Both stories use repetition and particular sounds and auditory signals for each of the characters. While the actual flow of the story is slightly different, the more significant differences are encountered at the level of illustration. Leej Ames’ rendering employs simple and predominantly realistic images, depicting the three goats in their natural form and color. In addition, the troll is also represented realistically, as an old man with a prominent nose and ears and a long, white beard. By opposition, Janet Stevens’ illustrations are more elaborate, blending realistic elements with fantastical and comic effects. Thus, the troll has knobby and contorted features that only recall the human form dimly.
What is significant in Stevens’ version is that although the three goats resemble the animals that they embody, they also have humanizing features. Thus, all the three brothers are dressed in specific clothes that indicate their age: the youngest of the three is dressed as a toddler, the second Billy goat is wearing a checkered overall and the oldest a leather jacket and a pair of sunglasses. The clothes are very significant as they help humanizing the figure of the three goats. The older brother, who is meant to be the protector of the family, is dressed as a typical Hollywood hero. His leather jacket and his sunglasses point to his courage and physical strength. By contrast, the toddler clothes that the youngest member of the family is wearing emphasize his need for protection and dependence on the older brothers. Moreover, the three goats are predominantly pictured in human attitudes, such as standing on two feet. Their vertical position places the three goats in a human context, emphasizing the allegorical features of the story. Janet Stevens chooses to maintain all the natural elements in the representation of the three goats while also adding humanizing effects. On the front page, the three goats are shown as if holding hands, in a happy communion. This image pictures the three goats as animals that have all the defining elements, such as horns and hooves. However, the brothers are shown standing in a vertical position and seemingly holding hands, to emphasize their unity as a family. Also, the oldest of the brothers is significantly larger than the other two goats and is pictured in a benevolent and wise attitude. The colors used to represent the Billy goats are relatively close to the natural coloration of the animals. The brothers are differentiated more by size than by the color they are drawn in. Besides their size, the Billy goats also differ in other physical aspects as well. For instance, the two younger goats have small horns which emphasize their defenselessness. The older brother has great and powerful horns that he will use as a weapon against mean troll. As opposed to Stevens’ version, Leej Ames’ version portrays the three Billy goats in a more realistic fashion. Thus, the representation respects the animal features. The three goats also differ in size and color, but slightly less than in Stevens’ version. Also, in Ames’ rendering the size of the horns is emphasized, both in the text and in the pictures. Each of the three brothers is introduced in the text with specific details of his appearance and age. Thus, Ames’ version of the story provides details related to the three brothers’ appearance and character. For example, the first Billy goat is so young that he does not have any whiskers or horns, yet he is not afraid of anything. This detail will be verified in the actual development of the story, as the youngest Billy goat is the first to cross over the rickety bridge despite the warning given to him by the oldest brother. Therefore, although Ames’ illustrations do not add any humanizing effects to the three brothers’ appearance, the text does contain several allusions to their character.
Another important difference between the two texts is the representation of the troll that menaces the Billy goats. In Ames’ story, the troll is introduced in the text as one of the characters, immediately after the brief description given of the three brothers. As it was previously mentioned, the troll is represented as an old man with long white beard and exaggerated ears and nose. His home under the bridge is indicated by a small wooden cabin, which is also realistically drawn. He is moreover dressed as a human being and this makes him less frightful than the troll in Stevens’ version. Stevens’ illustration of the mean creature under the bridge is meant to be a lot more horrifying. The troll resembles the human form but he is also extremely hideous and distorted. Instead of clothes, he merely wears rags that do not manage to cover his unpleasant appearance. Every feature of the troll in Stevens’ version is drawn so as to emphasize his meanness and evil nature. He has a knobby body, with sharp claws and teeth and an exaggerated nose. While the troll in Ames’ rendering is pictured as a mean old man that resembles a dwarf, the same creature in Stevens’ version is represented as an evil monster. In one of the pictures of Stevens’ illustration of the book a ramshackle shelter can also be seen under the bridge where the troll lives. In this case however, the troll is represented inside the shelter in a grotesque fashion: he is apparently too big to fit in and therefore crouches under the tight roof. Another detail further differentiates Stevens’ version from that of Ames is the fact that, in Stevens’ variant, the troll holds a frog by a rope to emphasize the fact that he lives in a river, under the bridge. The images in Stevens’ version are extremely expressive. The sly movements of the troll can actually be discerned as climbs up the bridge to threaten the goats that dare to cross over. In Ames’ version, the troll is more openly threatening, warning everyone not to approach his domain. Stevens’ pictures enhance the feelings of fear associated with the troll, as he is seen crawling from his hiding and attacking all those who pass by. The frog that he keeps tied with a rope around his body seems to be the caricature of a pet. Moreover, in one of the frightening drawings of Stevens’ version, there is only the huge and monstrous hand of the troll that holds the youngest of the brothers suspended by his clothes. All these details make the troll in Stevens’ version of the story appear more scary and menacing.
