What can The Three Robbers teach us about gender relations?

Tomi Ungerer's original publisher believes the key to this story lies in the harmony between men and women
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A lads' night out? The Three Robbers, by Tomi Ungerer
A lads' night out? The Three Robbers, by Tomi Ungerer

The Three Robbers isn't an ancient fairy tale; it just feels like one. Tomi Ungerer's 1961 childrens' book describes a trio of highwaymen who hold up stage coaches. The robbers accidentally abduct an orphan named Tiffany, who questions why they want to live alone in a cave, hoarding such an enormous amount of gold. The robbers are unable to answer, and in response they decide to open an orphanage.

 

Tomi Ungerer, The Three Robbers
Tomi Ungerer, The Three Robbers

It's a deceptively simple story, and exactly the sort of thing its original publisher, Arthur Hubschmid, had been looking for, all those decades ago. Hubschmid's publishing house, L’école des loisirs, had been trying to publish children's stories that were both easy enough to read and narritively substantive.

In an interview over on Tomi's site, the publisher explains why, he felt he had found that in Tomi's story.

“It’s about the essential things of life. It’s a tale about the profound harmony of men and women”," says Hubschmid. “When you leave men alone they get, usually, a bit violent. Stupidly violent, maybe collecting money and power. And then the women, they’re networking with other people, that the heart may also be satisfied.”

 

Tomi Ungerer, The Three Robbers
Tomi Ungerer, The Three Robbers

Readers certainly seem to find a great deal of satisfaction in the book; The Three Robbers topped Tomi's recent Facebook and Twitter polls to find out which of his books was best-loved.

 

Tomi Ungerer, The Three Robbers
Tomi Ungerer, The Three Robbers

So does Ungerer himself believe The Three Robbers, which Phaidon publishes both as a stand-alone title and as part of our eight-story Ungerer Treasury, is a latter-day gender fable? Not exactly. He prefers to see not male and female, but, more simply, bad and good.

“Evil can be the most fertile ground for good, and the good can learn from the cleverness of evil," Tomi reasons. "The Three Robbers, I could say, is a fable of how good and evil are really very tied to each other, and how together they can be quite entertaining.”

To learn just how entertaining, order a copy of Tomi Ungerer: A Treasury of 8 Books here.


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