Five Children is a wonderful response to a reading of the narrative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Wycoller Country Park. The project involved 27 children across all ages from Roughlee Primary School and 27 children from a Year 2 class at Whitefield Infants in Nelson. It reveals a real understanding of how alliteration works, the picaresque tradition in literature and a high quality response to the original. It was created collaboratively by children working with their teachers, artist Gordon MacLellan, musician Hannah Jones and artist Ruth Evans.
Part 1: The adventure begins
A cloudy, rainy, stormy morning
When only ducks and slugs are out,
Dripping rain, dripping children
Soaking through their shoes;
But on this day that hopes for rainbows,
Five children are walking to the village
Cheeky children who love
Chips and chicken and cheese.
Helpful and chatty,
They are bold, brave beggars,
Orphans looking for friends and family.
As they walk,
They hear water crashing against the rocks.
A big black slug slithers through the long grass.
A heron circles overhead.
Ducks are paddling and quacking in the stream,
Buttercups, dandelions and wild purple onions flower,
And they can smell
Tall grass by the stream and the
Muddy stink of swamp.
At the edge of the village
Two big bloodhounds dribble,
Drooling onto the floor
Barking wildly, deeply, menacing.
Part 2: The village
Families in the village
Hunting in the forest,
Cooking rabbit stew,
Tending the sheep,
Herding the cows,
Selling the milk,
Bending the bows,
Shooting the arrows,
Fighting the wolves,
Hiding in tree-houses.
But one woman stands quietly
Looking at her one precious thing,
A brooch Gawain gave her
When he was young and loved her
But the children run
Down to the river
That races and rushes and ripples,
Rolling over stones and sand,
Running over the ford and
Under the bridges
Full of fish,
A broad broken bow of a bridge
Over the babbling water
A path to the forest
Part 3: The Knuckleheaded Knights
Strong and brave with sword and spear and shield,
Mighty, magnificent men-at-arms
With mace and mail and morning star,
With monkeys or mammoths on their shields,
Quiet as moths and mice and
Mean as midges,
They serve the King and Queen of the Woods,
And are not very bright.
“Halt!” they say.
“Stop!” they cry.
“There!” the children shout, pointing
“There! Gold! Gold!”
Sunlight on the sparkling river
Looks like gold to the treasure hunter,
One knight leans, to look
a little too far and the children push!
His friend swings round to help him,
A hand outstretched
Reach further, a little more,
A little more and
He overbalances and joins his friend in the pool
Naked, the knuckleheads leave their armour out to dry
And head home,
Sad and soggy,
Dripping all the way.
Part 4: Into the Woods
Over the bridge,
The children run,
And across the grass,
And up the stairs.
The steep stairs,
Climbing those slow stairs,
Squashing slugs as they go.
Half-way up is a stone seat
Where queens and goblins rest
Up to the seven slabstone, gravestone walls
And into the deep woods
Tall trees grow in these woods,
Towering, toppling, tumbling trees,
A tangle of leaves and branches and bark,
Old, old trees and new saplings
A world of green and brown
Gawain rode here once
Looking for the gallant Green Knight,
He is long gone
But his horse’ hoofprints are cut into the stones.
Now, there are children in those trees
They hid in the leaves
Under the leaves,
For so long, for too long
And they became green
And as secret and silent
As the trees themselves.
The woods are full of wildlife,
Beavers, bears, boars and badgers,
Slugs slide and snails slither,
Rabbits, raging rats and reindeer
Hairy horses, hares and hiccuping hedgehogs.
But there are bears too, and
Dark spotted jaguars.
A wise goblin lives
In a cave,
Where twisted twirly twigs
Are wrapped round rough rocks.
Red-eyes goggle in Gooby’s
Green skin and
Yellow teeth smile.
As tall, he is
As he is wide, and
He tells them a terrible tale
That fills them with hope.
Down in the ruins
On the edge of the woods
Where the water runs fast and quiet and deep
Under the bridges and over the stones
Is a square stone house
And a little old lady.
By day she is a kind and lovely Grandmother
But at night,
A wild wicked witch turning water into ice
Freezing the splashing stream
So that carriages skid and people plunge
And in the ice
She collects her petrified people at Pepper Hill Barn.
Ice servants to attend her or
Ice statues to decorate the highest ruins.
Ice forever, solid ice, always cold, never melting,
No thaw, no fire, no summer sun can save them.
And Gooby thinks, he knows, he’s not sure
But the children’s family
Their lost parents
Might stand in that frozen company
Unable to move, to speak, to think,
All they can do is dream,
Waiting for the people who can set them free.
But how to set the frozen free?
The Queen might know,
Beautiful Quire might help
And her Rainbow Mirror breaks magic
Ends spells and sorceries.
Part 5: The Dragon!
So boldly the children set off through the wood
To find the Queen
But the path is long and they are hungry so
When they find an egg,
They stop to make a campfire and cook it.
What an egg! As big as a ball
As big as a bowl,
As big as a head.
