Green Children of Woolpit
May 16, 2010 5:18 PM   Subscribe

The 12th-century English chronicler Ralph of Coggeshall relates a strange story: two lost and distressed children appeared in a local village, speaking a language no-one could understand, and, most strikingly, with strangely green-coloured skin.

The story of Woolpit's green children has continued to intrigue for centuries. Is it a fairy story in the literal sense, since the children's description of their otherworldly home (as described by another chronicler, William of Newburgh) seems to have much in common with folklore descriptions of a fairy otherworld? Or were these real feral children, perhaps orphaned Flemish immigrants? Whoever they were, they haven't been forgotten: today, they're remembered in a children's book, a play, and, of course, the Woolpit village sign.
posted by Catseye (41 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
I tried to think up a logical explanation, but then stopped, as I realized it's more fun to leave them unexplained.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:36 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Obviously they were aliens.
posted by Allan Gordon at 5:42 PM on May 16, 2010


Yes, but in those days an alien was someone not from your village, so that's a tautology, really.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:46 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


SHUT UP THEY WERE TIME TRAVELERS FROM OUR PRESENT
posted by keep_evolving at 5:48 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


"It is to be noticed, too, that the habitual food of the children was beans, the food of the dead"

beans beans
the food of the dead
the more you eat
the more you are passed down from generation to generation and distorted beyond all recognition
posted by DU at 5:49 PM on May 16, 2010 [46 favorites]


Was the boy short? Long hair? Always singing about castles and demons?
posted by hal9k at 5:52 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Occam's razor people.

What if it's just 12th-century science fiction designed to troll people a'la War of the Worlds?
posted by Talez at 6:03 PM on May 16, 2010


Chlorosismorbus virgineus.
posted by unliteral at 6:13 PM on May 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Occam's razor people.

Uhh, we're talking about green children, not the razor-people. Jeez.
posted by wreckingball at 6:14 PM on May 16, 2010 [11 favorites]


chlorosis, a.k.a. "the disease of virgins"?
posted by jammy at 6:18 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


unliteral, i owe you a beer!
posted by jammy at 6:19 PM on May 16, 2010


and there it is mentioned as well in the link on Flemish immigrants!

reminder to self: read links first, then comment

anyways, thanks for this - fascinating reading
posted by jammy at 6:21 PM on May 16, 2010


not the razor-people

I think that's my grandmother's term for Italian-Americans.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:22 PM on May 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


In 1997, astronomer Duncan Lunan, assistant curator at Scotland’s Airdrie Observatory ... proposed that the green children were actually aliens who had accidentally been transported to Earth from another planet by a malfunctioning matter transmitter.

Eponysterical, laddie!
posted by dhartung at 6:36 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Er, they came to England and the one thing they were surprised about is the amount of sunlight?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:41 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Green Knight?
posted by XMLicious at 6:47 PM on May 16, 2010


The Great Gazoo is no child, dum-dums!
posted by griphus at 6:48 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Those of you who've read The Book Of The New Sun will recognize that they're pretty clearly from the same race as the sideshow time-traveller that Severian briefly encounters.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:50 PM on May 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


Flemish/Dutch (and Frisian) are the Germanic languages most closely related to English. 800 years ago, I would assume that the two languages would be much more similar to each other than they are now... so why did no one notice that while they were speaking an unusual language, it might have sounded pretty familiar?

Also, why did I never hear of persecutions against the Flemish immigrants in medieval England before?
posted by deanc at 6:57 PM on May 16, 2010


Well, this whole feral children site is pretty interesting. The various iterations of "feral" children have been a constant in the nature/nurture debate, in a more Fortrean dimension than have been the staple "twin studies." I learned here that Linnaeus classified homo ferus as a different species than homo sapiens.
posted by kozad at 7:53 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing they were more blue than green; perhaps due to congenital or acquired methemoglobinemia. Since this is not AskMe, I can diagnose with abandon!
posted by TedW at 7:59 PM on May 16, 2010


It also inspired Herbert Read's The Green Child
posted by Paragon at 8:04 PM on May 16, 2010


Groupons-schtroumpfs, et demain // L'Internationale Sera le genre animé
posted by mwhybark at 8:05 PM on May 16, 2010


XMLicious: "The Green Knight?"

