The Story of the Three Bears, also known as Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a 19th-century British fairy tale of which there are many versions, but important are the three versions that we can see modified in today's storytelling culture.
The initial version of the fairy tale includes an old, ugly woman who enters the home of three bears while they are away, walking and waiting for their porridge to cool off. She sits in their chairs, eats some of their porridge, and sleeps in one of their beds. When the bears come back home and find her, she wakes up, jumps out the window and they never see her again. The second version of the fairy tale replaces the old, ugly woman with the Goldilocks, a cute, small girl, and the third version, by far the most famous one, replaced the original story of the bear trio with Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear.
What was initially a scary oral tale became a nice family story with no threat. The fairy tale generated various interpretations and was even used as an adaptation to opera, film, and other media. Goldilocks and the Three Bears is one of the most famous fairy tales in the English language, but here we analyzed the original version with no beautiful little girls included.
The fairy tale was first documented in narrative form by the English poet Robert Southey who published it anonymously as The Tale of the Three Bears in 1837 in his book The Doctor. The same year that Southey's story was published, the editor George Nicol versified the story as he thought that the unknown author of the book The Doctor was the story's "great, original inventor". Southey was satisfied with Nicol's efforts to tell the story additionally, but, in the end, he was worried that the children might skip his book The Doctor and replace his story with Nicol's thus Nicol's story become popular. Nicole's fairy tale was illustrated with engravings by B. Hart and republished in 1848 in which he identified and gave credits to Southey as the original author of the story.
But, it is less known that the fairy tale of the three bears was already popular before Southey published it. In 1813, Southey told his story to his friend Eleanor Moore, who made a handmade booklet for her nephew's birthday. The booklet was about three bears and an old woman, with small differences in the details. Southey's bears had porridge, while the Moors bears had milk; Southey's old woman had no reason to enter the three bear's house, while Moore's old woman was annoyed when the three bears denied her visit to their house; Southey's old woman ran away when she is found, while Moore's old woman was nailed to the tower of the Cathedral of St. Paul.
Folklorists Peter and Iona Opie in their book The Classic Fairy Tales (1999) pointed out that the fairy tale has a "partial analogue" the same we can see in Snow White: a lost girl enters a house where dwarves live, eats their food, and falls asleep in one of their beds. Similar to the fairy tale about three bears, the dwarves came to the conclusion, "Someone was sitting in my chair!", "Someone was eating off my plate!", "Someone was sleeping in my bed!" Peter and Iona also drew parallels and indicated similarities with the Norwegian story where a princess seeks sanctuary in a cave where the three Russian princes dressed in bearskins lived. She also ate their food and hid under the bed.
In 1865, Charles Dickens noted a parallel story in his novel Our Mutual Friend, but in his novel, instead of bears, his characters are hobgoblins. Dickens's connection, however, implies an as yet undiscovered source or analogue. Although ceremonies and hunting rituals have been offered as possible sources, the same was rejected.
Finally, in 1894, an Australian folklorist Joseph Jacobs found a story with a fox as an antagonist struck by that bears resemblances to Southey's fairy tale and maybe oral's inspiration to the Southey's version. Some references state that the illustrator John D. Batten in 1894 noted a version of the story that is at least 40 years old. In his version, three bears live in a castle in the woods and the antagonist is a fox called Scrapefoot who sits in the bears' chairs, rests in their beds, and drinks their milk. This fairy tale belongs to the early version of the story known as The Fox and the Bears. Southey probably heard this story and replaced a fox with an irritating evil old woman. Some sources also claim that the story, like the one with the old woman, originally comes from Southey, but yet remains a mystery.
Some sources say that Southey probably heard this story about the fox and the bears from his uncle Tyler, but it also remains a mystery where his uncle learned the story.
Twelve years after the publication of Southey's fairy tale, in his story Treasury of Pleasure Books for Young Children, Joseph Cundall changed the antagonist from an ugly old woman into a pretty little girl. He clarified his motives for this in a letter to his children in which he mentions the beginning of the book:
"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 he replaced the old woman with the girl, she remained as the main character in many versions, at the end resulting with Goldilocks - suggesting that children favor a beautiful female child in the story over an ugly old woman. The young antagonist had several names: from the Pantomime Harlequin to the Little Silver Hair, Silver Locks, Silverhaired, Golden hair, Little Golden Hair, and finally Goldilocks in Old Kindergarten Stories and Songs (1904).
The golden-haired girl changes in many fairy tales: in some versions, she runs into the woods, in some, she is eaten by bears, but her mother saves her, in some, she swears that she will be a good child, and in some, she returns home. Whatever her destiny, Goldilocks manages better than Southey's old woman and the old Miss Mura who was nailed to a tower of St. Mary's Church.
Southey's all-male bear trio also has not stayed unchanged over the years. The group of three male bears has been replaced and known as a dad, mom, and teddy bear, but the date of this transformation is still debated. It is guessed that this change happened in 1852 with the Fairy Tales of Mother Goose published by Routledge and Aunt Fanny's story when the illustration illustrated bears as a family, but three male bears remained the same in the text.
In Charles Dickens' 1858 version, the two bigger bears were brother and sister and the little bear was their friend. This setup represented the evolution of the trio from the classic three male bears to the family - a father, mother, and child. In Routledge's publication, the father bear is called Rough Bruin, the mother bear is Mammy Muff, and the baby bear is called Tiny. Without any explanation, the illustrations used in the story showed the trio as male bears.
The cumulative result of several modifications in the fairy tale since its earliest publication was a transformation of a horrible oral story into a friendly and likable family story with no malicious details.
Genre: fairy tale
Setting: as in all fairy tales, time and place are unknown and is stated as once upon a time, in a wood
Point of view and Narrator: from the bears' point of view, as well as third-person narration (when the bears are out in the wood)
Tone and Mood: the tone is changing depending on the reader, but sets a tone of warning
Style: ironical, educational, simple
Protagonist and Antagonist: the main protagonist are the three bears: the Great Bear, the Middle Bear, and the Small Wee Bear, while the main antagonist is the old little woman
Major conflict: the conflict of the fairy tale is that the old woman cannot find a porridge, chair, or bed that suits her needs and preferences.
Climax: when bears return to their home and find out that someone ate their porridge, sat in their chair, and is sleeping in the Small Wee Bear's bed
Ending: after being discovered, the old little woman jumps through the window and the bears never saw her again
Symbols and Metaphors
The number three - the story makes big use of the literary rule of number three. So, here we have three chairs, three pots, three beds, and three main characters. There are also three lines of bears that expose that someone ate from their pots, sat in their chairs, and eventually lay down in bed, which highlights the moment when the old woman is revealed.
This follows three lines of the old woman who sequentially tries porridge, chairs, and beds, each time discovering a third "just right". This is called a "dialectical trio", where "the first option is wrong, the second one is the opposite from the first one, and only the third, is correct. This notion that the way forward lies in discovering the suitable middle ground between opposites is of vital importance in storytelling. The concept itself has been applied to many other fields, especially developmental psychology where it is called the "Golden Hair Principle".