"The Story of the Three Bears" (sometimes known as "The Three Bears", "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" or, simply, "Goldilocks") is a fairy tale first recorded in narrative form by British author and poet Robert Southey, and first published anonymously in a volume of his writings in 1837. The same year, British writer George Nicol published a version in rhyme based upon Southey's prose tale, with Southey approving the attempt to bring the story more exposure. Both versions tell of three bears and an old woman who trespasses upon their property.
"The Story of the Three Bears" was in circulation before the publication of Southey's 1837 version. In 1831, for example, Eleanor Mure fashioned a handmade booklet about the three bears for her nephew's birthday, and, in 1813, Southey was telling the story to friends. In 1894, "Scrapefoot", a tale with a fox as antagonist that bears striking similarities to Southey's story, was uncovered by the folklorist Joseph Jacobs and may predate Southey's version in the oral tradition. Southey possibly heard "Scrapefoot", and confused its "vixen" with a homonym for an unpleasant, malicious old woman. Some maintain however that the story as well as the old woman originated with Southey.
"The Story of the Three Bears" experienced two significant changes during its early publication history. Southey's intrusive old woman became an intrusive little girl in 1849, who was given various names referring to her hair until Goldilocks was settled upon in the early 20th century. Southey's three bachelor bears evolved into Father, Mother, and Baby Bear over the course of several years. What was originally a fearsome oral tale became a cozy family story with only a hint of menace. The story has elicited various interpretations and has been adapted to film, opera, and other media. "The Story of the Three Bears" is one of the most popular fairy tales in the English language.
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