James Thurber’s story, “The Little Girl and the Wolf” starts off with, “One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother.” (Elements of Literature, p.203) This first sentence tells us quite clearly that neither the situation nor the little girl are very safe; in other words, something terrible is waiting to happen.
The little girl comes along and runs into the wolf, who asks her for directions to her grandmother’s house. After receiving the directions the wolf takes off. Although it’s not mentioned in the story, the reader automatically knows that the wolf is headed for the grandmother’s house, and that even more danger awaits the little girl.
The little girl reaches her grandmother’s house sometime later and walks in. She notices someone in the bed and quite calmy and humorously (or possibly even sarcastically) comes to the conclusion that the person in the bed is not her grandmother. Without any emotion or expression she pulls a gun out of her basket and kills the wolf.
The story ends with the moral: “It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.” (Elements of Literature, p. 203) This may be true enough to justify the unusual change of events in the story.
At the beginning of James Thurbur’s other story, “The Princess and the Tin Box”, the princess’s beauty and wealth are described in detail, giving the reader a picture of the life that she has in the palace. Her beautiful features are compared to a cornflower, hyacinth and a swan. “Her toys were all made of gold or platinum or diamonds or emeralds.” (Elements of Literature, p. 204) She was pampered with the best of gifts and pleasures at all times.
On the princess’s 18th birthday, her father sent a message to five neighboring kings telling them he would give his daughter’s hand in marriage to the prince that brought her the gift she liked most.
The first prince brought her an enormous golden apple; the second arrived with a nightingale of a thousand diamonds; the third presented her with a jewel box made of platinum and sapphire, and the fourth gave her a heart made of rubies and pierced by an emerald arrow. The fifth prince was handsome but quite poor and had nothing of great value to give the princess. He brought her a small tin box filled with ordinary rocks. The other princes laughed at him, but the princess was quite delighted at the sight of something that she was never allowed to see or play with before.
The gifts were set on a long table, and the princess chose the gift she liked best — the jewel box given to her by the third prince. Her explanation for her choice was that since she was to get married, she would be meeting many admirers who would bring her many gifts; therefore she needed the jewel box to keep all these gifts in. She married the third prince that same day and had a lovely wedding.
Evidently the princess had been raised exactly as her father had wanted, with no taste for ordinary things (although she did seem interested in them earlier). If this story were like every other fairy tale, the princess would have married the fifth prince and lived happily ever after. Thurber, however, has a way of turning sweet fairy tales into writings with hints of sarcasm in them. The ending of this story was no surprise after reading Thurber’s first story. In modern days, no girl in her right mind would choose the fifth prince, no matter what. Thurber has shown this characteristic in an old-fashioned setting, making it seem ironic and unusual whereas it wouldn’t be at all unusual to people nowadays.