Besides the representation of the main characters in the story, the two versions of the tale differ in the development of the events and in the particular scenes that are represented in each book. In Ames’ version, the story progresses from the presentation of the characters and facts in the story to the climax of the events. In Stevens’ version, some of the details related to the characters’ appearance or gestures are added by the illustrations. An important difference between the two books is the fact that, in Ames’ version, the three goats already know about the troll living under the bridge while in Stevens’ version they only discover this during their adventure. In Ames’ version, the old brother warns the other two of the imminent danger of crossing the bridge and advises them not to risk it despite the temptation given by the green grass on the other side. In Stevens’ book, the brothers encounter the troll only when they cross the bridge. The dialogues exchanged between the troll and the three brothers are similar for each of the two variants. In Stevens’ version, the words roared by the troll are emphasized graphically with capital letters. The cadence of the hooves on the bridge is punctuated in both versions with the appropriate auditory signals. The repetition of the dialogue is respected in each version for all the three brothers, increasing the tension associated with the impendent danger. In Ames’ version, the Great Billy Goat warns each of the other two before their adventure over the bridge. The two younger goats do not take his advice however and start crossing to the other side, inevitably encountering the troll on their way. In Stevens’ version, the three brothers start crossing the bridge and meet the troll without expecting it. The outcome of their adventure is also represented slightly differently in the two editions. In both of the editions the oldest brother manages to overthrow the troll in the river, thus making their way safe. When all of the brothers have passed on to the other side, they are represented as enjoying the grass they had longed for. In Ames’ version, the three goats lie contended in the green grass at the end of their perilous journey. In Stevens’ edition, the goats actually have a picnic, using a checkered blanket and food. This last image adds to the humanizing effects.
Moreover, each of the two books chooses to represent different images from the story. In Ames’ version, there is less space given to the action of the story than in Steven’s version. The first images in the story introduce all the characters, including the frightful troll that menaces everyone who dares to approach his territory. When he threatens the Billy goats, the troll is represented rather humorously. As the three goats pass in turns over the bridge, he shakes his fists at them and tells them to go back. Also, after the first Billy goat passes, the other two lie in expectation on the other side, waiting to see whether he will be safe or not. Finally, when the last of the three brothers passes and confronts the terrible troll, there is an image showing the man’s comic fall into the river, and his attempt at holding his breath as the water splashes beneath him.
In Steven’s edition, there are several key moments represented in the illustrations, which are not actually described in the text. For instance, the troll grabs the youngest Billy goat by his shirt and holds him in the air or second Billy goat puts on his overall before he passes over the bridge. Therefore, in both books the images have a complementary role and need to be viewed with the text. In Stevens’ version, this is even more so, since the images reveal certain details that are not discussed by the text, such as the oldest brother’s modern outfit. Overall, Ames’ version is more traditional in terms of representation, while Stevens’ story is modern. The comparison of the two different versions points to the different ways in which a traditional folk tale can be read and represented through illustrations. In the case of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, the illustrations used can create a different experience for the young readers. Despite the brevity of the story, the way in which the narrative shifts and the images add to the text is very significant.
Ames’ edition of the story offers a traditional perspective on the events. The three goats are represented as three animals, which however have the ability to use language. While the troll and his menace are real and frightening, they are also comic in the end. Stevens’ version reminds of the Hollywood movie, where the three brothers manage to trick the mean troll and to cross over. The big brother is dressed as a Hollywood hero and manages to punish the evil creature that has been tormenting the other two brothers. However, Stevens’ version is also slightly more frightening. The troll is drawn as a monster that waits for his prey under the bridge but that is eventually vanquished by the good forces. The main difference between the two editions is given by the fact that Ames respects the traditional characters of the story and represents them in the form of goats, while Stevens dresses the goats in human clothes and makes them assume a vertical position. The humanizing effects of these details raise awareness to the fact that the story can be interpreted as an allegorical situation in real life. Stevens’ intention is obviously to determine the mental association between the animal world described in the story with the human one. The goats walk like humans and are dressed like them to point to the ultimate moral of the story: the adventure of the Billy goats actually speaks of human connections and the protective and safeguarding role of the older members of the family. Also, the crossing of the bridge is also symbolic of the risks associated with the temptation of a better life. The green side that lies on the other bank of the river is a symbol of an ideal or wish in life. While Ames’ representation of the story is offers a more peaceful and traditional experience, Stevens’ variant reading is more tensioned and unsettling, mainly because of the illustrations. The two versions of the two stories also share several similarities, which cannot be excluded without damaging the overall message of the tale. Thus, repetition is essential in the telling of each of the two different illustrations. Also, the differences among the three goats are likewise essential to the flow and meaning of story. The two readings of the same tale show how the meaning can stay the same with two different representations, while the overall reading experience can change dramatically.
Ames, Leej ed. The Three Billy Goats Gruff. New York: Whitman, 1954.
Stevens, Janet. The Three Billy Goats Gruff. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.