Fairy-Tale Files: Babes in the Wood

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.


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In the tale of “Babes in the Wood” (first appearing in 1595), a brother and sister whose parents have died are left in the care of their uncle. The uncle devises a plot to steal their inheritance—he hires two criminals to take the children in the woods and murder them. Once in the woods, the criminals chicken out and simply abandon the children, who then wander about eating blackberries and strawberries. The children eventually lie down and die at the base of a tree, and the robins of the forest cover them with leaves.

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The “Babes in the Wood Murders” is used to describe a handful of child murder cases in the U.S., Canada, and U.K. where the bodies of the child victims were found in the woods. The one marked by this sign in Pine Grove Furnace, PA, memorializes the spot where three sisters were found dead, lying next to each other on a blanket. The investigation concluded that their father, burdened by the Great Depression, had killed the girls and then later himself.

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Netflix’s Stranger Things employs the ‘Babes in the Wood’ trope as well. A young boy, Will Byers, riding his bike at night by the woods near his home, becomes trapped in a paranormal version of these same woods. Inaccessible to those searching for him, we see him slowly dying in this alternate universe, the “Upside Down,” lying in a tattered version of his clubhouse in the woods.