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Green Children of Woolpit

 The Green Children[Larger Version Here]

Legends in England tell that sometime during the reign of King Stephan [ca. 1135-1154 CE] two strange children were found near the village of Woolpit, England. Workers were harvesting their fields when they heard frightened cries; investigating, they discovered two children, a boy and a girl, terrified and huddled near one of the many wolf-pits the village was named for. The children were screaming in an unknown language, and their clothes were made of a strange looking, unknown material... odder still, both children had green skin. 

        The two green children were taken to the home of a man named Richard de Calne, where the local populace attempted to take care of them... but the children refused to eat or drink anything that was offered, until someone brought in some fresh bean stalks. The children eagerly grabbed these and opened the stalks; but when they saw these empty, they started to cry. When shown that the beans were in the pods instead, the children quickly ate their fill and ate nothing else for some time after. 

        Soon after the green children were found, the boy sickened and died; but the girl became healthy and hearty, eventually losing the green hue to her skin. When she learned the local language, what she told of her origins only deepened the mystery. She said that she and her brother had come from a land with no sun called St. Martin’s Land; the people there, all green, lived in a perpetual twilight. When she was asked how she had come to be found outside the pit, she could only say that she and her brother had heard bells, become entranced... and then the two of them were in the pit and could see the light from the mouth of it. Though the girl lived long after her discovery, eventually marrying a local man, she was never able to give any further help in solving the mystery of her and her brother’s origins, nor of their odd arrival in Woolpit1

        Many theories have been put forth regarding the matter: that the children were fairies, aliens from space, came from a parallel dimension, from an underground world, had been held captive and brainwashed as part of an elaborate hoax, or were simply from a slightly distant village with a different dialect of English and a disease that causes green skin. Imaginative though some of these theories are, all have one problem… none of them agree on the basic details of the original Green Children story -- such as how the children arrived in Woolpit, for example -- and the theories tend to rely heavily on the very same details. So what is needed is the most correct version of the story, minus the changes added over time.

The Paper Chase

        Even though the story of the Green Children of Woolpit can be found in a large number of books today with just a little effort, the actual number of sources used for the original story can be quickly narrowed down to just a handful of earlier texts... to be precise, three. Most modern versions of the story are derived from Thomas Keightley’s The Fairy Mythology, published in 1850, which gets the story from the two earliest sources existent. These earliest two sources are from around the year 1200, written around sixty years after the time the green children are said to have been found; they are Historia Rerum Anglicarum by William of Newburgh [ca 1136-1198 CE], and Chronicon Aglicanum by Ralph of Coggeshall Abbey [?-ca 1227 CE].

        Keightley’s version of the story is largely a translation of Ralph of Coggeshall’s account of the green children which also mentions some details from William of Newburgh’s account... so it is a mix of the earlier two accounts. This version is the most often used because it is both easier to find than the earlier sources, and it is more accessible than the earlier latin accounts; and the fact that most modern authors use Keightley’s version of the story is noteworthy because it contains a mistake... Keightley refers to William of Newburgh as William of Newbridge, an error that is repeated in almost all newer accounts.

        I have found translations of the two earliest works, making it possible to compare the two stories together and reach some useful conclusions regarding the original story of the Green Children of Woolpit.