CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 16 . . . . April 15, 2005
Maudie and the Green Children is Adrian Mitchell's retelling of an old Suffolk folktale about two green-hued children who emerge, speaking an unknown language and wearing foreign clothes, suddenly in the fields of Woolpit. The story's been told many a time, with small variations, by historians and others intrigued by the unexplained appearance. Most versions place the discovery in the 12th century - although Mitchell's version takes place in 1499 - and variously have one or both children failing to adapt and dying.
Maudie Hesset makes a perfect narrator, telling her tale in a local dialect that lends a rhythm and charm to the calm and matter-of-fact account. She's been called simple, knows it and accepts it, even embraces it. She tells the story just as she sees it - recounting their discovery, trials and the inevitable conclusion - without muddying the facts with interpretation or emotion. She makes her love for the children obvious in her actions: she defends them the best she can in small ways and ultimately lets the girl leave, grown-up at this point with her own son. As befits her simple and accepting nature, she asks no questions and offers no attempt to explain the mysterious origin of the Green Children. (For those who must know, it's thought that the children were abandoned or left orphaned in the woods near Woolpit after some civil strife; alone and lost, they were probably suffering chlorosis - hence the green colour - due to malnutrition). The watercolour illustrations by Sigune Hamann are similarly childlike, as though Maudie, herself, had drawn the pictures, and emphasize the uncomplicated telling.
The simplicity of the package is deceptive, however, and herein lies the brilliance of the book. Some pointed observations about the occurrence and consequences of prejudice, fear, and the power of the church can be read into Maudie's telling of the facts. Maudie, herself, offers no judgement, yet her straightforward observances and actions throw the behaviour of the rest of the villagers into stark contrast. Readers will find themselves wishing they were like Maudie and shamed by the knowledge that they probably aren't.
Cora Lee is a Vancouver, BC, writer and editor.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.