The History Behind the Story of Goldilocks

Updated on October 1, 2016
TolovajWordsmith profile image

Tolovaj is a small publishing house specializing in literature for children. The theory of fairytales is one of our passions.

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)

Illustrated by William Wallace Denslow, source: Gutenberg.org
Illustrated by 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!

Source: Clker.com
Source: Clker.com

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

Illustration by Arthur Rackham, source: Gutenberg.org
Illustration by Arthur Rackham, source: Gutenberg.org

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.

Three bears by Leonard Leslie Brooke
Three bears by Leonard Leslie Brooke | Source

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.

Portrait of Robert Southey, source: Wikipedia.org
Portrait of Robert Southey, source: Wikipedia.org

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

Three Bears by John Dixon Batten
Three Bears by John Dixon Batten

Which came first?

Was Goldilocks a fox or an old woman?
Was Goldilocks a fox or an old woman?

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?

See results

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:

Source: Clker.com
Source: Clker.com

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...

Source: Clker.com
Source: Clker.com

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!

Perfect party before mosquitoes came (source: Clker.org)
Perfect party before mosquitoes came (source: Clker.org)

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...

Goldilocks rule

Source: Clker.com
Source: Clker.com

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

Goldilocks (Illustrated)
Goldilocks (Illustrated)

Timeless story about the girl who is seeking for thing which are 'just' right.

This lovely edition from the end of 19 century is edited by legendary collector and editor Joseph Jacobs and illustrated by top illustrators from so called Golden age: Anne Anderson - you'll notice her style on the cover, John Dickson Batten, Arthur Rackham and Charles Robinson are guarantee of quality.

Only the best for the kid, right?

Welcome to the land of adventure and imagination!

 

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?

Goldilocks and Three Bears - Video version

What do you think? - Did you enjoy the evolution of this particular fairy tale?

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      thanks... it help very much/.... 6 months ago

      thanks... it help very much/....

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 10 months ago from Ljubljana

      My pleasure, Frankie R!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 10 months ago from Ljubljana

      I never hear that one, mike overend, but somehow it doesn't surprise me to hear about it. Thanks for this info.

    • profile image

      Frankie R! 11 months ago

      Thanks informative Read..

    • profile image

      mike overend 12 months ago

      this is the song of innocence version the song of experience version says goldilocks stole the gold rings off the corpse of an old lady waiting to be buried

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Great to hear that:)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

      I don't think I pinned this right the first time, so I am back to pin again.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: I appreciate it:)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

      Pinning this wonderful gem.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Unlimited11-11: Stories are never simple...

      ;)

    • Unlimited11-11 profile image

      Tom McHugh 4 years ago from Lake Champlain, Vermont, USA

      I had never heard any of this before. Thank you for educating me about what I thought was a simple story.

    • cgbroome profile image

      cgbroome 4 years ago

      WOW! I never knew any of this. What am amazing amount of research you must have done. It is very, very fascinating! Thank you for the eduation. I will definitely pass this along.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @renewedfaith2day: Yep, Goldilocks everywhere...

    • renewedfaith2day profile image

      renewedfaith2day 4 years ago

      There are so many "Goldilocks" types and none seem to be good. You are either somewhere where you shouldn't be or you feel entitled to someone else's stuff...It never ends well. This is a very cool writing. Thanks.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Thank you!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      Pinning this.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @cmadden: Thanks:)

    • profile image

      cmadden 4 years ago

      Hmm. I think, perhaps, that this lens is in a sort of Goldilocks Zone - just right! :->

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Felicitas: This is my intention. If more people would think our world would be a better place;)

    • Felicitas profile image

      Felicitas 4 years ago

      I agree with you that nothing can ever be perfect. But, the great detail and lessons you impart into all of your lenses comes pretty darn close. You always give me something to think about.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @kabbalah lm: That was my intention:)

    • kabbalah lm profile image

      kabbalah lm 4 years ago

      You certainly make me think about these fairy tales in a different way.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @ecogranny: :)

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Wonderful discussion of a popular and well-remembered childhood fable. Thank you! I had never heard of Goldilocks Syndrome, but it makes sense.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @tonybonura: Yep, and we are living in one of these. We are all acting like Goldilocks sometimes, right?

    • profile image

      webmavern 4 years ago

      Very interesting lens, Thanks!

    • tonybonura profile image

      Tony Bonura 4 years ago from Tickfaw, Louisiana

      Very interesting ideas. You know there is also the Goldilocks Zone which is the area in space that is neither too hot nor too cold but just right for water and life to exist.

      TonyB

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @webmavern: Great to hear that!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @writywrite: My pleasure:)

    • profile image

      writywrite 4 years ago

      Thanks for this lens :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @delia-delia: Thank you very much:)

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 4 years ago

      Holy cow....I never put so much thought into a fairytale! Very informative. Love the way you write and express yourself.

      ~d-artist Squid Angel Blessing~

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @RuralFloridaLiving: :)

    • profile image

      RuralFloridaLiving 5 years ago

      Very interesting - enjoyed the backstory.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @lesliesinclair: We can look at it from this point of view too:)

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 5 years ago

      Neither, it's a story about the need to clean things up before resting.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Melissa Miotke: Thanks for you kind words. I am glad to hear that:)

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 5 years ago from Arizona

      You always have such interesting histories of stories that I never really thought to look much deeper on!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: I drink to that too!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Came back to share this with my fb friends! Cheers! :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @faulco blogger85: Goldilocks is really cool!

    • faulco blogger85 profile image

      faulco blogger85 5 years ago

      cool lens!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: Thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Wow, this is very interesting to read.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: Sure, why not, we can find anything we want;)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I am getting addicted to your line of analysis of the ancient tales... Only when we dig deeper do we find the esoteric meanings as well... :))

      What say!? ;)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @sukkran trichy: Thanks!

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      very interesting and well presented lens.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @greenspirit: Thanks for your concern. I have send you my answer on your profile.

    • greenspirit profile image

      poppy mercer 5 years ago from London

      Just wonderful...I so enjoyed this...I would love to give it a blessing but i can't find the image attribution links. This is such a good lens, it is worth getting that right...I'd love to come back with a blessing if you get that fixed.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Heidi Vincent: Thanks.

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 5 years ago from GRENADA

      I was surprised at the variations, including the fox one. Very informative lens!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: It is appreciated:)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Loved this and returned to read it again and bless it.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Well, there are many and they carry different messages.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      I never knew of the different versions.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: Everybody loves Goldilocks and The Three Bears are pretty popular too!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I love the story of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears. :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @getstuffed: That's the attitude!

    • getstuffed profile image

      getstuffed 5 years ago

      thanks for your comments dude keep writing that's what i am doing

    Show All Categories