22 April 2012
The Evolving Tale of Swine and Their Canine Adversary
The influence of culture can be seen on just about every aspect of a society, from its tastes in food to the movies that are produced, the books that are written, and the stories that are told to little children. This influence is also a matter of evolution, changing and developing along with its attitudes and mores. A good example of this evolutionary process can be seen in the changes that have been made to folk and fairy tales, especially in the last century. The idea of this evolutionary process is best described by the blogger, Lethologica when he said,
“In the hands of the numerous authors who have shaped them, fairytales springing
from a single core theme have told vastly different stories, fulfilling different purposes,
having different outcomes and teaching different lessons and values… fairytales, as a
whole are constantly evolving to reflect the needs of society.”
A close examination of the familiar favorite, “The Three Little Pigs,” and some of its variants aptly demonstrates the imprint of culture as the times have changed. The basic story remains the same but the variations that are seen reflect influences that are religious, ideological, political, and simply fun.
A brief synopsis of the story is a good place to begin so that changes along the way may be easily pointed out as the tale progresses through the century. It is a simple tale really, the mother pig, unable to sustain herself and her three young ones sends them off to make their own way in the wide world. Each piglet, according to its own abilities constructs for itself a home. A predator in the form of a wolf comes along and devastates the homes of the first two piglets. Alas both of these piglets are consumed by the wolf since their houses are so poorly built and the piglets are so easily overcome. The wolf then threatens the third piglet in the same way but to no avail since the third home is solidly built of bricks. The two then enter into a battle of wits which the piglet ultimately wins and the wolf is boiled alive and the pig eats him instead; end of story. This version of the story of pigs and wolf comes from one of the earliest credited to, according to Soden, “English author, Joseph Jacobs, when he adapted the story for a book titled, ‘English Fairy Tales.’” (Sodon 2) This then will be the measuring stick against which all the other tales will be compared.
One of the first changes made to the tale of pig and wolf was to make the story more child-friendly. Though Long quotes Jacobs thus (in English Folk and Fairy Tales, 1890), “it’s just right for small children—lively with action, with repetitive patterns of language and incident and a villain whose fate precisely fits his crime” (Long 171), it seems that modern society would disagree with that opinion. In Wiesner’s retelling of the tale, though the wolf does ultimately die in the very same way, the author chooses to be less graphic with the details of the villain’s demise. Instead David Wiesner chooses to couch the gory details in a busy array of comic book like illustrations, bubbles of dialogue, and a confusing sprinkling of letters that may or may not spell out the ultimate sentence of the wolf. This can be taken as a far kinder and gentler way of ending the life of the wolf and preserving the sensibilities of the young to whom the story will be read than letting them know the harsh truth. This type of change to the classic tale can be filed under ideological. This is not the only way that the pigs and wolf have been manipulated, however.
The next example is one more of interpretive manipulation rather than a change in the telling of the tale. When Professor Schwartz gets hold of the tale of the poor pigs and the insatiate wolf it is told in the same fashion as the original is with the same deathly outcome but the meaning that can be gleaned from the telling of this tale seems to be what needs to have some adjustment. Rather than interpreting the story to mean, as Sodon stated it, “that hard work and dedication pay off,” (Sodon 2) Professor Schwartz chooses another interpretation altogether. The Professor finds religious parallels in such details of the story as “The ‘hair of my chinny-chin chin” is…the beard…a well-known symbol of the Jewish race” (Schwartz 1), “the Angel of Death, the forces of chaos…aptly symbolized by the wolf,” (Schwartz 1), and “Providence, evidenced by the uncanny feat of a couple of pigs outrunning a wolf” (Schwartz 2) all to convince the reader that the story has religious undertones. Underneath still the tale of “The Three Little Pigs” yet the story has been interpreted in light of the Jewish faith. Simply a new twist on the tale to fit the needs of the culture or society that is reading the story. But the fun of playing with the pigs and the much beleaguered wolf does not end here.
Garner in his version of this much retold tale goes beyond simply nodding to the current centuries’ need for political correctness; he bows and scrapes to it. The pigs are portrayed as “liv[ing] together in mutual respect and in harmony with their environment” (Garner 291), or in the language of the day, “green.” Also, rather than portraying the wolf as bad, which may be offensive, after all that is what political correctness is all about, he is said to have “expansionist ideas” (Garner 291), a kinder and gentler phrase. This retelling is all about telling the story but not offending anyone in the process. So much for politics and fairy tales, but it does make for an amusing reading of this beloved tale if the reader does not take the changes too seriously. That is the trick behind all of the changes to the retelling of “The Three Little Pigs,” do not take them too seriously, since there are even changes that are just that, simply amusing ones.
Finally, there are those authors who have looked at this beloved tale and see not a vehicle for political or religious views but something that is purely fun. Author Jon Scieszka did just that when he wrote, The True Story of The 3 Little Pigs!. Maybe it was sympathy for the plight of the wolf or simply a desire to tell the wolf’s side of the story but this retelling of the oft told tale is not only fun but humorous and totally without politics or offense. The wolf claims that he was framed for the whole thing then lets the reader decide whether he is telling the truth or not. A simple explanation for the whole chain of events in the eyes of the wolf but as he claims,
“They figured a sick guy going to borrow a cup of sugar didn’t sound very exciting.
So they jazzed up the story with all of that ‘Huff and puff and blow your house down.’
And they made me the Big Bad Wolf.” (Scieszka 29)
That is the fun in this retelling of “The Three Little Pigs,” that the story has been told from a different point of view and the reader if left laughing at the wolf’s antics instead of wrestling with an agenda.
Whether fun, politics, religion, or ideology is the reason behind the author’s retelling of the beloved old tale, “The Three Little Pigs,” all of these motives seem to fit beautifully into its framework. As society changes and evolves so too do the stories that make up that society evolve and change. Good examples of those changes can be seen when reading the folk and fairy tales as they are told and retold down through the centuries. An examination of the changes to the classic tale of “The Three Little Pigs” demonstrates the influences of societal changes in politics, ideology, religion, and sometimes a need to just have fun retelling the story.
Jacobs, Joseph. “The Story of the Three Little Pigs.” Folk & Fairy Tales. Ed. Martin Hallett and
Barbara Karasek. 4th ed. Ontario: Broadview Press. 2009. 289-291. Print.
Garner, James Finn. “The Three Little Pigs. Folk & Fairy Tales. Ed. Martin Hallett and Barbara
Karasek. 4th ec. Ontario: Broadview Press. 2009. 291-292. Print.
LONG, JOANNA RUDGE. "Some Pigs!." Horn Book Magazine 85.2 (2009): 171-178.
Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Apr. 2012.
Schwartz, Professor Rumplestiltskin, “The Three Little Pigs: A Quintessential Jewish Allegory
in Deceptive Disguise?”. Jewish Action. Spring 2000. Web. p.1-2.16 April 2012.
Scieszka, Jon. The True Story Of The 3 Little Pigs. New York: Penguin Putnam Books. 1989.
Soden, J. M. “What Is the Moral Lesson of the Three Little Pigs?” eHow.com. 2010. 16 April
Trivizas, Eugene. The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. New York: Margaret K
McElderry Books. 1993. Print.
Lethologica. “Seeking Cinderella: A Brief Glimpse of the Evolution of Fairytales.
12 March 2011. Online posting. serendip. 20 April 2012.