this porridge will never be just right!

                                               Charles Robinson, 1911

Just in time for the picnic, both Barbara O’Connor and Tadmack have posted this fictional editorial letter to the author of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It’s here, under the cut, for your amusement (original source of letter is unknown). You must read it, especially if you need cheering up today.

Dear Writer:

1) Why is the Mama Bear’s porridge too cold when the Papa Bear’s porridge is too hot? Didn’t they come out of the same cooking pot? Perhaps incorporate a description of the bowls in question, showing that Papa Bear’s bowl exposes less surface area so that the porridge is unable to cool. Is there a science lesson to be taught here? (Mama Bear’s bowl must be wide and shallow; etc.) Or perhaps Mama Bear’s bowl is made of thin porcelain, and Papa Bear’s bowl is made of earthenware? Please insert some text explaining this to our readers.

2) What is Goldilocks’ motivation for tasting and eating the porridge? Has she perhaps traveled a long distance through the woods? Is she hungry at home? A paragraph or two about what attracts her to the porridge (which may be unknown or unappealing to today’s children) may help us “get into her skin”.

3) The porridge section of the story seems comparatively static and goes on too long. Try to shorten it, so that we can get on to the more exciting “chair and bedroom” scenes, which deliver more emotional punch to the reader.

4) Is the child’s hair color significant? You allude to it in the opening paragraph, and then we don’t hear about it any more. We need more mentions of the child’s hair and its importance in the story.

5) Is it likely that Papa Bear would notice that the cushions of his chair are wrinkled before all three bears notice that Baby Bear’s chair lies in splinters? Reorder for better flow/avoid confusion.

6) Goldilocks’ pronouncements of “just right” seem predictable by the time she gets to the bedroom. Perhaps we could have a surprise in this scene–perhaps Mama Bear’s bed is the most comfortable! Or, alternatively, Goldilocks could start with the Baby Bear’s bed and progress to Papa Bear’s bed, carrying out the theme of her insatiable desire to “crib” what belongs to another.

7) Goldilocks’ reaction to the bears at the end of the story seems overwrought. Why does she flee from the house? Traditionally bears are considered dangerous, but the bears in this story have many human characteristics. They are vegetarians (as testified to by the porridge) and their house is furnished with chairs, beds, et cetera. In view of this, Goldilocks’ flight makes her seem wimpy and old fashioned. Today’s children will be more attracted to a spunky, feisty Goldilocks. Please tweak the ending a little!

Yesterday, I read Robert Southey’s, The Story of the Three Bears (1837), the most influential version of the tale, though not the earliest recorded one. It’s written in prose and part of a collection of essays called, “The Doctor.”  

Surprising things I discovered:

the bears are all male, not a family unit,

                             Leslie Brook, 1905

the intruder, unnamed, is not a young girl, but an old woman,

                           Peter Newell, 1907

and the old woman is repeatedly chastised by the narrator, described as “naughty,” “impudent,” “bad,” with an “ugly, dirty head.”

Twelve years later, Joseph Cundall changed the old woman to a girl, because he felt there were already too many old ladies in stories. He named her “Silver Hair,” (Treasury of Pleasure Books for Young Children, 1849). Other versions soon followed, with the girl called “Silver Locks” and “Golden Hair,” until she was finally deemed “Goldilocks,” in Old Nursery Stories and Rhymes, illustrated by John Hassall in 1904.

                       Jessie Wilcox Smith, 1911

I’m wondering:

Why older women were so frequently portrayed in a negative light in fairy and folk tales. Consider the preponderance of witches, bitches, hags, shrews, evil queens, vixens, stepmothers, and the above-mentioned interloper. 

Why young girls were so often used to teach moral lessons.

Why Baby Bear is almost always male, garnering the most sympathy from the reader.

Still, I’m happy with how the bears were portrayed, right from the beginning. Whether all males or a family unit, clothed or unclothed, they were the model of good behavior — civilized, trusting, even sympathetic and forgiving. That’s good, because there are more humanized bears appearing in children’s stories than any other animal. 

Here are my 3 favorite versions of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, out of the zillions available:

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, retold by Jim Aylesworth, pictures by Barbara McClintock (Scholastic Press, 2003). Traditional retelling with charmingly detailed illustrations rendered in ink, watercolour and gouache.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, retold and illustrated by James Marshall (Dial, 1988). A Newbery Honor book, tongue-in-cheek version, with Goldie depicted as a deliciously naughty minx.

Goldie and the Three Bears, by Diane Stanley (HarperCollins, 2003). An original modernized take on the classic, with a more sympathetic Goldie and a new ending, which finally absolves Goldie of her longstanding cowardice.

Oh, Christopher says it’s time for breakfast. 


Off to make some porridge.

                    Warning: Do not leave your bowl unattended.

Visit for more history, annotations, wonderful old illustrations, and modern interpretations of the tale. 

Here’s an animated Three Bears to delight the child within.

See all the Teddy Bear and Friends Picnic posts here.

14 thoughts on “this porridge will never be just right!

  1. Re: VERY CURIOUS, indeed!
    Well, Eleanor certainly doesn’t fit into this category. It’s more older women in early folk or fairy tales, and these are the stories children encounter first.


  2. these are the stories children encounter first….
    So…. Fear your grandmother? What kind of message is that? Damn Anglos seem to have such a hard time with Age and Gender!


  3. Yes, the letter is definitely a hoot. And so true. I didn’t know much about the background of the three bears story until recently. I knew many fairy tales were violent, but never really thought about the treatment of women in these stories.


  4. Re: these are the stories children encounter first….
    It’s very curious. Females have been traditionally viewed as the weaker, more vulnerable sex, yet they are the ones who throw kids into ovens, invite themselves into strangers’ homes, and say things like, “off with their heads!”


  5. Interesting story. I didn’t know that. It’s also bothered me how mothers and mothers-in-law on TV are most of the time portrayed in a negative image. Don’t know why. 😦


  6. Mothers-in-law, especially. But the problems usually occur between women and their mothers-in-law. I don’t see that much negativity where mothers are concerned.


  7. I love those three picture book adaptations you name, too. You’re making me want to read them again.
    Jules, 7-Imp


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