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Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Page history last edited by Amber Autry 12 years, 4 months ago

"The Story of the Three Bears"

The “Story of the Three Bears” was first printed in The Doctor, a collection of essays gathered by Robert Southey. The tale, which Southey mentions that he heard from his uncle William Dove, was included in the fourth volume released in 1837 (Opie, 1974). Southey’s version begins by telling of three bears; a “Great, Huge Bear;” a “Middle-sized Bear;” and a “Little, Small, Wee Bear.” The bears prepare a meal of porridge and then proceed to go for a walk in the woods to let it cool. While their away an old woman comes into the house of the bears. She tries all the porridge and eats all of Small Bear’s because it’s the perfect temperature. She sits in each of the bears’ chairs, and ends up breaking Small Bear’s. Then the old woman finally falls asleep in Small Bear’s bed. When the three bears return they exclaim over the mess the old woman has made. They follow the path of disturbance to where she is sleeping in Small Bear’s bed. The old woman is startled awake by their voices and jumps out the window. She is never seen again by the bears, but Southey is sure to mention that the old woman either broke her neck in the jump, or got lost in the woods, or was arrested when she found her way out.

Up until the end of the 19th century people believed the tale to be an original work by Southey. Joseph Jacobs went so far as to state in his English Fairy Tales (1890) that “‘The Three Bears’ is the only example I know of where a tale that can be definitely traced to a specific author has become a folk-tale” (Opie, 1974). However by 1894 Jacobs had to amend his statement. Similarities were found, and could not be denied, between “The Three Bears” and another tale known as “Scrapefoot” (Opie, 1974). In this story the intruder is a fox rather than a human, but he still drinks the bears’ milk and sleeps in their beds. A slight difference between the two versions is that, at the end of Scrapefoot, the bears debate over hanging the fox, drowning him, or throwing him out the window. Another story similar to Southey’s version is a Norwegian folktale where a princess comes to the cave of three bears while they’re away. The princess eats some of their food and falls asleep under one of their beds. And it turns out that the three bears are actually Russian princess who remove their bearskins at night (Opie, 1974).  

In the 1950s a manuscript that came before Southey’s version was discovered. It was called The Story of the Three Bears metrically related, with illustrations location it at Cecil Lodge in September 1831. It was a “home-made booklet” put together and illustrated by Eleanor Mure as a gift (Opie, 1974). In her version the intruder is an “angry old woman” as well, most likely a witch (Warner, 1994). In the end the bears try to throw her in the fire and she won’t burn. They try to drown her but she floats. And the bears eventually “chuck her aloft on St. Paul’s church-yard steeple;” which was apparently a well known place used in nursery tales (Opie, 1974).

The use of a young girl as the intruder most likely began to stick when Joseph Cundall altered the story in 1849 to include “Silver-Hair.” His reason for the change from an old lady to this young girl with shining hair was that so many other stories were about old women. After his variation came Aunt Mavor’s Nursery Tales in 1858 calling the girl “Silver-Locks.” And then Aunt Friendly’s Nursery Book, (c. 1868) called her “Golden Hair.” Finally, in Old Nursery Stories and Rhymes (c. 1904), the little girl was named “Goldilocks,” and that has been her name ever since (Opie, 1974). In Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde it is mentioned that “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is an example of how fairy tales were used to teach children right from wrong. The tales were often used to scare kids into obedience (Warner, 1994). In the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” Goldilocks escapes, but the author makes it clear she is lucky that she wasn’t skinned and cooked for the bears’ meal. The basic morals to take away from such a story are these: 1. Don’t go into the forest by yourself, you might get eaten; 2. If you do steal, cover your tracks and head for the hills (taking a nap at the scene of the crime is a very bad idea.)

Check out the stories for yourself


  • Heiner H. (1999). SurLaLune fairy tales. Retrieved from www.surlalunefairytales.com
  • Opie P., Opie I. (1974). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York, Oxford; Oxford University Press. 
  • Warner, M.(1994). From the beast to the blonde: On fairy tales and their tellers. New York; Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 

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