Goldilocks and the Multiple Identities

Once upon a time, which was in fact last week, I was reading around on fairy-tales after the widely-reported discovery of five hundred new (old) ones in a German archive, following links this way and that, when what should I come across but a Page in the Forest which revealed that Goldilocks, that much-loved tale, wasn’t from the Brothers Grimm as I’d always assumed, but was (a) English, (b) not called Goldilocks until the twentieth century, and (c) not even originally in the story.

It was originallyThe Story of the Three Bears”, popularised by Robert Southey in 1837, although there was a slightly earlier version by Eleanor Mure. In both of these, the intruder was an old woman; it was only later that she became a young girl, who went by the names Silverhair, Silverlocks, Goldenhair, and finally, around 1904, Goldilocks. Another early version, which may well have been the first, featured a fox called Scrapefoot rather than a girl or old woman. The bears weren’t originally a family, either, but just three different-sized bears hanging out together. It all reads like the story of a rock band where the original lead singer was kicked out and replaced with a newer, more charismatic one. And where all the other band members changed their surname to Ramone.

My favourite telling of the story shifts the focus away from Goldilocks and her smug self-satisfaction and back onto the hard-done-by bears. The version in question is by Emma Chichester Clark, and has been a bedtime favourite since I bought it for W. a year or so ago. Not only are the illustrations excellent (as hers always are), but so is the text, which is great fun to read aloud (Daddy Bear: “That someone is a hooligan and a thief!”). Compared with some of the overly-cutesy Goldilockses out there (Goldiloxen?), it’s just right.

11 March 2012 · Books