Fairy-Tale Files: Do Bears Belong in Houses?

Fairy-Tale Files

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.



Most of us know about “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”—the adorable little girl, the bowls of porridge, the chairs, the beds, finding the one that is “just right”—but older versions of the tale carry a certain additional grittiness. What we know as a young woman is instead an old woman, ugly and bad, who was cast away from her family as a disgrace. She breaks her way into the bears’ home, eats some porridge, and breaks a chair. By the time the bears return home, she’s fast asleep in the Wee Bear’s bed. She startles, defenestrates herself, and disappears into the woods.

Sometimes, house-dwelling bears and house-dwelling humans can actually seem to get along. Julio Cortazar’s bizarre and strangely beautiful story, “Discourse of the Bear,” gives narratorial control to a bear that swims and crawls through the pipes of an apartment building, watching the people who live there, and sometimes caressing their cheeks when they’re not expecting it. “I go through the pipes from apartment to apartment and I am the bear who goes through the pipes,” says the bear, in somewhat palindromic fashion. If only all our house-bears were so charming.

Almost exactly five years ago, on October 19, 2011, Terry Thompson released more than fifty wild animals onto the quiet streets of a small central Ohio town. The animals, which he kept on his property, aka the Muskingum County Animal Farm, included eighteen tigers, two wolves, and yes, two grizzly bears. Sadly, police were forced to kill most of the escaped animals, being unfit for both the locale and for being rehoused elsewhere. For a Midwesterner, generally deprived of any opportunity to see wildlife beyond squirrels and crows, the grizzly prancing across Main Street would probably be a little less charming than one that snakes their drains on the daily.