The History Behind the Story of Goldilocks
The story of Goldilocks and three bears
Goldilocks is very popular fairy tale character. Her visit to the cottage of three bears is also well known and documented to every single detail.
This fairy tale inspired numerous poems, books, cartoons and movies and her golden hair became a symbol of joyful and happy childhood.
For some time we were also pretty sure about the author of Goldilocks although she was not called Goldilocks then, back in 19 century.
Actually she didn't have a name at all.
And she wasn't a pretty girl either.
We have a strong case to believe she wasn't even a human being!
Shall we explore the fascinating history of Goldilocks and her constantly changing relation with the three bears?
(All images in this lens are Public Domain, this image is work of William Wallace Denslow, source: Gutenberg.org)
Summary of Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Long ago Goldilocks was playing at the edge of the forest and she strayed deep into the wood. She accidentally found a cottage with half opened doors. There was also a sign telling there live Papa, Mamma and Tiny Bear.
Because the doors were already opened she peeked inside and saw a kettle with hot soup and three bowls ready for bears. There was no sign of bears in the cottage. Place was so untidy Goldilocks decided to clean it up and when she finished the kitchen she got in bedroom and clean it up too.
In the meantime bears returned from the walk. After first surprise they welcomed Goldilocks and offer her to join them for dinner. They spent the day playing. At the end of the day bears accompanied Goldilocks to her house where she lived with her grandma.
Bears decided to stay at grandma's house. Goldilocks taught them to clean and dust and do the housework. From then on they lived and played together as a best friends.
Not the version you remember?
No problem, we'll explore the history of Goldilocks together!
The history of Goldilocks
(and evolution of the three bears)
The summary of Goldilocks above is based on adaptation of the story by famous illustrator William Wallace Denslow (Wizard of Oz is his signature work). It was published in 1903 and it has all typical elements of now widely recognized Goldilocks:
- Goldilocks (here is called Golden Hair, name Goldilocks was first used in 1904) is sweet, helpful and innocent child,
- bears are slightly messy, but nice and they are portrayed as a family: mother, father and a kid,
- the door of bears' cottage is already half open what suggest they don't care about private property, their place needs cleaning, what is also sign of negligence,
- Goldilocks transfers values of civilization to cute but primitive bears,
- happy end for everybody.
To be fair we should admit at least one important deviation from many other variants: the power of fairy number three is almost ignored. I blame author for that. He was primarily an illustrator and repeating the scenes probably wasn't very interesting to him. We will return to that later to explain Goldilocks principle but first of all we will try to find the roots of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Goldilocks illustrated by Arthur Rackham
How Goldilocks got her name?
Name Goldilocks was first used in 1904 in Old Nursery Stories and Rhymes and became widely recognized after Flora Annie Steel's editorial work and Arthur Rackham's illustrations.
Why golden hair?
Gold has strong symbolic meaning in fairy tales, but Goldilocks (or Golden Hair) was not gold from the beginning.
Until around 1870 it was silver, and than were several versions of prominent writers already circulating. George MacDonald for instance wrote The Golden Key which was published in 1867. Girl's hair was there still silver but with symbolically more powerful gold in title the change of hair color was probably near. In 1868 it really becomes gold in Aunt Friendly's Nursery Book and after that it seems gold prevailed.
More changes were to be made before the end of the century. The girl changed from intruder to nice little helper (similar to Snow White) and bears, three males, not necessary related to each other, just living together, became a family of mummy, daddy and a child without explicit gender.
Golden Hair was Silver Hair in 1850!
English writer Joseph Cundall is credited as one of the most important authors in development of the now famous story about Goldilocks and three bears. He already knew story but before him it was not a child who enters the bears' cottage.
It was an old lady... So silver hair was logical.
Cundall decided to change an old lady with a child because in his opinion there was already too many fairy tales and nursery rhymes with old ladies as antagonists (villains).
Yes, that's right. She is the 'bad guy' of the story. She enters in the home of somebody else without permission, she eats somebody else's food and she sleeps in somebody else's bed.
Cundall's version of Goldilocks was a narration about naughty and rude child who does everything wrong and in the end, facing the consequences (angry bears) escapes through the window.
What about the Bears?
Bears were not a family from the beginning
In text they were first described as a family in 1878, although there are illustrations from 1852 where they were already drawn as mother, father and son.
And there is also a version of brother and sister being friends to the little bear. Little bear is important because he was originally the protagonist (hero) of the story.
Because the bears were in earlier versions portrayed as victims of the intruder, little bear was the character with whom kids mostly sympathised.
The Story of the Three Bears
The original Goldilocks
In 1837 The Story of the Three Bears was first published. It was written by Robert Southey and it describes three bears as well behaved and civilized. They cooked some porridge (not exactly bear's favorite food) and because it was too hot took a walk.
In the meantime delinquent old woman broke in the house and started messing around with their property. Bears are described very positively, they didn't lock the door only because they never thought anything bad can to them as themselves never did anything bad to anybody else.
The behaviour of old lady is contrary described with lots of negative comments, not common in tales and fables. Southey wrote how she first peek through the keyhole and than turned the handle. The door was closed and the case of burglary is evident!
She tried the food of all three bears and ate all the food of the little one. She tried the seats of all three bears and broke the seat of the little one. She tried the bed of all three bears and finally fallen asleep in the bed of the little one. All bear were victims but the smallest was affected by far the most. He was the one to be sympathized by.
At the end the old lady runs away and author suggests she should be sent to the correction institution!
