Goldilocks and the Three Bears, also known as The Story of the Three Bears is a British fairy tale that originated in the 19th-century and has many versions, but the most noteworthy versions are only three versions that we can see adjusted in today's literary culture.
The original version of the story about the three bears includes an ugly, old woman breaking into the home of the three bears while they are on a walk waiting for their porridge to cool off. The old woman decides to sit in their chairs, eat their porridge, and sleep in one of their beds. When the three bears come home and find her in the little bear's bed, she wakes up, hops through the window and they never see her again. The second version of the story replaces the ugly, old woman with a mischievous, but cute, little girl with blonde hair Goldilocks, and the third version, also the most famous one as it was adjusted for youngest children, replaced the original story of the three male bears with Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear.
What was, in the beginning, a scary fairy tale now became a cute family story with no danger. The story developed diverse variations and was even used as an adaptation to many media such as film, opera, and many others, so Goldilocks and the Three Bears became one of the most well-known fairy tales in the English language.
The folk tale was first recorded in the narrative by the English writer Robert Southey who publicized the fairy tale anonymously in 1837 in his book The Doctor under the name The Tale of the Three Bears. In the same year, the editor George Nicol versified the fairy tale thinking that the anonymous writer who published this story was a mastermind. Southey was happy with Nicol's efforts to share the story more thus making the story more popular, but, in the end, he was concerned that the children might ignore his book The Doctor and his story and replace it with Nicol's making him more popular and famous. Nicole's story was illustrated with pictures by B. Hart and republished in 1848. In this version, he gave credits to Southey by mentioning him as the original author of the Goldilocks story.
But, not many people know that the fairy tale of the three bears existed even before Southey published it, so he's not his original creator. In 1813, Southey revealed his fairy tale to his close friend Eleanor Moore, and she made a handmade small booklet for her nephew as his birthday present. Her booklet was about three bears and an ugly, old woman, with some small changes in the details. Moors' bears had milk, while Southey's bears had porridge; Moors' bears were annoyed by the woman and they forbade her to enter their house, while Southey's character had no true reason to enter the three bear's house thus breaking it in. Moors' woman ended up nailed to the Cathedral of St. Paul's tower, while Southey's character ran away when the bears found her.
Peter and Iona Opie, well-known folklorists drew a line with the fairy tale Snow White and pointed out that Goldilocks and the Three Bears has a "partial analogue" - a beautiful girl enters somebody else's house, eats their food, and takes a nap in one of the beds. Also, there is a similar wording between the dwarves and the bears: "Someone was eating off my plate/pot!" "Someone was sitting in my chair!", "Someone was sleeping in my bed!". The Opies also found similarities and pointed out parallels with the ancient Norwegian story where a princess is looking for shelter in a cave-home of the three Russian princes dressed in bearskins. The princess also ate their food and, in the end, hid under one of the beds.
In 1865 in his novel Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens wrote a similar story, but instead of bears, he used hobgoblins as his characters. Dickens's linkage with the fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, however, implies a yet unknown source or analogue. Although some rituals and hunting ceremonies have been proposed as potential sources, the same was declined.
Eventually, in 1894, a famous collector of fairy tales Australian folklorist Joseph Jacobs discovered a folk tale about a fox as an antagonist that was attacked by bears that resemble Southey's version of the story and possibly an oral inspiration he used in his version of the story. Some sources note that in 1894 the illustrator John D. Batten documented a version of the fairy tale at least forty years old.
In Batten's version of the story, the three bears live in a big castle in the forest and the main evil character is a fox named Scrapefoot who drinks bears' milk, sits in their chairs, and rests in their beds. This fold tale is an early version of the story titled The Fox and the Bears. Southey likely heard this fairy tale and replaced the character of the fox with a pesky, malicious old woman. Some sources also note that the fairy tale, like the one with the ugly, old woman, initially comes from Southey, but nonetheless this remains a mystery.
Some sources also state that Southey heard the fairy tale about the fox and the three bears from his uncle Tyler, but this also stays a mystery as no one knows where his uncle heard the story.
