If you don’t know the legend, it’s one of those stories commonly believed to be a pure fairy tale when, in fact, the tale has its feet firmly in the historical record. Specifically, in two sources: Historia rerum Anglicarum (or, History of English Affairs by historian/monk William of Newburgh) and Chronicon Anglicanum (or, English Chronicle by historian/abbot Ralph of Coggeshall).
In the 12th century, villagers in the English town of Woolpit, Suffolk, discovered two children—a brother and sister—who’d become trapped in a wolf pit (hence the town name Woolpit), and the villagers didn’t know what to make of them. Their skin was green. They spoke an unknown language. Their clothes were unusual and sunlight seemed strange to them. So the bewildered villagers took them to the home of a local landowner named Sir Richard de Calne because… well, he was aristocracy. So they were supposed to be smarter. Yet Sir Richard didn’t have any answers, and the green children only broke down and wept more distressed than before, and refused all offerings of food until someone finally offered them some beans.
Over time as they ate more, the children eventually lost their green skin color, but this wasn’t a sign of good things to come. Right after they were bundled off to be baptized, the boy grew sickly and died. The girl eventually learned to speak English and seemed to adjust to her new life, and was eventually married to a man at King’s Lynn in the neighboring county of Norfolk. (According to some accounts, she took the name Agnes Barre.) Yet where women in the Middle Ages were expected to fall under male control regardless of class, the girl would evidently have none of that, and for her free spirit, she was branded as being “rather loose and wanton in her conduct.”
The girl eventually explained that she and her brother had come from a place called Saint Martin’s Land, an underground realm of perpetual twilight inhabited by other green-skinned people. She explained that she and her brother had been watching their father’s flock when they came upon a cave. After entering, they eventually came out on the other side, and blinded by the sunlight, they soon fell into the wolf pit.
Now, if you Google “The Green Children,” you’ll find any number of people arguing that they weren’t real, and I understand that motivation because human beings largely like life in a tidy package, where lines are in black and white. And if that’s your view, I’m certainly not here to convince you otherwise because the “truth” of the Green Children story has always been VERY CLEAR to me.
As a story rooted in history, it seems clear that the lines between “reality” and “fantasy” are NOT so clear as people would like them to be… that things are NOT black and white… and this might be useful when looking at strangers… and considering there may be more to them than we realize. It’s useful when considering our own lives… the walls we think are black and white… when really, it’s all just twilight mistaken. It’s useful when looking at the world… and why I thought the spirit of the Green Children was a perfect new addition to “Half-World.”
As a work remembering the boy who died before he could even tell people what his name was, “The Green Boy” also commemorates our own dreams… our own “unreal” visions left behind… and the hope that we’ll all have the chance to return to them before it’s too late.
“Half-World” (the first art/video project to go out under the name Theatre Xrisville) is slated for tentative release on YouTube in March, 2017.