A feast for all five of them,
All in one shell.
Crack it, shake it, scramble it, fry it!
But when they tried to break it, it wouldn’t crack.
When they tried to smash it, it wouldn’t budge.
And when they tried to roast it whole
It bounced back out of the fire again.
In and out,
In and out,
In and out!
With their shouting
The children missed the slither at first
Hissing through the grass,
Sliding across bark,
Slipping along the path,
An angry dragon mother
Come for her egg.
Spears and spikes and a long pointed tail
No legs, no wings,
Just a smile wide enough to swallow
A child or two.
And angry as fire.
The children ran
Through the woods,
No horse could gallop
No cheetah could run
As fast as them.
But the dragon was faster.
A charging rhino breaking trees,
An angry jaguar roaring like the wind;
She was a tornado.
The trees ended suddenly
In a long falling slope
And the children fell,
Toppling and tumbling,
Slipping and sliding,
Through the grass,
All the way down
To splash into water
And sink into a smelly swamp,
Leaving the dragon disappointed
At the top of the hill.
Part 6: The Swamp
Slimy and stinking
The swamp was like a giant smelly, sweaty sock
And the children were
Shouting, screaming, yelling for help
And drowning deep,
Their cries woke an unexpected friend
Who shook his head and unfolded his wings.
Willow-green and magnificent,
The Green Horse reared.
The amazing creature flew
As fast as a falcon to the smelly swamp
Not a moment too late
For just a minute more and
They’d have gone under
Sucked into the smelly, stinking, mouldy mud.
Down he swooped
He grasped and grabbed but slime-slippery children slid
From his teeth and hooves
And he could only carry them
One by one to safety
And the others waited
Struggling while they waited their turn.
Then, dripping mud,
Cold and wet and miserable
The children stood
On the edge of a stream
Where one long stone crossed the river.
One long rock over
A waterfall like a mountain,
Deep, dirty and dark
Dashing down into danger
Part 7: Victoria
One by one, over the bridge
And there is a bright door,
In a dark wall!
And a friendly old woman meets them.
Victoria welcomes them in,
Passes them socks and towels
And a pie, their favourite pie
Chicken, cheese and chips
With apple pie for afters
And the children sink to sleep
In her cosy, comfy treehouse.
But a noise wakes them.
In the dark middle of the night when
Bears and badgers and bats are out.
And Victoria is changing!
Her ears sink into her head.
Her nose stretches out, longer, pointier,
Her skin grows green,
As green as grass and leaves and lizards
As crickets, chameleons and cucumbers.
Spots sprout on her hideous face:
Two, big and juicy as raspberries,
And smaller ones, as many and as red
As cherries on a tree.
Over her sensible, friendly skirt and blouse,
She wraps a long black cloak,
And stretches her fingers, with nails
Like knives, like thorns….
“Oh, no!” said the children
We’ll be dinner
And birthday cake.
Throw a stone!
Over there! Over there!”
Victoria looks, peering into the darkness
And the children creep away
And into the dark and dangerous night
Part 8: The duckling and the swan
Wearily the children wandered,
Wondering if their quest was hopeless,
Would they find their parents?
Would they find a family again?
Following the windy path from the witch’s house,
A tiny toad was dead, pancake squashed onto
The dusty, dirty stones.
A delicate duckling with a sore leg limped ahead of them
But they collected him into their caring hands
And carried him gently.
They climbed the path
Until bright buttercups stopped them,
Shining as bright as the stars
Twinkling in the sky above them,
The yellow flowers surrounded a
Comfortable, cosy cottage,
Made of piled branches it looked like
A beautiful bird’s nest,
Tiny in the massive, magnificent forest.
The wooden door opened,
Quietly creaking wide.
A sleek and slender swan stood there!
Her white wings guided the children into
The warmth of her home where
They laid the duckling to rest on soft, smooth sheets
By the fire, knowing he would be safe.
They stayed the rest of the long night with the swan
Snug as swanlings in a nest.
In the morning after fond farewells,
They stepped out into a
Morning full of new adventures
Part 9: The perilous forest
On into the forest,
Full of fear,
For this forest is different,
There are no friendly goblins here,
Or green children in the leaves.
Even the trees are mean,
Watching with fiery yellow eyes,
And grabbing at the children as they pass,
Scratching and scraping with twigs like claws
On branches as strong as a giant’s arms.
The children hear,
Dry rustling leaves,
And claws sharpened on tree trunks.
The roars of jaguars
And the snores of bears.
Trapped in cages to guard the path.
The animals see the children
And break free.
They shake their heads.
They stretch their claws.
The children run
Pounding footsteps follow them,
Heavy feet drumming on the ground,
Giant feet following them.
And then stop
Curled up under their cloaks and under
Leaves and mud
The children wait
As the angry animals rush by.
Then along the path
And there is the Palace at the Heart of the Wood!
Part 10: The Queen’s Palace
Deep in the woods,
There is a wonderful palace.
