- Babes in the Wood
Colour plates from
Randolph Caldecott's book of the rhyme
Babes in the Wood is a traditional children's tale, as well as a popular pantomime subject. It has also been the name of some other unrelated works. The expression has passed into common language, referring to inexperienced innocents entering unawares into any potentially dangerous or hostile situation. A number of child murder cases have been referred to in the media as the Babes in the Wood murders.
First published as an anonymous broadside ballad, printed by Thomas Millington in Norwich in 1595 with the title "The Norfolk gent his will and Testament and howe he Commytted the keepinge of his Children to his own brother whoe delte most wickedly with them and howe God plagued him for it" (sic). The tale has been reworked in many forms; it frequently appears attributed as a Mother Goose rhyme. The anonymous ballad was illustrated by Randolph Caldecott in a book published in 1879.
The ballad tells of two small children left in the care of an uncle and aunt after their parents' death. The uncle gives the children to ruffians to be killed, in order to acquire their inheritance, telling his wife they are being sent to London for their upbringing. The murderers fall out and the "milder" of the two kills the other. He tells the children he will return with provisions, but they do not see him again. The children, wandering alone in the woods, die, and are covered by leaves by the birds. Unlike many morality tales, the story ends there; no retribution is described as happening to the uncle. In sanitized versions, the children are bodily taken to Heaven.
The Walt Disney Company re-worked this tale for their 1932 short animated film Babes in the Woods, incorporating some material from Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm, and adding a village of friendly elves (a feature not traditionally present in either tale) and a happy ending.
The story is also used as a basis for pantomimes. However, for various reasons including both the brevity of the original and the target pantomime audience of young children, modern pantomimes by this name usually combine this story with parts of the modern Robin Hood story (employing the supporting characters from it, such as Maid Marian, rather than Robin himself) to lengthen it.
Folklore has it that the events told in Babes in the Wood originally happened in Wayland Wood in Norfolk, England. It is said that the uncle lived at the nearby Griston Hall. The ghosts of the murdered children are said to haunt Wayland Wood. The village signs at Griston and nearby Watton depict the story.
The essence of the lore concerns two children. After the death of their parents, they are left in the care of an uncle. However, the uncle resents the task and pays two men to take the children into the woods and kill them. Finding themselves unable to go through with the act, the criminals abandon the children in the wood where, unable to fend for themselves, they eventually die.
- ^ Opie, I and Opie, P.: The Oxford Book of Narrative Verse, Oxford University Press, 1983, page 387.
- ^ The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Babes in the Wood, illustrated by R. Caldecott
- "Babes in the Wood". Norfolk Myths. http://www.norfolkcoast.co.uk/myths/ml_babesinwood.htm. Retrieved March 14, 2005.
- "Babes in the Wood Lyrics". Mama Lisa's World Song Lyrics Around the World. http://www.mamalisa.com/?t=es&p=1129&c=116. Retrieved March 14, 2005.
- "The Babes in the Wood". The Phrase Finder. http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/26/messages/65.html. Retrieved March 14, 2005. This includes the text of the Thomas Millington ballad.
- "Babes in the Wood". Nursery Rhymes. http://www.heatheranne.freeservers.com/rhymes/babesinwood.htm. Retrieved March 14, 2005. This is the Mother Goose rhyme.
- "Babes in the Wood". Tom Wilkins, The Encyclopaedia of Disney Animated Shorts. http://www.disneyshorts.org/years/1932/babesinthewoods.html. Retrieved March 14, 2005.
- The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Babes in the Wood, with illustrations by R. Caldecott
- The Babes In The Wood The Babes in the Wood song lyrics with illustrations
- The history of English pantomime
- History of the story and its descendent versions
- The Abandoned Children of Wailing Wood Animated and Narrated version of the Legend
- Multiple fully online versions of Babes in the Wood from the University of Florida's Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature
- Alternative origin for the Babes in the Wood Legend Agecroft Hall, near Prestwich, England)
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