In a 12th Century tale, English reapers encounter two green-skinned children who wore strange clothes, spoke an unknown language, and ate only beans.
The pair, who townspeople later learned were brother and sister, were taken in by a nobleman. The boy soon died but his sister attained womanhood, assimilated, and married. While she learned English, she was never able to tell anyone much about her strange circumstances.
She could offer few details as to her origins or distinctive appearance. She recalled the two were tending their father’s flock when they heard what sounded like church bells. They followed the ringing through a cavern and emerged surrounded by reapers in Woolpit, England.
In another version, the two were rescued from the bottom of a pit farmers used to lure wolves into. In both versions, the girl’s skin turn returned to a normal color once she consumed a healthy diet instead of one consisting entirely of beans.
Her original language was determined to probably be Flemish, which would explain her foreign tongue and different attire. Those preferring a more exciting answer may be interested in the one bandied about by Duncan Lunan, who holds that the pair hailed from another planet. Little Green Men, indeed. For evidence, he cited, “Some strange things happening in the sky at the same time.” Could he be a little more vague? A similar suggestion is that the verdant pair emerged from a subterranean habitat.
As there is no way to either prove or disprove such notions, we will spend no more time in the sci-fi realm. A more grounded idea, championed by Paul Harris, is that perhaps the duo may have hidden in the forest long enough to develop green sickness. This conditions results from B6 deficiency and low iron intake, both of which could be the consequence of a one-food diet.
There are both hereditary and acquired forms of the sickness and those most seriously afflicted can have a notable greenish tinge. This makes for a plausible scenario, although it should be noted that most persons who die of starvation do so without changing colors.
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen proposed that the story is an allegory about racial difference in which the green children represent the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britons. He further posits that the siblings represent a spoiling of William’s dream of a unified England.
In another analogy, Robert Burton suggested the siblings fell from the heavens, a staple of religion and mythology, with examples such as Lucifer, Aurora, and Ataar.