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Leicester Special Collections



The Three Bears

The Three Bears has been a popular fairy tale for many years and the original story has undergone many adaptations.

The earliest record of the story was found in the Toronto Public Library and was titled The Story of The Three Bears metrically related, with illustrations locating it at Cecil Lodge in September 1831. The story was written by Eleanor Mure, who wrote and illustrated the story for her nephew. This version of the fairy tale includes an old woman, not a young girl, as the intruder to the bear’s house.

This was soon to be followed by Robert Southey’s The Story of the Three Bears in 1837. Arguably more influential than its precursor, many mistake Southey’s work as the original version of the fairy tale.  This story also features an old woman as the intruder.

Twelve years after Southey's publication, Joseph Cundall changed the intruder from an old woman to a young girl in his version printed in the Treasury of Pleasure Books for Young Children. This was done because he thought there were too many stories with old women. It wasn't until 1904 that the story’s protagonist became ‘Goldilocks’, which has become the most used since. 

The story of the three bears.

The story of the three bears. (London, 1967)

‘In September 1831 Miss Eleanor Mure made a book of the ‘Story of the Three Bears’ for her four-year-old nephew Horace Broke…She composed the spirited though often faltering verses and illustrated them with original water-colours to show the three bears as residents of Cecil Lodge, her father’s Hertfordshire home’ P. 18

 ‘The variants ‘Silverlocks’ and ‘Goldenlocks’ were used by Walter Crane (1876) and Leslie Brooke (1904), but ‘Goldielocks’, preferred by Flora Annie Steel in her English Fairy Tales (1918), has proved to be the most enduring name.’ P. 18

The bears appear to be brothers in this.


The three bears in this story are a father, mother and child. The girl in the story is named ‘Golden Hair.’ However the hair is not “golden” to the eye!

‘After being startled by the bears, Golden Hair jumps from the window and runs to the wood. The story ends thus… ‘The three Bears went to the window to look after her, and saw her running into the wood; and we fear she must have been eaten up by the wolves, for she has never been seen or heard of since.’ P. 8

The three bears.

The Three Bears (London, [189?])

The three bears.

The Three Bears (London, [189?])

The three bears.

The Three Bears (London, [189?])

In this version Goldenlocks:

‘thought she would go for a walk in the woods, and like Red Riding Hood, she lingered a long time plucking flowers which she thought she would take home to her mother who was ill in bed…’ P. 1

When Goldenlocks wakes up due to the noise created by the bears, she jumps from the window and runs home as fast as her legs will carry her. The story concludes that:

‘After this shock she determined never again to go and visit the house of The Three Bears, or to idle away her time in the woods when she ought to have been at school.’ P. 4

Red Riding Hood

Written 200 years before the works of the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrrault wrote Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, subsequent re-writings of the tale have made them increasingly soothing and pleasant.

Les contes de Perrault

Les contes de Perrault / précédés d'une préface de J. T. de Saint-Germain. (Paris, [19??])

For example, Perrault’s version of Little Red Riding Hood, explicitly informed readers that the character of the wolf was a man intent on preying on young girls who wander alone in woods.

The blue fairy book

The blue fairy book / edited by Andrew Lang; with numerous illustrations by H.J. Ford and G.P. Jacomb Hood. (London), 1889

Little Red Riding Hood often featured in compilations of fairy tales.

In this version she is eaten by the wolf.

As Little Red Riding hood goes through the wood she meets the wolf and speaks with him because she:

‘…did not know that it was dangerous to stay and hear a wolf talk.’ P.51

The wolf enters grandmother’s house and eats her. He then waits for Red Riding Hood and when asked about his big teeth states:

‘That is to eat thee up.’ P.53





Aunt Louisa's favourite toy book. [Comprising : Cinderella. Little Red Riding Hood. Old Mother Hubbard. Little Bo-Peep

Aunt Louisa [Laura Valentine] (ed.), Aunt Louisa’s favourite toy book (London, [1874])

In this version the grandmother is eaten by the wolf but Red Riding-Hood is at first protected by the woodsman’s dog and then the woodsman himself, who kills the wolf with an axe.