Friday, March 2, 2012

An Old Hag in Goldilocks and The Three Bears

Last week, I told you that fairy tales have fallen into disfavor because they are just so grim, especially those recorded by Grimm. Moreover, parents worry that the tales are politically incorrect or reveal some of the worst aspects of human nature.

I countered by reminding you that fairy tales offer excellent insight into the human experience and fine opportunities for parents to teach children the sometimes tricky distinctions that exist in ethical and moral dilemmas. Today’s tale, number nine on a list of ten objectionable fairy tales, according to a February 12, 2012 article from The Telegraph, is “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” a story so troubling that it has been revised through the years, making it less violent and the ending less final.

First, allow me to summarize an older version of the tale. For a fuller account, you will find a text that tells one of the original versions at http://www.

            Once upon a time, an old woman lacking honesty and good intentions, stopped at the home of three bears: a tiny, wee bear, a middle-sized bear, and a large bear. The three were away, walking in the forest while their three bowls of porridge cooled.

            The old woman looked in the windows, peeped through the keyhole, and tried the latch. Finding the house unlocked, she entered and first tasted the bowls of porridge. The first was too hot, the second too cool, and the third, the wee bear’s bowl, was just right so she ate all the porridge. After eating, however, the old woman curses each bowl, especially the smallest one because it did not hold enough porridge to satisfy her.

            Next the old woman tries out three seats. Only the wee bear’s seat is soft and comfortable but the old woman’s weight is too great. The seat breaks, and the old woman falls. She speaks a naughty word again.

            Finally, the old woman goes upstairs into the bear bedroom. She finds the large and middle-sized bears’ beds uncomfortable, but the wee bear’s bed is just right. She falls into a deep sleep, so deep that when the bears return and discover her intrusion, she does not awaken until the wee bear objects. Its voice is so shrill that she wakes, screams, and jumps from the window that, we’re told, is open because the bears are good housekeepers and let in the fresh air each morning.

            The old woman may have broken her back, might have escaped into the forest, or could have been arrested for vagrancy. The narrator doesn’t know; he’s only sure that the bears were never troubled by her again.

Little moral or ethical ambiguity exists in this old version. The old woman is a vagrant who does not respect the privacy or rights of others. The bears are good housekeepers and never threaten the old hag except by virtue of their proximity. But the bears never try to harm the old woman; she is the one who does harm.

Even if you read the newer version to your children, the one with the fair-haired, blue-eyed child, you can still discuss with them Goldilocks’ failure to respect the boundaries between public and private places and property. She escapes, and, we hope, has learned a valuable lesson.

So whether using the old or new version of this tale, the big idea is that good citizens should honor the line between appropriate and inappropriate actions, between private and public places. Goldilocks or her ancestor, the old vagrant, can stand as an early civics lesson so read and talk with your children.

Reading Challenge:

Read and consider the following excerpt from a post on Digital Bits Skeptic, November 17, 2008, by Andy Kaiser ( more-original-versions-of-classic-fairy-tales).

In the telling of fairy tales, it’s critical to know that the horrible things described are not always meant to be literally true. Frequent descriptions of blindness are symbolic of a lack of spiritual awareness. Evil stepmothers are symbolic of a child’s need to emotionally mature, enough to live independently of parents. Times of perceived death (like the long sleep of Sleeping Beauty and the poisoned-apple “death” of Snow White) are symbolic of physical and emotional growth, of waiting for the right time to emerge out of childhood into an adult.

Children can revel in or be scared by the blood-and-guts aspect of some stories. It’s up to the parent or teacher to properly present the material. A classic fairy tale is pervasive and long-lasting because it can be appreciated in many ways. It can be educational, teaching children simple concepts of right and wrong. It can illustrate proper social behavior, and how to live with the consequences of one’s actions. It can be analyzed for symbolism of complex psychological themes, like the emotional growth of an innocent child into a sexually-aware adult. Finally, a classic fairy tale can be simply enjoyed, as we have memorable characters with exciting and creative adventures.

So you have options. Read and appreciate fairy tales in whatever way you’d like. But whatever you do, don’t stop.

Indeed, fairy tales are part of our cultural heritage, contributors to the moral and ethical standards by which we live.

Writing Challenge:

In one version of this tale, Goldilocks runs away, never to be seen again. In other versions, the intruder suffers deadly punishments. Write the ending that satisfies you.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): Amoral and Immoral

Today’s post is a good opportunity to review two more commonly confused words: amoral and immoral. The old hag appears to be amoral; i.e., she is not at all concerned with right and wrong. She spies upon a house, enters it, eats the food, breaks a chair, and lies down in the beds of the owners. She never apologizes or expresses doubt and regret. She just curses.

If the old hag had a moment of doubt or regret, we could characterize her as immoral because an immoral person is one who seems to know but does not follow accepted moral standards. The distinction between the two words is that an amoral person defies standards of right and wrong while an immoral person ignores them.

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary ( dictionary) offers these definitions and examples:


·      being neither moral nor immoral; specifically : lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply
·      lacking moral sensibility
·      being outside or beyond the moral order or a particular code of morals; e.g., He is an amoral, selfish person pursuing his own goals


·      not moral; broadly : conflicting with generally or traditionally held moral principles; e.g., It was immoral of her to tell lies like that.