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“She was a pretty little thing, what with her golden hair and beautiful smile and all. She was also kinda, well…spunky.”
– Ranger Johnson introducing our plucky protagonist
You know, as someone breaking into the children’s book world I surprisingly don’t often get the chance to talk about kidlit itself here. One of my favorite authors and illustrators whose works I’ve studied in pursuit of my craft is James Marshall. You might remember him from such classics as Miss Nelson is Missing! and the George and Martha books. In 1988 he wrote and illustrated his version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears which reminds readers of a very important fact that other editions gloss over:
Goldilocks is an ASS.
She walks into someone’s home uninvited while they’re out, eats their food, destroys their furniture and jumps into bed like she owns the place, and when she’s confronted over her lack of respect for others’ property, she runs away without facing any consequences. Marshall had the guts to say “Are we really supposed to sympathize with this girl? She’s the worst.” So he recrafted the story to show how nasty she is beforehand, resulting in her ursine encounter properly scaring her into changing her ways.
Looking into Goldilocks’ origins, however, her being a terrible person may have been the point of the story after all. Fairy tales were used to impart lessons of kindness and obedience from the eighteenth century onward, and who better to set as an example for improper behavior than a destructive child…
…is what I would have said until I discovered the character was originally an old woman. Typical, even in fairytales the female parts are always remade to be younger and hotter.
In the version of the tale first recorded by English poet laureate Robert Southey in 1834, the three bears (who are all bachelors of varying size) are visited by a haggard crone shunned by her family for being an embarrassment and, in Southey’s own words, deserved to be put in a correctional facility. In 1894, folklorist Joseph Jacobs uncovered “Scrapefoot”, an long-lost oral story that, ahem, bears some striking similarities to Southey’s. Scrapefoot, the titular fox, investigates a castle belonging to three bears and causes some havoc involving chairs, beds and bowls of milk before the inhabitants kick him out. It’s widely accepted that Southey learned the story of Scrapefoot from his uncle when he was a boy and may have confused the “vixen” character with its less flattering alternate definition, that of a wild woman.
Only twelve years after Southey published his tale, Joseph Cundall released his version where he aged down the protagonist but kept her hair silver. His belief was that young readers would rather follow an attractive character closer to their age than read about an old lady. From there “Silver-Hair” would cycle through a number of names and hair colors in different iterations before settling on “Goldilocks” in the early 1900s. During that time the trio of ursine bachelors also evolved into a traditional two-parent one-child family. Even more alterations to the text resulted in what was once a menacing fable becoming a rather cozy family story that heavily relies on the Rule of Three because…
So now we have a tale with fairly low stakes but enough repetition and iconography within to be referenced and lampooned a multitude of times over one hundred years later. I will admit, though, between the first time I watched Faerie Tale Theatre’s retelling and revisiting it for the blog, I remembered virtually nothing about it. So how does it hold up on rewatch?Continue reading