Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Three Little Pigs

Okay, it's time for that other story that has a wolf as a villain; "The Three Little Pigs!"

Now, I first heard this story from a book that was based on the old Disney cartoon. I didn't see the cartoon until years later, but the book was a very entertaining read when I was a kid. So, naturally, I knew the watered-down version before I knew about the more gruesome version.

Now let's say that line that you're probably getting tired of me saying.

Everybody probably knows the story already (there you go). There are three pigs that leave their mother to seek their fortune. They build houses. The first pig builds a house of straw, the second builds a house of sticks, and the third builds a house of bricks. Despite warnings from the Third Pig that their houses aren't strong enough, the First and Second Pigs refuse to spend the time building stronger houses. Unfortunately for them, the Big Bad Wolf comes to the neighborhood and blows down the straw and stick houses, forcing their owners to flee to the house of bricks. Their brother lets them in, and tells them that his house is the only safe one built, as he said before. Sure enough, the Wolf is unable to blow down the house. Unable to get to the pigs, he gives up and goes home, never to bother the pigs again.

Simple story isn't it? Basically a lesson that hard work really does pay off. But this story has changed quite a bit.

Now, although for the first three months so that I heard this story it was from a book based on the Disney cartoon, my parents later started reading it to me out of two different books. These were "The Golden Goose Book" and "Paul Galdone's Three Little Pigs." Both of these used the text of Joseph Jacob's version (although the Galdone version had simplified vocabulary), which is what most of the modern versions are based on. I have the Jacobs version memorized to this day, and if you asked me to recite it, I would, and I would do it very well.

Now, the stories of Joseph Jacobs are for a considerably younger audience than the tales of the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault. As such, they aren't as dark. That's not to say that they're completely child-friendly, but they are more light-hearted and humorous, which makes them very fun.

Now, people who aren't familier with the Jacobs version will probably be surprised to find out that the "house-building" aspect is actually a very minor plot point in the story. Basically, we get something like this:

"The first pig built a house of straw, which the wolf blew down. The second pig built a house of gorse, which the wolf blew down. The third pig built a house of bricks, which the wolf couldn't blow down."

I'm exaggerating a little bit, but that's basically how important that whole section is in this version of the story. In fact, the first two pigs don't even survive in this version. The wolf eats them. They are in this story for such a short time that they might as well have not been in it at all, and the story should have been called "The One Little Pig."

It's understandable though, why this part of the story became so famous, while the rest of it has kid of been pushed into near obscurity. This part of the story includes some repetitive rhyming when the wolf comes to the houses;

"Little pig, little pig, let me come in!"

"No, no, by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin."

"Than I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in!"

So classic. And yeah, it IS very memorable. Plus, who doesn't want to teach their children about the value of hard work?

On a side note, Jacobs speculates that because pigs don't actually have hair on their chins, that they must have been goats in earlier versions of the story. This somewhat loosely ties this story with "The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids," which actually has variants with three kids instead of seven.

Now, like I said, this opening to the story really has very little importance, it might as well have began with the part with the wolf trying to blow down the brick house, bacause that's where the main part of the story starts. The main focus of the story is that the wolf is trying to get to the third little pig.

Also note that the wolf isn't called the "Big Bad Wolf." I don't know who came up with that idea (though it IS kind of catchy).

And the wolf doesn't just give up either, he's STILL determined to get that pig. He decides to trick him into leaving the house. He invites him to come along with him the next morning to the field to pick turnips. The pig agrees, but sees through the wolf's plan, and cleverly heads out an hour before the wolf intends to meet him. He picks the turnips and gets back home before the wolf arrives, which ticks him off. Then the wolf invites him to an apple orchard.

Once again, the pig heads out an hour early. However, he is at the orchard longer than he expected, and the wolf arrives while he's up on a tree. The pig, however, uses his wits, and tosses the wolf an apple. While the wolf is running to pick it up, the pig climbs out of the tree and runs home.

The wolf then invites the pig to a fair in Shanklin (which definitively sets this version in Britain). The pig once again heads out an hour early and goes to the fair. As he's heading home, he sees the wolf coming. So he hides in a butter-churn he bought at the fair and rolls down the hill in it. The wolf is frightened by it and runs home.

He later goes to the pig's house, only to find that the pig was inside the butter-churn that scared him. Angrily, he resolves to go down the chimney and eat the pig. But the builds a fire in the fireplace and puts a big pot of water over it. The wolf falls into the pot, and the pig slams the cover over it so that the wolf can't escape, killing him. The pig eats him for supper. The end.

Now, not all modern versions end with the wolf just giving up after he can't blow down the brick house. In some (including the Disney cartoon), the story actually cuts to him coming down the chimney. In some versions where this happens, the wolf doesn't die, he just gets burned badly by the hot water, and runs away forever. But this doesn't really make since, because water doesn't heat up that fast. The Jacobs version, where the pig slams the cover on until the wolf has been boiled, actually makes more sense. Some modern versions take note of this, and don't have the pot of water on the fire. Instead, the wolf burns his tail from the flames of the fire.

The modern versions focus more on the value of hard work, while the Jacobs version tells the reader to always be smarter than the villain. Both are valuable lessons, and I've actually combined both lessons in a script I wrote for a comedy movie based on the story (yes, I like to write things in my spare time). I have all three pigs survive. The first half of the script focuses on the house-building aspect, while the second half focuses on the wolf's attempts to get the pigs to leave the house. I honestly wish more of the modern versions had the rest of the story, as it's very humorous. But, for a children's story, I think this does very well.

There's also another, very different, version of the story included in The Green Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. But I'll talk about that in a future post.

Which version of the story do YOU prefer? The version that focuses more on the houses, or the version that focuses more on the wolf's attempts to get the pig(s) to leave the house?

1 comment:

  1. I prefer the longer version, because it is more humorous, but I can see why the short version is the one that caught on. It is short and to the poin, in addition it allows for adaptations that have all three piggs survive. While the similarities between The Three Little Pigs and The Seven Young Kids are similar enough that a relation can be assumed, I'd be careful to found that argument purely on the assumptio that at a point the animals in the story might have been different ones. Animal pro- and antagonists in fairy tales (other than in fables where each animals fulfills a certain sybolic role) are often kind of random and tere will usually be a large number of different animals playing the role of hero and villain in each tale type. For example the role of the pigs can be filled by geese, chicken, ducks , goats or even humans, while the predator might be a bear, fox or troll/ogre