Friday, October 9, 2015

African American versions of Three Little Pigs

I really haven't looked into the tale "Three Little Pigs" much before-it's not one of those folktales you see people analyzing and discussing, but I was reminded of the story by the new board game "Little Pig" (be sure to recommend other fairy tale characters to be a part of the game if you haven't already!).

The classic story as we know it is an English tale, but similar tales exist around the world.

I forgot how dark it is-my memories of the tale involve a story in which the first two pigs, once their house has blown down, runs to the house of the next pig, where they all end up safely inside the brick house. But in the folktale, the first two get eaten. Also, the wolf doesn't stop when he finds he can't blow the brick house down, but continues to invite the pig out to get him outside of the house. The third pig is smart, and avoids the wolf, but the wolf is cunning as well and learns to anticipate the pig's moves...the story doesn't end till the wolf comes down the chimney and into a boiling pot of water, where the pig eats him up.

(We also had The True Story of the Three Little Pigs growing up, and the humor makes it less dark. The wolf likens eating the pigs to us eating a hamburger)

The Awful Fate of Mr. Wolf is an African-American tale included in Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus stories. I'm mostly familiar with the characters of Brer Rabbit and Brer Wolf as they appear in the Disney Parks ride "Splash Mountain". This version has the wolf pitted against rabbits rather than pigs, but with a similar plot line-Brer Rabbit keeps building different houses that get destroyed, and each time one of his own children is taken. Finally, one day when the wolf is running away from a pack of dogs, Brer Rabbit is able to pretend he is protecting him when he is really cooking him alive in front of his children, and they later feast on him with their neighbors. The story ends, "And if you go to Brer Rabbit's house right now, I don't know but what you'll find Brer Wolf's hide hanging in the back porch, and all because he was so busy with other folks' doings."

The Story of the Pigs is another Harris/Uncle Remus tale. In this one, although the pigs do build houses out of different materials, the materials don't matter, because the wolf tricks all of them into opening the door for him, except the last pig (this time there were five pig siblings, and the Runt was the smartest).

In How Come Pigs Can See the Wind, a tale from North Carolina, the wolf dresses up like the human pig owner. When the mother pig still won't release the pigs to him, he gets Satan to blow down the house for him. The story doesn't actually say whether or not the house was blown down or if the wolf got the pigs, but when the mother pig saw Satan's breath blowing, from then on pigs were able to see the wind, and get scared.

These stories from Virginia are a mix of elements from the other stories, but I find it ironic that one of the collectors of the stories is named Bacon.

The stories do have some common elements with other fairy tales-deception and trickery (the wolf dressing up like the master is reminiscent of the wolf disguising himself as Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother), and the last/youngest sibling who ends up being more successful and defeating the enemy. Although the story deals with natural predators, the idea of creatures that can have conversations with each other but later cook and eat each other give it cannibalistic overtones. The violence also makes me think of The Children Who Played at Butchering (the most horrifying fairy tale ever, in my opinion)...the idea of even the protagonist killing and eating a talking animal is one step closer to children killing each other in their play. It almost makes sense to imagine that the children had recently been told this tale when they decided to play butcher and slaughter the "pig"...
Illustrations-L. Leslie Brooke


  1. Always fascinating to see fairytale variations! I read the Uncle Remus stories in my childhood and vaguely recall that Brer Wolf returned in another story after having been killed in a previous one. The little boy points thus out and Uncle Remus, a bit annoyed, says that maybe it was earlier or maybe it was another Brer Wolf.

    We do give wolves a hard time in fairytales, don't we?:-)

    1. Haha! Or it's like in cartoons, no matter how many times the Wily Coyote is smashed by a grand piano, he's always back and ready to go in the next scene! We would rather re-kill the villain over and over again than actually get rid of him...