the books I encountered in my ‘freshman colloquium’, as it was called back then. Excellent work – Best of luck!

    1. Thank you very much, and thank you for listening! What texts did you read in your Freshman colloquium? I wonder if I’ve encountered any of them during my journey at Wooster!

  12. Great job! I usually only take things at face value when I watch/read things so it is always so interesting to hear how things can be interpreted! You state that Hannibal wanting to eat Will makes their relationship clearer, however if people only take things at face value (like me), I think it further complicates things. Do you think, if things are unclear, it is the fault of the audience for not trying harder to read beyond the text or the author for making them think so hard.

    1. Hmm… That’s a really interesting question! I think as an English major, I always sort of expect people to read into things, especially when I write poetry/fiction, but I can see how people might miss meaning in the media they consume. I think I can only reply with a non-answer– I think the viewer/reader/player has a right to consume media in any way they choose, however, as an author, I also think it would be nice if the consumer could listen a little closer to the source material. Regardless, there’s a reason why people google the ambiguous endings of movies/television shows- I think we all have an impulse to understand what the source material is trying to tell us!

      Thank you for listening/your comment!

      P.S. Finish Hannibal already!!

  13. Love your presentation! Being in that FYS with you, it’s so nice to see what we learned then has evolved into.
    Are there any pieces of media that include auto-cannibalism? How do you think that would play into the research you have done?
    Proud of you and all the work you’ve done to get here!

    1. Thank you, Nic! I’m glad I met you in my FYS too, otherwise, I would have missed out on one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
      There are pieces of media that include auto-cannibalism– namely Hannibal (which I know you’ve watched, so I’m directly referencing the cannibalization of Abel Gideon, the fake Chesapeake Ripper). From the auto-cannibalism I’ve read/seen (which is limited), I would say that the act usually includes a facilitator, which I talk about in the presentation, and is usually forced. Lector, of course, is the facilitator in the case of Abel Gideon. I would have to think about the meaning a little more, but my instinct tells me it has more to do with the motives/needs of the facilitator than it does the actual auto-cannibal.

      Thank you for listening/commenting! I’m looking forward to watching your presentation!

  14. What an amazing presentation Kath! I had little experience with all of this media before viewing you presentation, so I found this really interesting!

  15. Congratulations! Your work was very intriguing. It is such a privilege to see some of your childhood thoughts and questions (which were terrifying as a parent) come full circle. You have always managed to amaze with your ability to see so far past the mere surface and this is a perfect example of that. From your classification of roles and actions, to your analogy of religious beliefs in relation to cannibalism you made a somewhat frightening and difficult subject interesting and relatable. Now, where is that Grimm fairy tale book? So proud.

    1. Thank you, Mom! Couldn’t have done it without all those in-depth too-specific questions on Catholicism. Love you.

  16. This was very interesting Kath! Congratulations on completing your independent study! If you could add more to your research now, would you add another fairytale or other piece of literature? If so, what would you add?

    1. Well, I might add another fairytale– especially Grandaunt Tiger, it’s an early form of Little Red Riding Hood from China– but I honestly could write a whole separate thesis on Hannibal. The intricacies of Lector and Graham’s relationship are so so interesting to me, and there’s a lot of different readings of the show. Highly recommend it if you’re not squeamish– it’s on Netflix!
      Thanks for listening and commenting!

  17. Hi Kath! This is such a fascinating analysis–the typologies really clarify how the stories are functioning. Thanks for doing this work!!

    1. Thank you, and thank you for commenting! I had a lot of fun with it. I’m really glad I decided on this project.

  18. Kath, such a fascinating theme to analyze–I love the pairing of wonder tales with more contemporary narratives that include cannibalism. The idea of expanding to address non-western stories, as you mention above, would complicate the project in an interesting way, too (especially given the ways stories of cannibalism were used to justify colonial projects). Great work & best wishes!

    1. I would honestly love to expand this project someday, either in the direction of non-Western stories or paternal cannibalism specifically. I think both trouble the dichotomies and labels I present in my thesis in a very interesting way.

      Thank you for your comment and thanks for listening! I missed your class this semester!

  19. Wow! What and interesting topic! This presentation had me enthralled throughout the entire thing. I loved how you tied fairy tales of the past with modern day media. What are some other stories that you think would be interesting to examine in this context?

    1. Primarily I think of Grandaunt Tiger (an early, early, form of Little Red Riding Hood that began in China), Hansel and Gretel, and Snow White. Grandaunt Tiger is mentioned, but not analyzed, and I got a few books to back up a Snow White analysis, but the topic was just getting too big to contain.

      Thank you for commenting! I’m on my way to finish watching your I.S. presentation right now!

  20. This is such a fascinating IS, Kath! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight!

  21. Hey Kath, this was a really interesting topic. It’s fascinating how it can stem across several cultures and their folklore. For example, could your ideas be applied to greek mythology related to Cronos? Since he eats his children in an attempt to further his reign as king and deny the natural order of being overthrown.

    1. I absolutely think it can! I would love to do another project on that topic, especially relating to paternal cannibalism committed on sons. That would probably get into Freud though, and I’m not a huge fan of him. The story of Cronos is so interesting, I really wish I could have included it in my thesis!

      Thanks for your comment!

  22. Fantastic job with this presentation and with your project, Kath! I love your idea of expanding to nonwestern tales–especially those from the cultures where cannibalism was used as a rationale for colonization. And after your analysis, which makes it sound so fascinating, I am now trying to work up the courage to watch Hannibal . . .

    1. Thank you! I do highly recommend Hannibal– the cannibalism isn’t as gruesome as you would think, and for the first and second seasons it’s primarily an episodic crime drama (or, is at least masquerading as one).

      Thank you for commenting and for all your insightful questions on my I.S. at orals on Tuesday! You gave me a lot to think about in terms of what or if I’d like to pursue this topic in the future.

  23. Congratulations on finishing IS! I really enjoyed listening to this presentation. As someone who’s always been very fascinated in cultural practices, this was very engaging. I feel like I learned so much about the history and intention regarding these cannibalistic acts.
    I was curious about the hierarchy of eating, sex, and talking in relation to cannibalism, and you expanded on the first and last in detail since your subject matter had more examples. I was wondering if there were any other works you had considered citing, and what you would discuss had there been more instances of sex in regards to hierarchy and cannibalism as incorporation in these works. I know you discussed it briefly with Hannibal but I was wondering if there were any other sources you had considered/directions you would have taken it.

    1. It’s much of the same, honestly, and still primarily supported by Maggie Kilgour. Sex is considered the second level but is only partial incorporation (when considering penetration as the default, though that’s still kind of problematic). Really the material I mention sex with is simply the bzou and the child in Conte de la mere-grande and in Hannibal primarily because they’re extrafamilial relationships, and I’m not very familiar with other extrafamilial relationships having to do with food. I think if I was going to take this in a direction it would probably be concerned with real-life instances of cannibalism, as they’re often combined with sexual feelings when not purely for survival. However, that’s a bit disturbing for my tastes– I’d rather stick to funerary cannibalism in my work!

      Thanks for commenting, you have some really interesting questions!

  24. This was the perfect subject matter for you….right up your alley! And since you’ve been old enough to hold a pencil/pen, writing was always a big part of your life. All your studying and writing has led to this paper: the most important paper ever. Congratulations and may you have continued success. Much love!

    1. Thank you! I didn’t know my path would leave me to cannibalism, but it was a good project and I had a lot of fun with it! Thanks for watching & commenting! Love you too!

  25. What a cool project, congrats on finIShing Kath! You might have convinced me to start watching Hannibal 🙂

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