My sons have a Three Little Pigs book. I thought this was the same story I had known as a child. But after reading it for the 300th time, I decided it really isn’t the same story.
It’s like the same story. The pigs build houses out of different materials, and the big, bad wolf summarily blows them down, or not, depending upon the construction rating of the materials. Yet there is one key element missing that makes it completely different from the story I knew.
In the story I recall, the straw pig and the sticks pig were warned that their materials were inadequate in the face of the wolf’s hurricane threat. The pigs go on to use these substandard materials in open mockery of the danger.
In my kids’ book, the pigs are turned out of their mother’s house as young adults, with no discernible construction know-how. They build their respective houses of the first materials they encounter, and they do a fine job, considering their lack of both experience and hands. No one advises them, and they are unaware of the danger posed by the wolf. This small difference changes the entire meaning of the story.
Pigs who are warned about the dangers of cutting corners in their construction projects, make the story about consequences of lazy, negligent decisions. These pigs ignored the risk because taking it into their calculations was inconvenient. They wanted quick and easy housing, so they took out the fairy tale equivalent of interest-only mortgages.
The straw and sticks pigs lived just long enough to realize the error of their ways, because there are no second chances for foolish fairy tale pigs. Their flimsy houses were no protection against the wolf and they were eaten up. This harsh punishment is why it is important to learn life’s lessons quickly.
The third little pig took his time and did it right. Hard-working and conscientious, his reward was not that he became a reality show star, or undeservedly wealthy. His reward was simply that he did not get eaten up. He lived on in the security of his sound judgment and prospered through the sweat of his own brow. But most importantly, he didn’t get eaten up.
There is a clear connection between actions and consequences in this story.
When the pigs are not warned about the quality of their building materials, the end results are much more dependent upon fate than upon the respective decisions of the pigs.
Each of the pigs uses the first building material he finds. No one says, “You know, for a little extra money, you could go with brick and really up your anti-wolf rating.” The material used is the result of happenstance.
The third little pig is just plain lucky. He happens upon a cart of bricks. He acts exactly as the others acted, and his life is saved by circumstance. He is not eaten up only because he was in the right place at the right time.
There is a certain amount of right place, right time in life, but our actions affect the chances of our being in that sweet spot. I don’t want my boys stumbling upon random materials out of which to build their lives, thinking there’s nothing to be gained by doing a little work to find out which is best. Sometimes it feels like the big bad wolf is bound to eat us up no matter what we do. But we have the power to give ourselves a fighting chance, if we work at it.
I’m going to have to warn those pigs myself. I’m going off script, old school. Those pigs will know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. So when two get eaten up, it will still be sad, but we won’t be mourning a tragedy devoid of rhyme or reason.