This version was considered as original work of Robert Southey until the middle of 20 century when one more older version was found.
Eleanor Mure wrote her own version of The Three Bears in 1831 for her nephew's fourth birthday
(it was home made book)
Mure's version was similar to Southey's, but in the end lady doesn't manage to escape.
After the bears unsuccessfully tried to burn and drown her, they finally impaled her on church steeple.
This suggest the lady was really a witch!
Wow! Original Goldilocks was an old witch?
Maybe. And maybe she was a fox...
You see, there are versions of The Three Bears mentioned at least two decades before Eleanor Mure's book was made.
And there is also an old English tale named Scrapefoot with three bears living in a castle (my home is my castle too) and a fox named Scrapefoot who did exactly the same as an old lady in The Three Bears.
Stories are related for sure, but nobody knows which came first.
Ending scene from Scrapefoot - Illustrated by John Dickson Batten
Which came first?
There is a strong theory supporting the fox. In English tale about the three bears the fox is the intruder and because old woman is also sometimes called she-fox Robert Southey who apparently heard this story from his uncle changed fox into she-fox.
There is also a word vixen, coming from old English for feminine of fox and is widely used to describe a malicious woman.
So who was the 'original' Goldilocks in your opinion?
The magic of fairy number three
In fairy tales number three is most popular of all
The story of Goldilocks is far from perfection. Nothing really important happens in this story and ending is... well, nothing special. So why is it so popular?
One of the reasons for the popularity of Goldilocks and three Bears is in repetitive effect which goes like this:
1. she does that and is not satisfied
2. she does that and is still not satisfied
3. she does that and she is finally satisfied.
In the book of Robert Southey there different fonts were used to emphasize the effect of repetition and escalation. This looked like that:
Importance of number three
Fairy tales are based on oral tradition and repetition is important tool of every narrator. We can learn something from the use of number three in variations of Goldilocks too.
Earlier versions are written in this form:
1. Too hot!
2. Still too hot!
3. Just right!
This seems logical. Big bowl has more porridge and small less porridge. We can expect lesser amount of porridge will cool down faster. In physics we can explain this with the heat capacity.
In later versions the power of number three is used differently:
1. Too hot!
2. Too cold!
3. Just right!
The logic of physics is neglected, but the story benefits in versatility of options. Thus the narration is more dramatic and this form won the test of time.
This is also the form used when we are talking about Goldilocks syndrome, Goldilocks principle, Goldilocks rule and all other Goldilocks related phenomena. Let me explain some of them before we end our journey through this popular tale where bears really don't play important role anymore...
The Goldilocks principle
With so called Goldilocks principle we are stating about something inside certain margins. We live on a perfect example of Goldilocks principle. Our planet is:
1. Not too hot, not too cold.
2. Not too big, not too small.
3. It is just right!
Goldilocks principle can be used in many areas, so we can find it in science, politics, economics and even in religion. We are living in times where just everybody can find something what feels just right for himself (herself).
We are living in consumerism, where big companies non stop create billions of realities, where everybody (or at least every member of their target group) can feel 'just right'.
In many aspects we are not humans anymore, we evolved to individuals. In most cases pretty selfish individuals. And every individual has a name, right?
The most popular name is - Goldilocks!
What is a Goldilocks syndrome?
We will probably all experience the Goldilocks syndrome in our lives because our mind is trained to find 'just right' environment, friends, partners, jobs and so on and on. This is not a problem at all, because humans are highly adaptable and extremely creative beings.
The problem starts when we can't stop looking for perfect solutions in (let's be honest) pretty imperfect world.
Think about the host of a party who wants everything should be just right for every guest but than something goes wrong and his image of dozens of perfectly satisfied Goldilocks suddenly breaks down. It is very possible his nerves will break too!
I think I am experiencing Goldilocks syndrome right now. Trying to provide all the possible info about Goldilocks and three bears and arrange all the data in digestible form I am maybe becoming too obsessed with a perfect image of this lens...
The Goldilocks rule is used at making choices. We all make our choices and we all pay toll for right and wrong decisions. Choices are connected with risk and we all know most of fairy tales are talking about making decisions and taking risks.
We can look at choices this way:
1. Always choose something known, something we are sure what we can expect. We will live comfortable but pretty limited and somehow boring life.
2. Always choose the unknown, something what is still waiting to be explored. We will live life of ups and downs, we will never be bored but we will hardly find peace and happiness.
3. Balance between known and unknown, risky and risk-free, predictable and unpredictable. This way it is pretty possible we will achieve above average results in our lives but not at the price of health or personal relations.
This last rule feels 'just right' and is of course called Goldilocks rule. It is very popular at business and personal decisions but probably most known when we talk about reading.
Every time when we are making a decision about reading, we should apply this rule. We should not stay limited in our comfortable zone of easy reading because we will not learn nothing new. We should not be focused only on finding books which excel our ability of understanding because surrounded only with too challenging literature we will likely forget the joy of reading.
With right mixture of easier and harder literature we will probably maximize our reading experience and enjoy full benefits of reading. And this of course doesn't apply only at books but all sorts of reading!
So this is the end of the story about Goldilocks and three bears?
No, this is just the end of my lecture. Now it is your turn!
Goldilocks and Three Bears for Kindle
Beautifully illustrated classic fairy tale for Kindle.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears in Book
What do you say: is this a story about intruder who should be sent to correction institute or a primitives who are to naïve to lock their doors and properly take care of their property?
Or just a cute entertaining story for little kids?