Twelve years later, Joseph Cundall changed the main character (antagonist) in his Treasury of Pleasure Books for Young Children, and instead of writing about an old woman, he added a pretty little girl as a malicious character. He explained his motives for changing the character in a letter he wrote to his children where he mentions:
"The Tale of the Three Bears is a very old children's story, but it has never been as well told as by the great poet Southey, whose version I gave you (with permission), only I made an intruder out of an old woman. I did this because I discovered that the story is better known as Silver Hair and because there are so many other stories about old women."
After replacing the ugly, old woman with the blonde girl, she stayed as the main antagonist in many versions. In the end, his decision resulted in the fairy tale called Goldilocks - indicating that children prefer a lovely female child in stories over an old woman.
Over some time, the pretty young character had many names, such as Pantomime Harlequin, Little Silver Hair, Silver Locks, Silverhaired, Golden hair, Little Golden Hair, and eventually Goldilocks. The name Goldilocks was first recorded in the Old Kindergarten Stories and Songs (1904).
The blonde girl's story also alters in many fairy tales: in some versions, she's eaten by the bears, or she runs into the forest, in some her mother saves her, or she swears she will be a good girl not to be punished. Whatever the end, Goldilocks remained far more popular than Southey's ugly woman or the old woman nailed to a tower of St. Mary's Church.
Southey's male bears also changed over the years and are now known as a dad, mom, and teddy bear, but the date of this change is still discussed. Some sources note that the change of male bear characters happened in 1852 with Routledge's Fairy Tales of Mother Goose or Aunt Fanny's story where the illustration pictured bears as a family.
In Dickens' version from 1858, the two big bears were sister and brother and the smaller bear was their friend. This form defined the change of the trio of male bears to the family of bears - a father, mother, and child. In Routledge's work, the baby bear is named Rough Bruin, the mommy bear is named Mammy Muff and the daddy bear is named Rough Bruin. With no explanation, the illustrations that were used in the fairy tale kept the trio as male bears.
The result of several alternations in the fairy tale since its earlier publication was a change of a horrific oral story into a pleasant and family-friendly story with no hostile details.
Genre: fairy tale
Setting: the time and place are unknown and is noted as "once upon a time, in a wood"
Point of view and Narrator: the story has been narrated from the bears' point of view, as well as third-person narration (when the bears are out in the wood)
Tone and Mood: the mood is changing through the story depending on the reader, but establishes a tone of warning
Style: ironical, straightforward, casual
Protagonist and Antagonist: the central protagonist are the three bears: the Great Big Bear, the Middle-sized Bear, and the Little Wee Bear, while the main antagonist is Goldilocks
Major conflict: the conflict of the story is Goldilocks unable to find a porridge, chair, or bed that fits her demands and likings.
Climax: the climax of the story is when bears return to their home and discover that somebody ate touched their porridge, sat in their chair, and is sleeping in the Little Wee Bear's bed
Ending: after being found, Goldilocks, all scared, rushes through the window
Symbols and Metaphors
The number three - the fairy tale uses the literary "number three" meaning that there are several situations repeated three times or three things. So, in this fairy tale, we have three protagonists, three pots, three chairs, and three beds. Also, there are three lines that the three bears are saying when they notice that somebody ate their porridge, sat in their chairs, or slept in their beds. This emphasizes the moment when Goldilocks is discovered.
The three lines when the bears say after their discoveries are known as "dialectical trio", where the first option is wrong, the second one is not suitable enough or is opposite from the first one and the third one is just right, if not perfect. This concept is usually seen in literature when the middle ground between two opposite options is important for storytelling. The form itself has been used in many other fields besides literature, especially in psychology where the term "Golden Hair Principle" (referring to the Goldilocks story) is popular.
Blonde Hair - it is described that Goldilocks had golden hair, referring to the blond hair. In ancient times, blonde hair symbolized youth and purity, but since Goldilocks was no good, it could symbolize her inexperience.