A wild, woven willow hall
With windows looking out onto the world,
Decorated with jewels and gems,
Beside a swamp where
The tadpoles wriggle and spotted frogs jump.
There is a magical throne there
Where the King and Queen of the Forest sit.
The stories tell us that
King Qasim is bad and Queen Quire is good;
That he is bad-tempered
With brown beady eyes,
Hungry for treasure, looking always for new riches.
He will rob, and steal, and cheat.
He will pick your pocket, or
Break your home or
Destroy your castle for the sake of your gold.
But Quire with green glistening eyes,
Has never given up on her husband,
Where he is mean she is gentle,
Where he is cruel she is kind,
Where he steals, she gives.
Boldly the children walk forward,
Sure of a good welcome,
But some old enemies are waiting.
The Knucklehead Knights
Guard the door.
Their cloaks are deep sky blue
Or night sky black
Or green as soft mossy trees,
And their axes are sharp.
“This time,” they growl,
“This time, we’ll chop you,
We’ll snip you,
We’ll slice you.
We will kill you.”
Look we have brought
You a present to say we’re sorry!”
A shining beautiful apple
Quietly stolen from Victoria’s house.
But growling stops the conversation!
The hungry woodland horrors have found them!
Jaguars and bears come growling down the path.
Gawain with a sword
A knight on his horse with a lance
Might have helped.
But without looking twice
Those Knuckleheads Knights drop their axes,
And the knives from their pockets
And run into the Palace,
To guard the Royal Toy Cupboard,
From the inside.
The children run in too
But they shut the door
The animals slip away to live in the wild wood
And never be trapped in cages again.
Queen Quire is there
In shimmering silver
And bright blue
With pretty princesses about her
And her rose-pink frog in her hand
Remember to bow. Nudge!
“Will you help us?
May we borrow your rainbow mirror?”
“Look, we have this wonderful apple.
One nibble, one slice will take you
Like a flying carpet to
Anywhere you want to go…”
(They don’t know if it will do this!
But our cheerful children are cheats, too
And will spin a story out of spiderwebs
And silver moonbeams!)
“For this apple you could borrow my mirror
From now at sunset
Until sunrise and no more.
Then it must return
Or my Noble Knights
Will hunt you down.”
The children grabbed the mirror
And grabbed it again
As tall as someone’s Dad
And as wide as two children
It took 3 of them to carry it
But now they were ready.
And this path would take them to
Part 11: In the ruins
The rugged rocky ruins,
Once happy, now a haunted house
Old, ancient and rough,
Thin windows, huge fireplace
That will hold
A whole company warm
Gawain rode here once
Hunting the Green Knight’s home,
He fought and feasted here
Before it was abandoned…
Carefully creeping, up precarious stairs,
Sneaking slowly past
Giant cobwebs and giant spiders,
Smells of rotten eggs and old fish,
Blood and death.
It is cold.
Cold as ice on an Arctic winter’s day,
The children’s breath steams in misty clouds
Whispering, “Where’s the witch?”
A red cat watches and leads the way
The children follow,
Up the stairs again
Higher and higher
“Don’t drop the mirror!”
Arms are aching
Hands are hurting
“It’s very heavy!”
“It’s not my turn!”
At the top of the stairs they stop
Before a door.
They push the smallest brother forward
And he stumbles
Into a ruined room where black rooks rustle
And a witch watches silently.
There are pots and pens and pennies,
Bottles for potions and lotions and poisons,
Skulls on shelves and bones in the biscuit tin,
A red pot for mixing blood drinks.
There is a copper kettle for carrot tea
And bowls of dead fish,
And pine cone toothbrushes,
And a stone bottle with stone water
There is a horn that blows silently and summons bats,
Ice diamonds, spelling crystals to freeze thieves,
A golden bracelet for trapping arms, squeezing tight, crushing bones.
Fingers flexing and filling with fierceness,
Victoria the Witch stands up,
Enchantments crackling and sparking
From hair and nose and fingertips.
But the children turn the mirror
And pull off its cover
A rainbow shines
And for the first time ever,
Victoria sees her own reflection,
Sees her own ghastly face looking back,
Sees the long nose and the red eyes,
Sees the spots and the broken teeth,
She smiles a terrible smile
How beautiful she is!
How wonderfully wicked!
How magnificently monstrous!
She sends spells like snakes, shooting across the room
The children hide!
Diving for cover under tables and chairs
Behind curtains and cloaks
There is an exciting explosion!
A thrilling thunder!
Clouds of dust and smoke!
And the rainbow mirror reflects
Victoria’s savage spells back on herself.
And now she is ice.
And the mirror’s rainbow shines
Melting all the other ice
And all over the ruins people wake
Released at last from
Their perilous prisons.
The children find their parents!
The families in the village find lost friends!
Trolls find their children
And bears find their babies!
There is a feast in the woodland palace
and even Queen Quire and King Qasim
And the Knucklehead Knights are happy
But Wycoller’s watchful rooks
See and spy and sit on a cold shoulder
Telling stories to an old ice-witch in a hidden room.