Carroll’s story for Mary Emma Watson

Carroll told this story to Mary Watson and her two sisters one summer’s day in 1871. Decades later, Mary fondly recalled the tale

Well, then, this story is about three little girls living in a pretty old town on the banks of the River Wey with their mother, who spent all her time thinking how she could make them happy. And they were happy, too, except that sometimes they were inclined to feel a little discontented. If you look at picture No. 1, you will see what I mean: there the children are evidently saying ‘What shall we do next?’ and their mother is wondering how she can best amuse them. But, then, too much happiness, like too much cake, is apt to disagree with people—big as well as little. They had a lovely time between lessons; there were excursions and picnics, and all sorts of doings, and the summer days used to slip away in a delightful manner.

Now among their fairy stories was one about three little pigs who, when their mother died, went into the wood and built three little houses to live in: one was built of straw, another of wood and straw, and the third of bricks. But a wicked wolf came along and being hungry thought a little pig would make a very nice dinner. So he blew the straw house down and ate up the first little pig. The next day he blew down the wooden house, though it was much more difficult, and the second little pig went the same way as his poor brother. Of course, it was soon time for another dinner, so Mr. Wolf went to the brick house and blew—and blew—and blew; but nothing happened. It was too strongly built for him to blow down, so he seated himself and thought hard; and at last he had a brilliant idea: he would go down the chimney. So he climbed on to the roof; but when the little pig heard the noise, he, too, had a brilliant idea: he lighted a fire in the grate, and put a large pot of water on to boil. And when the wolf came down the chimney he fell into the pot and was cooked.

The children thought this a lovely story—all but the part where the two little pigs were eaten. How nice it would be if they were to build three little houses to live in, and they needn’t be afraid of wolves for there weren’t any in those days. Off they went; and the eldest one built a dear little house of wood with a thatched roof—just like the second picture. The next child built hers with brick walls and wooden roof—like picture No. 3. The third—whose name, I think, was Mary—built hers with brick walls and a flat brick roof—as you see in picture No. 4, which has no chimney.

It was all very jolly and nice for a time, though I think the children began to feel a bit lonely and wish for each other’s company, especially in the evenings after tea. Now it is true that in those days there were no wolves with a fancy for little girls for dinner. But there was an old fox who lived in the wood near by, and who loved nothing better than frightening children. When he heard that three little girls had built three little houses and each was living alone he jumped for joy and started off. Very soon he came to the little wooden house with the thatched roof, slyly peeped in at the window, and saw the biggest girl sitting before the fire trying to read a book. Really she was wishing she was at home.

Mr. Fox determined to blow the house down in the proper fairy-story fashion. The next day there was a heavy gale. Filling a large can with the wind, as you see in picture No. 5, he pushed it in at the window of the biggest girl’s house. Bang it went and the house fell down like picture No. 6, just as Hartie escaped. You may depend that she ran home as fast as she could, thoroughly frightened, and determined never to go away from home again.

The old fox was delighted with the success of his plan, and the next day, having filled another can with wind, he went off to the house of the second little girl, who saw him coming and hid in the cupboard. Directly the fox placed the can of wind on the shelf, just inside the window, and off it went! But it only blew the roof off—chimney and all, as you will see in picture No. 7. However, that was enough for Ina—didn’t I say her name was Ina?—who sprang out of the cupboard, through the back door, and straight for home, while the old fox rolled on the ground with laughter. Ina soon reached home and flew into her mother’s arms vowing that she never wanted to go away again, especially alone.

But what about the youngest little girl, Mary; we must see how she got on. Mr. Fox had a good look at her house to see how he could best blow it up or down. But it was not such an easy task as the others. You will remember she had  built it all of bricks, even the roof; the windows were all barred , and there was no convenient chimney or he might have tried putting a can of wind down it. He could think of nothing then; so he went home to consider what was best to be done. Early next morning he had no better plan than that of knocking at the door and, when it was opened, throwing the can of wind in. But he didn’t know Mary: she quite expected the visit and had been making plans for his reception.

You must know that Mary had built her house on a hill; and when she saw Mr. Fox coming up the hill she took her butter churn (she had a beauty in the house) and opening the door gave it a good push which sent it rolling down the hill—you can see it rolling down in picture No. 8. It went faster every moment, and when the fox saw it bounding towards him it was too late for him to get out of the way: the heavy churn went right over him and killed him.

The only thing to do now was to cook and eat him like the little pig in the story. So she fetched him up the hill, put him in a big pot on the fire and cooked him, tail and all—as you see in the last picture. As she sat down to the meal, what was her delight to see her mother coming in. Nothing could be better, and Mary soon had a place laid for mother. I suppose they soon disposed of Mr. Fox. There they are in the picture ready to begin on the dinner so kindly provided by the old schemer. Although everything ended very happily, I am quite sure Mary was glad to return home with her mother. She was welcomed by her sisters and they resumed their old happy life, enjoying it all the more because of their adventures.



Lewis Carroll (1832–1898)
Storyboard drawing for Mary Emma Watson, signed with initials “C.L.D.” and dated [Guildford, 1871]
Private collection. 
Photography by Graham S. Haber, 2015.