Naw, that's Moore's Swamp Thing.
posted by mwhybark at 8:23 PM on May 16, 2010


I tried to think up a logical explanation, but then stopped, as I realized it's more fun to leave them unexplained.

No, it isn't.
posted by codswallop at 8:29 PM on May 16, 2010


sounds like aspergers
posted by soma lkzx at 8:41 PM on May 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


ps i'll find my green children
posted by mwhybark at 9:20 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would assume they were the Green Man's kids.
posted by homunculus at 10:00 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


seconding kozad, the feral children site led me to this Nova documentary on Genie. Really disturbing, eerie and strange.
posted by jardinier at 12:10 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


How is it that Genie's mother is still the legal guardian of Genie? In fact, why is she not in prison?

Sorry for contributing to the derail. Totally burning up with inchoate rage right now.
posted by Alnedra at 12:55 AM on May 17, 2010


> sounds like aspergers

But looks more like asparagus.
posted by mosk at 12:56 AM on May 17, 2010


And the children did delight upon receiving their bland victuals of uncooked beans, whence produced from the pods - but curiously would they eat them only when presented on a plate. Much discussion about this strange custom ensued, consuming the entire village in fruitless argumentation for days, weeks, nay months regarding its meaning.
posted by molecicco at 2:00 AM on May 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


so why did no one notice that while they were speaking an unusual language, it might have sounded pretty familiar?

Medieval English villagers, especially inland, were pretty unlikely to have heard any other languages spoken. Latin in church and a very small minority may have encountered spoken French if they had been on a campaign there. There wasn't going to be someone to step up and say "Hey, I took morphology in undergrad. This sounds like a related language to English!"
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:04 AM on May 17, 2010


How is it that Genie's mother is still the legal guardian of Genie? In fact, why is she not in prison?

She's not. She died 7 years ago, and Genie was only in her direct custody for a few months. I presume that the authorities felt she was not a willing accomplice to her husband's abuse.
posted by Snyder at 4:21 AM on May 17, 2010


molecicco: "And the children did delight upon receiving their bland victuals of uncooked beans, whence produced from the pods - but curiously would they eat them only when presented on a plate. Much discussion about this strange custom ensued, consuming the entire village in fruitless argumentation for days, weeks, nay months regarding its meaning."

now we know the origin of the green and the blue!
posted by mwhybark at 5:35 AM on May 17, 2010


Here's the Latin of Ralph of Coggeshall. And if you have jstor access here's a comprehensive treatment of later literary renditions of the story/myth/folktale.
posted by dd42 at 6:11 AM on May 17, 2010


Occam's razor people.

Occam's Razor-People! They came from Yorkshire with their sharp gleaming talons to divide entities unnecessarily!
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:36 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sometimes, at night, they would dream of the Skrull homeworld, of the wonders and glories of that ancient and proud interstellar empire, and how their people would crush the solid ones, those frozen in a single shape for their entire lives, under their titanium-shod heels; but, with time, they forgot that they could change their form, and lived their lives as mere humans on a mud-ball, and would only feel a certain longing as they looked up at the stars on a clear night, their features becoming momentarily indistinct.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:45 AM on May 17, 2010


12 century England? Even now, there are plenty of places in the world where people in one village can't understand the speech of people 50 miles away. Never mind Frisian, anyone speaking a distinct local dialect from elsewhere was probably incomprehensible.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:26 PM on May 17, 2010


Another theory - they were Hungarians.
posted by unliteral at 4:25 PM on May 17, 2010


i_am_joe's_spleen: "12 century England? Even now, there are plenty of places in the world where people in one village can't understand the speech of people 50 miles away. Never mind Frisian, anyone speaking a distinct local dialect from elsewhere was probably incomprehensible."

So what you're saying is they were Scots?
posted by mwhybark at 7:58 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


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