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A Critical Look at the Theories

Sign of Woolpit, England        In light of what William’s and Ralph’s account of the Green Children of Woolpit tell us of the original event, the various theories previously mentioned about who the green children were are interesting... mainly because of the scant amount of information that was ever recorded regarding the incident. The most commonly repeated theories are very closely related: that the children were fairies, aliens, or visitors from different dimensions or from underground, all hold as their main idea that the children were not human and that their arrival was clearly supernormal, ideas clearly implied by both William of Newburgh and Ralph of Coggeshall, though the theories about the children as aliens are usually based on a mistaken impression that they were found wearing metallic or spacesuit-style clothes, which is a newer detail that has been added to the legend [see the link below].

        A different view is that the children were from a distant town and had a dietary disease that colored their skin green. The theory goes like this: the children got lost in flint mines near the village of Fordham St. Martin, came out of mine shafts near Woolpit, and wandered around until they were found in the fields near the village. They spoke a local dialect of English that was immediately unintelligible to the villagers of Woolpit, but similar enough for the children to quickly learn the Woolpit dialect (Fordham St. Martin is about six miles away from Woolpit). Their skin was green because of a dietary deficiency -- possibly ‘green chlorosis’ -- and they quickly regained a normal hue when given a better diet. Overall, it’s a good theory for those who want to believe both that the event occurred and that it was not a supernormal occurrence... but I must take issue with one point that supports it. The idea that the green girl’s skin changed to a normal hue due to her diet is an unsupported conjecture. While both William and Ralph’s accounts of the green children clearly state the authors’ beliefs that it was her diet that changed her skin color, this may not be the case. Perhaps other factors caused the change, but because it was believed their diet was responsible, it’s their diet that was reported. So while the theory is a good fit for the details as we have them, we can’t be sure the details as we have them are the whole story.

        If the opinions of the original chroniclers, William and Ralph, were to be guessed at, the events described very much fit ideas regarding fairies that were common in England at the time. Fairies were supernatural creatures considered to be essentially human in appearance, and to live in their own world that was somehow separate from but close to our own world. The two worlds often met in unexpected times and ways, thus encounters with fairies were both unpredictable and dangerous… dangerous mostly because interaction with fairies could trap a human in the fairy’s world, forever lost to ours. In this light, the green children could be comparably thought of as being fairy children that got trapped in the human world. The fairy world’s appearance and society were believed to roughly correspond with the world familiar to humans, but also thought to have strange and surprising differences… and so the description given of the children’s home, St. Martin, would also match up with then-current expectations of the fairy world.

        In the end, what we have is a mix of evidence that both supports and undermines the possibility of the event. In its favor is that William of Newburgh gathered stories from many locals of Woolpit who may have been alive when the incident happened (depending on local average lifespan). Against it is the resemblance of the story’s structure and details to the fairy mythology that was common knowledge in Woolpit at the time. So we are left with a basic question: is the story of the Green Children of Woolpit a true event that has had the trappings of fairylore attached to it, or is it a fictional story that a large number of people in Woolpit believed and passed on to whoever asked? An answer to this question may never be found.