Bibliographic Information: Steel, Flora Annie Webster. English Fairy Tales. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1918.

Ethnic Origin: English

Running Time: somewhere between 5 and 30 minutes….depending on detail and how much time is available

Power Centers: In The Uses of Enchantment, Bettelheim discusses possible explanations for the recurring number "three." "Three" may symbolize the Freudian construct of the "id," the "ego," and the "superego." It may, also, symbolize the two-parents-one-child triad. In "The Three Bears," the bears are often referred to as mother, father and young child. Baby Bear represents the "good" and obedient child who wants and tries to obey and please the powerful parents. However, Goldilocks is the personification of another aspect of the same egocentric child, doing what she likes without regard for others. Baby Bear and Goldilocks are two aspects of one child. This offers a clear explanation of Goldilocks’ free access to the home of the Bear family. Goldilocks does not suffer the consequences of her actions. It is Baby Bear who pays for her naughty behaviors. It is Baby Bear’s emotions that are clearly seen as the story unfolds. When the family returns from their walk, the older bears are curious and, later, angry, as parents are wont to be with ill-behaved children. It is Baby Bear who is very upset about the porridge that has been eaten and the broken chair. The "good" child can not acknowledge his own naughtiness, so it must be the responsibility of another, "bad" child. It is not until the naughty Goldilocks is vanquished that Baby Bear can regain his composure. Goldilocks is sent on her way not by the adult bears, but by Baby Bear himself. The story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is the tale of the emerging superego as it gains control over the naughty, egocentric young child.

Characters: Goldilocks, Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear

Scenes: The story opens in the Bear family kitchen as the family prepares for breakfast. The following three scenes involve only Goldilocks as she goes from the kitchen to the living room and finally to the bears’ bedroom, leaving a trail of havoc as she goes. The next three scenes involve the Bear family as they follow the path of destruction that Goldilocks has left in their home. The final scene occurs as Goldilocks flees the home of the Bears.

Synopsis: The Bear family, Papa, Mama and Baby, sits down to a breakfast of hot porridge. Since the porridge is too hot to eat, the family decides to take a walk while the porridge cools. In their absence, Goldilocks lets herself into the unlocked house. Being hungry, she helps herself to the cooling porridge. Only the cereal of Baby Bear suits her and she eats all of it. Then Goldilocks goes into the family’s living room and tries all the chairs. Once again the possession of Baby Bear is the only one that she likes. However, she breaks the chair. Exhausted from her adventures, she tries out each of the three beds. The bed of Baby Bear is so comfortable that she falls asleep. The Bear family returns to find that their breakfast has been tasted by an unknown intruder. When Baby Bear looks in his bowl, he finds it empty and is very upset. The family follows the path of destruction into their living room. Baby Bear is extremely upset when he finds his chair broken to pieces. The family follows Goldilocks to the bedroom where they find the intruder has tried all the beds and is sleeping in Baby Bear’s bed. In Steel’s version, as in many others, it is not the voice of Papa or Mama who awaken the sleeping child, rather it is the voice of Baby Bear that awakens Goldilocks and sends her on her way.

Rhymes/Special Phrases/ “Flavor”: "Somebody has been eating my porridge." "Somebody has been sitting in my chair." "Somebody has been sleeping in my bed." Adding "and it is all gone," " and it is all broken," and, finally, "and there she is!" "This porridge is too hot." "This porridge is too cold." "This porridge is just right." "This chair is too hard." "This chair is too soft." "This chair is just right." "This bed is too hard." "This bed is too soft." This bed is just right."

