Sunday, August 28, 2016

Just (can't be) Right

There are some things we've been told enough times that we just accept them as truth. But some of them clearly don't add up, and now that I'm noticing the discrepancies, it is hard to know which parts of our received wisdom can really be trusted. I'm talking, of course, about the story of Goldilocks and the three bears.

The glaring problem is the porridge temperature. You know the story: the Bear family serves porridge into bowls and goes for a walk while waiting for it to cool. Goldilocks arrives on the scene, sees the three bowls set out on the table,  and promptly samples each one. Big bowl: too hot. Medium bowl: too cold. Small bowl: just right. 
Wait, WHAT!? 
It is the same porridge, in the same room, on the same table. How did Mama Bear's porridge cool off more than Baby Bear's? All three servings started at the same temperature, and judging both by experience and by the laws of thermodynamics the smaller portion should cool off faster than the larger one. Unless Mama Bear keeps her cast iron bowl in the ice box between meals, we've been lied to. It was Mama Bear's porridge that should have been just right!

No doubt you are now imagining some (unlikely and unsatisfying) explanations that could potentially account for the reported temperatures. But before we get sidetracked into a discussion of bowl shape or fireplace proximity, let's consider the other suspect elements in the story. The Bears return home, discover the eaten porridge, and proceed to the sitting room where Papa Bear and Mama Bear both comment on the mussed cushions or other small indications that someone has been sitting, however briefly, in these well-used chairs. Can't you hear Baby Bear's incredulity when he ventures to mention that someone has broken his chair to pieces, right there on the floor! How did Mama and Papa not notice that first?

The same scene basically repeats itself upstairs. Despite the fact that it should be clear to both of the adults that they are dealing with some form of home invasion, they studiously avoid noticing the actual person sleeping in their child's bed, instead drawing attention to how their own blankets have been disturbed. How wrong is that?!

I'm sure that you can see the conclusion we must draw. Either these parents are self-centered to the point of total neglect for their child's safety and well-being, or the whole situation was purposefully staged. Recall that neither parent moves to question Goldilocks or stop her from departing. 

What kind of parents would pull a stunt like that? Apparently they hired Goldilocks to teach Baby Bear some sort of life lesson. Fear of strangers? Importance of locking doors and protecting personal property? Don't go on walks? I don't know what they told Baby Bear afterward, but I am disinclined to trust any moral derived from such a manipulative experience. 

Papa Bear's story is too contrived. Mama Bear's story is too worrying. Baby Bear's story is just not right.


  1. I guess the real question at this point is whether Goldilocks was in on it, or if Mama and Papa Bear were just opportunists.

  2. You have a point. However, it is obvious that the reason Mama Bear's porridge was too cold is because she was eating the leftovers from yesterday's porridge! That's right. That's what Moms do.
    And more nagging questions...these are bears. Why are they sleeping in beds and sitting on chairs anyway?? Or living in a house with a door and windows and stuff? Although I'm pretty sure that they do indeed eat porridge. Even leftover cold porridge.

  3. I love your interpretation of an event stage by the parents.

    I'm more concerned about the frequency of trespassing that seems to go on in these fairy tale woods. Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Rumplestiltzkin ... at least the Big Bad Wolf knocked on the three pig's doors before entering. I'd love to read a fairy tale in which it's a single, serial trespasser invading everyone's homes.