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1001 Stories Collection

The Story of the Three Bears

1001 thethreebears
Added on 08th July 2020

Oral tradition English folktale

UK and Ireland Animals Folk and fairy tales
1001 , Text

The famous tale of a tired and hungry girl and a family of bears.


Three bears live in a cottage in the woods. One morning, after making porridge, they decide to go for a walk while their breakfast cools. While they are out, someone sneaks into their house, eats their porridge, sits on their chairs, and sleeps in their beds. Before long, the bears return from their walk…

Why we chose it

One of the best known and best loved fairy tales. The story is a popular favourite with visitors to the museum and featured in our 2017 Christmas show, Three Bears.

Where it came from

The story was most famously recorded in Robert Southey’s 1837 essay collection, The Doctor. In his version an old woman breaks into the house of the bears, steals their porridge and damages their furniture before being chased out of the window. However, a very similar tale was told in a handmade booklet made by Eleanor Mure in 1831 – although her old lady doesn’t escape from the bears. Even earlier is the story of three bears and Scrapefoot, an intruding fox which was known widely across England. Similar stories existed in other countries too, including a Norwegian folktale about a princess sneaking into the cave of three bearskin-wearing princes.

Joseph Cundell in 1850 was the first to make the intruder a little girl – a rude and unruly little girl who is also chased out of the window. The name Goldilocks wasn’t used until 1904 when the story appears in Old Nursery Stories and Rhymes edited by Flora Annie Steel and illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Before then the intruding girl had silver hair.

Where it went next

Goldilocks and the Three Bears appears in Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes (1982). His version has also been adapted as a musical by Helen MacGregor and Stephen Chadwick.

Like many traditional tales, Goldilocks and the Three Bears became a pantomime, performed first in 1867.

There are numerous picture book versions including Jan Brett’s The Three Snow Bears (2007) which transfers the story to the Arctic.

Associated stories

The story was included in Joseph Jacobs’ 1890 collection of English Fairy Tales. The collection also includes Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington and His Cat, Jack the Giant Killer, and The Story of the Three Little Pigs.

Added on 08th July 2020

Oral tradition English folktale

UK and Ireland Animals Folk and fairy tales
1001 , Text

Story Resources

  • The Three Bears story text PDF (247.012 KB)