Audience: Goldilocks and the Three Bears clearly addresses issues of early childhood. The egocentrism of Goldilocks is characteristic of children during the preoperational period. The use of animals which act as humans reflects the preoperational belief in animism. These three animals are a "Great Big Bear," a "Middle-sized Bear, " and a "Little Wee Bear." Preoperational children are not able to seriate. Seriated characters in stories encourage the child to begin making comparisons of size. The fact that the adult bears can tell that someone has been eating their porridge, sitting in their chairs, and lying in their beds is explained by some tellers when spoons are left in bowls, pillows are left askew and bed linens are messy. The preoperational child, however, needs no explanation. Premack and Woodruff described "theory of mind" which involves the ability to postulate the mental states of others and to use these postulations to explain and predict the behaviors of others. In the famous Sally-Anne experiment, Wimmer and Perner demonstrated that "theory of mind" develops over the course of early childhood. Clearly, a preoperational child who has not yet developed a "theory of mind," hearing the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, would attribute child’s own knowledge to the bears.

Bibliographic Information on versions and/or variants:


Arbuthnot, May Hill. Time for Fairy Tales, Old and New. Chicago: Scott, Foresman, and Company. 1952.

Galdone, Paul. The Three Bears. New York: Seabury Press. 1972.

Gruenberg, Sidonie Matsner. Favorite Stories, Old and New. Garden City, N. Y. : Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc. 1942.

Langley, Jonathan. Goldilocks and the Three Bears. New York: Harper Collins. 1991

Martignoni, Margaret. The Illustrated Treasury of Children’s Literature. New York: Grosset and Dunlap. 1955.

Rockwell, Anne(ed). The Three Bears and Fifteen Other Stories. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co. 1973.

Old Woman:

Crossley-Holland, Kevin. Folk Tales of the British Isles. New York: Pantheon. 1065.

Lang, Andrew. The Green Fairy Book. New York: Dover Publications. 1965.


Jacobs, Joseph. More English Fairy Tales. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. (no date).

Comparison of versions and variants:


Langley, Jonathan. In this version the bears are given names, George, Mavis and Brian. They live "in a little house in the big wood," which one might assume to be a nod to Laura Ingalls Wilder. This modern version sees Father Bear making breakfast in an unlocked house. Goldilocks is described as in a "bad mood," having had no breakfast. Mother Bear mends the broken chair. When Goldilocks escapes, the reader is told that she never ate porridge again, but she did have other adventures. The simple, almost coloring-book illustrations support this more modern telling.

             Galdone, Paul. Mr. Galdone offers logical explanations of why the bears could be certain that someone had, indeed, eaten the porridge, sat in the chairs and lain in the beds of the two larger bears. However, in this tale, the bears are described as "little wee bear," "middle-sized bear," and "great big bear." These bears are not necessarily related to one another other than as housemates. At the end of the tale, Mr. Galdone writes that "no one knows what happened to Goldilocks after that. As for the three bears, they never saw her again."

             Rockwell, Anne (ed). Rockwell’s version is much like of Mr. Galdone. She describes the awakening of Goldilocks by the voice of the little bear, while those of the other bears had not interrupted her sleep. There is no mention of the fate of Goldilocks in this version.

             Arbuthnot, May Hill. This version is a retelling of Florie Annie Steel.

             Gruenberg, Sidonie Matsner. This, too, is very similar to the Steel version.

             Martignoni, Margaret. This telling is much like Lang’s tale where the intruder is an old woman. The conclusion is essentially the same as Lang’s except that Goldilocks is substituted for the old woman.


The Old Woman:

             Lang, Andrew. In this variant, Goldilocks is replaced by an old woman who is not a "good honest old woman…." The story is essentially the same, except that the possible fates of the woman are all very unpleasant. This tale is attributed to Southey.

            Crossley-Holland, Kevin. Also attributed to Southey, this telling is the same as Lang’s.


Jacobs, Joseph. This tale is about bears who live in "a castle in a great wood." These bears are not described as related to one another. In this same wood lives a fox who, although very frightened of the bears, is, also, very curious about them. Scrapefoot, the fox, lets himself into the castle in the bears’ absence. From that point, the tale proceeds much as the others. When the bears find the fox in the bed of the smallest bear, they pick him up and throw him out the window. Fortunately, Scrapefoot is not injured, but he never repeats his adventure in the castle of the bears.