Monday, October 27, 2014


A Fable about a Fable
A tongue-in-cheek look at the story of  
Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Once upon a time, 1837 to be exact, a fairy tale began to be read to innocent little children in English nurseries. In the original version the main character was an unpleasant, malicious, intrusive, vagrant old woman who used bad language when things didn't suit her. The setting was a house owned by three bachelor bears. It ended with the woman jumping from the window. It's uncertain if she survived, at least she was never seen again. 

In 1849 the protagonist morphed into a charming kid at first named "Little Silver-Hair." The bears had milk in their bowls not oatmeal. From a fearsome folk tale that struck terror into the hearts of toddlers, it got cleaned up into a cozy, more family-friendly story about a girl named “Goldilocks.” It was somewhat reminiscent of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs where the teenage girl was also an intruder whom the little people discovered under their roof. She had also fallen asleep in their absence. There must be something in the water. I'm not sure which fairy tale came first but a plot can't be copyrighted.

Later psychologists criticized Goldilocks as being a poor behavioral model for kids by acting out such emotional immaturity. She was obviously an unruly, greedy, delinquent, human child. Film makers, cartoonists, and Disney came along and decided to remedy that by projecting upward the age of Goldie to late teens. In some versions they added a boyfriend to the mix, altered the plot, and changed the bears into human wolves. Apparently this was intended to add spice and appeal for adolescent readers. 

So what can we glean of moral behavior from this story for kids of any age including adults? Perhaps we can learn something even from negative examples. Oh sure, the little girl was purported to have innocently wandered off while picking flowers. Who knows, this might have taken place in her mother's flower garden and that was just the beginning of her illicit actions. Little wonder that she took off into the woods to avoid being punished. We can assume that Goldilocks didn't ask her parents' permission to go off alone into the dark forest. Or perhaps she was warned of big bad wolves like Little Red Riding Hood encountered, but not cautioned about bears. From the beginning we can see that she didn't respect authority figures or property. 

Where were Goldie's parents anyway? They must not have been very alert or solicitous for their child's welfare since we don't see them rounding up a search party when their daughter obviously disappeared for an entire day. Do you recall those late night sound bites on TV? "Parents! Do you know where your children are?" I don't see those announcements anymore. Today we are more likely to ask, “Children, do you know where your parents are?” Of course this story was written before TV was invented so we'll give the parents a pass on that one.

One thing always leads to another. As the plot unfolds, we see that Goldie's misdirected curiosity led her to be guilty of trespassing. The bear family is not without blame. They shouldn't have left the house in the middle of a meal for a frolic in the woods just because of the temperature of the food. And they were certainly too trusting to neglect locking their doors—an open invitation for burglary. Ah yes, we should always be suspicious of so-called friendly, little cottages. They might not be so benign. They might become a crime scene these days as in days of yore. Visualize this: the occupants might actually have been at home, she might have surprised them, and bad things could have happened. You could be in big trouble if you skirmish with wild animals who are obviously hungry since their breakfast was delayed. If curiosity can kill a cat, it might have been fatal to the little golden-haired kid.

There are other lessons that should be modeled for children. Patience, for example. If Goldie was so hungry after her long walk she could have politely waited on the doorstep for the occupants to return and invite her in for breakfast. But no, she had to barge right in and head for the kitchen. Such poor manners to taste the food in everyone's bowl! Goldie seemed to be unusually fussy and hard to please. Didn't her mother ever caution her about eating food in a strange place? Who knows what kind of weird ingredients mama bear might have cooked up to make that breakfast food? Bears might have their own version of "Animal Crackers" and they could have been “People Crackers!” Bears must be carnivorous since they are known to attack people! Goldie ate the whole bowlful of little bear's food. So greedy! When you dally with little samples of forbidden things, before long you are unable to control yourself and go off the deep end with other temptations.

Since she was unable to control her appetite for food, the next thing you know she was tempted to disrespect the property of others. Here comes a teachable moment. The story goes that her feet were so sore from walking such a distance in the woods that she simply had to sit down. When she broke the cub's chair, Goldie apparently didn't feel any remorse nor make an attempt at damage control. She wasn't a very good role model for kids since she didn't take responsibility for her actions or leave a note of apology or think about reparation for destroying furniture. Perhaps her conscience had not been well-formed and she was just a mean little girl from the git-go.

When Goldie tried out the chairs of both the parent bears, she must have displaced the cushions or mussed up things since the bears noticed the disarray as soon as they returned. Or else they were incorrigible neatniks so fastidious and obsessed with order that they got all bent out of shape over trivial appearances. These were obviously talking bears, and the high-strung cub kept screaming not unlike spoiled human boys and girls who stamp their feet and pout.

The bears must have been gone a long time to give Goldie a chance to fall asleep. Or maybe it was something in that oatmeal that made her drowsy. At any rate, taking the risk of sleeping in a bed that belonged to someone else—well, it's certainly not a good idea to curl up on other people's bed linens. Didn't her mother teach her anything? Bears are likely to have lice or fleas and she could have ended up scratching or worse. The story line goes that she "dreamed dreams of flowers and warm cookies”—yeah, right. Still no remorse.

When she was discovered, I don't blame her for panicking when she saw three hairy creatures hovering over her. (Remember, they had not eaten yet!) The story goes that she took off in a flash and made a beeline directly for her home (Ah ha! Goldie must not really have been lost, just making an excuse for wandering around in the woods. In the conclusion, she promised her parents that she would never go unaccompanied into the forest again. Here the author was moralizing and attempting damage control to counteract all of Goldie's bad behavior. Kids will promise anything to keep from getting punished. I guess at this point we are supposed to say, "And they lived happily ever after" which is the way most fairy tales end.

So, my take on this tale about a tale will also end because tails are always at an end. I hope that my readers will have learned a few lessons from a contrary, fair-haired little girl. She was just lucky not to have ended up in the bears' oven like the hapless kids Hansel and Gretel. Did you ever wonder why adults in past generations wrote nursery rhymes and fairy tales that were so gory and scary? And we think that there is too much violence on TV these days!

An epilogue-ish note: It was rumored among Dark Forest wild critters that Goldie, forever after, had a phobia about going to the zoo, especially anywhere near the bears' cages.

No comments: