As the folktale, “The Three Little Pigs”, has been a popular story among different cultures, it seems logical that each culture’s version would have most aspects in common. However, across cultures (and time), the story has changed. This is particularly apparent in three stories centered around “The Three Little Pigs”: “The Three Little Pigs & the Fox” retold by William H. Hooks is an American (Appalachian) version; “The Three Little Rabbits” retold by Ivan Gantschev is a Balkan version; and Nursery Tales Around the World includes “The Three Pigs”, (English) by Judy Sierra. Yes, there are similarities and differences between titles, settings, characters, and endings in these three versions. Yet, there are apparent ways these stories reflect cultural characteristics, like how they’re similar and different in the causes of events and actions of the characters.
These three versions of “The Three Little Pigs” have similar settings. Like Sierra’s English retelling, Hook’s American, “The Three Little Pigs and the Fox”, takes place “a long time ago” when animals could still speak like “human folks”. However, Hook’s story specifically takes place in the Black Mountain hollers of The Appalachians. The setting of the Balkan story retold by Gantschev, “The Three Little Rabbits”, takes place “once upon a time” too, but in a generic rabbit burrow.
In each story, the hero or heroine is excited to go out into the world to start their own life. The third pig (or rabbit) is the hero or heroine in each story. American heroine, Baby Hamlet, lives with Mama and her two gluttonous brothers, Oinky and Rooter. She is a “right smart piglet with more on her mind than eating.” Respectively, the third pig and third rabbit from the English and Balkan stories are not given as much independent attention as Baby Hamlet, but they do share her qualities of cunning, intelligence, quick-wit and obedience. And, Baby Hamlet, the third English pig, and the third Balkan rabbit, do what their brothers couldn’t – outwit the sly antagonist. Two of the stories use a fox and one uses a wolf; yet, all three share a cunning, deceitful and sly nature.
The action, or plot, of the stories is obviously quite similar. The Balkan rabbits are told by their parents that they must go “see the wide world”. However, two of the rabbits don’t take their parents’ advice to build a rabbit hole and make a nest and hut respectively. Spending their time eating and playing, they are almost eaten by the fox when they don’t have a hole to hide in. The third little bunny takes time to build a hole and then does his playing and eating afterward. The fox gets his head stuck in that hole and needs the third rabbit’s help. The American story also begins in a similar way: Mama tells Baby Hamlet’s older brothers “time’s come to go out and seek your fortune”. They forget her advice: especially “One: You got to watch out for that mean, tricky old drooly-mouth fox.” The pigs from the English version are told to all leave and “seek their fortune”, too. One pig builds a house of straw; another, a house of sticks; and the third pig builds a brick house. When a wolf knocks at the door of the houses made of straw and sticks, he huffs, puffs and blows the pigs’ houses in, gobbling up two little pigs. Then, the well-fed, cunning fox shows up to the third pig’s brick house. When the pig will not let him in, the wolf cannot blow his house in. Therefore, the wolf comes up with a few other schemes to trap the pig. However, the pig anticipates the wolf’s antics and stays off the menu.
Despite the character and plot differences, the endings of “The Three Little Pigs” stories are quite similar. When the English wolf finds out it was the little pig in a butter churn he saw earlier in the day, the wolf gets angry. He enters the pig’s house through the chimney. The clever pig takes off the lid to a cauldron. The pig eats the wolf for supper; the pig “lived happily every afterward”. To his advantage, the third Balkan rabbit makes the fox promise to leave him and his brothers alone. The two brothers then make time to make their own holes so that when the fox went back on his promise, they have safe hiding places. Then, they go out and eat and played whenever they please. A quick-thinker, American Baby Hamlet outwits the fox on two occasions and finally sends him down the river in a butter churn (an item also making an appearance in the English version). Baby Hamlet ensures that there is a happy ending as she rescues her brothers from the fox’s house so they can all enjoy a Sunday family meal together with Mama.
As each story is different in some aspects to the others, cultural characteristics undoubtedly appear in each version. The American story takes place in the Black Mountain hollers where the characters all have a hint of an Appalachian dialect. America, an individualistic society, treasures independent characters that take matters into their own hands (hooves). And, like the quintessential American story, Baby Hamlet’s story ends happily ever after. The English “The Three Little Pigs” uses the most repetition, which is an attribute of English stories. Also, it harbors an ending that is unlike the American and Balkan stories. While all three stories end happily for the protagonists, the English story ends in the wolf’s death — the third little pig’s reward (supper). The third Balkan rabbit is resourceful, hardworking, and talented, like other main Balkan characters in their Collectivist society. As the third rabbit works to build his protective hole and then rests, he is rewarded by looking out for the good of his community, which in this case are his brothers.
“The Three Little Pigs” is a popular folktale in a variety of countries. Hooks’ American “The Three Little Pigs and the Fox”; Gantschev’s Balkan “The Three Little Rabbits”; and Sierra’s English “The Three Pigs” are both similar and dissimilar. All three versions portray causes of events and actions in unique ways. And, all three reflect cultural characteristics — whether the version comes from an individualistic or collectivist society. Whereas the cultural characteristics most influence the plot and the end reward for the hero or heroine, each version of “The Three Little Pigs” is as interesting as the next.