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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Green Children from Outer Space

On a visit to East Anglia last week, Paul Jackson found time to make a short detour to the old village of Woolpit (left). From a Fortean point of view, Woolpit is famous for just one thing: the legend of the Green Children who mysteriously appeared in the village some time during the 12th century. The children were dressed in strange clothes, and spoke a strange language... but did they really have green skin? There are a number of possibilities, ranging from the mundane to the truly bizarre. It might be that their “strange clothing” was green in colour, and garbled retellings over the years transformed this into green skin. Or their skin might have had a mildly green tinge, caused by some medical condition or a peculiarity of their diet. But if they really were bright green... surely that can only mean they came from another planet!

I first came across this theory at a talk given by Duncan Lunan at the World Science Fiction convention in Glasgow in 2005. Apparently he gave a similar talk at the Fortean Times UnConvention in 1997, but I missed it (looking back at the programme, this was because I was listening to Paul Devereux’s talk on Earthlights in the other auditorium!). I can’t remember all the details of Duncan’s theory, but I do remember being very impressed with it. His basic idea was that the children had been teleported to Earth from a distant planet which always keeps the same face towards its sun, and hence has a permanent “twilight zone”. The Knights Templar were also part of the theory, although I don’t remember exactly how they fitted in (they came into the story after the children had arrived on Earth... I don’t think anyone has ever suggested the Templars themselves came from another planet!).

I buttonholed Duncan after his talk, and told him he ought to write a book on the subject (this was just after The Da Vinci Code had come out, so mediaeval weirdness was the height of fashion). To my astonishment, he said he had written a book about it but it had been rejected by a string of publishers. However I’m pleased to see that the book will finally appear later this year: Children from the Sky: A Speculative Interpretation of a Mediaeval Mystery. (As an aside, Duncan Lunan is one of two famous people I’ve introduced myself to who insisted they’d met me before, even when I’m sure they hadn’t... the other was Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal!).

The idea that the Green Children came from another planet isn’t original to Duncan Lunan, and he doesn’t pretend it is. In fact, the idea is just about as old as it could possibly be. The notion of “coming from another planet” can’t really predate the notion that the planets are other worlds like the Earth. In the 12th century, when the Green Children appeared, “planets” were simply points of light in the sky that moved independently of the fixed stars. In The man who invented aliens, I described how the true nature of planets was first speculated on by Giordano Bruno in the 16th century. This speculation was picked up by the English writer Robert Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy, published in 1621: “If the earth moves, it is a planet, and shines to them in the moon, and to the other planetary inhabitants, as the moon and they do to us upon the earth: but shine she doth, as Galileo, Kepler, and others prove, and then per consequens, the rest of the planets are inhabited.”

But are they inhabited by Green Children? Quite possibly, according to Burton a few sentences later: “Then (I say) the earth and they be planets alike, moved about the sun, the common centre of the world alike, and it may be those two green children which Nubrigensis speaks of in his time, that fell from heaven, came from thence.”

1 comment:

Kay B.Stephenson said...

Wow! Thank you! I permanently needed to write on my site something like that. Can I include a fragment of your post to my blog?
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