Dark Origins – Peter Pan, Lost Boys who are murdered and mermaids who are Sirens.

Most of us know the Disney version of Peter Pan featuring Captain Hook, Mr Smee, Wendy, John, Michael, and the Lost Boys. Oh, and Tinkerbell, of course.

I am not sure how many people have read the original play called Peter Pan or the boy who wouldn’t grow up, written by J.M. Barrie in 1904, but it is a far cry from the innocent tale presented by Walt Disney.

We know from the Disney film that Peter Pan doesn’t want to grow up, but no mention is made of the extreme lengths Peter Pan is prepared to go to fight it.

Consider this extract: “The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two.

To put it bluntly, Peter Pan kills the lost boys to keep them from aging. While the film presents the view that Peter Pan is seeking eternal youth, he is, in fact, obsessed with death. This characteristic is believed to come from J.M. Barrie’s own childhood experience of losing his brother, David.

According to an article in The Herald, six-year old Jamie Barrie was hugely impacted by the death of his older brother, David, at the age of fourteen. David was said to have died the day before his birthday when he was accidently knocked over by a friend while skating, and fractured his skull on the ice. The article speculates that the ‘friend’ was in fact, young Jamie and that he was rejected by his mother as a result of the accident. You can read more about it here: https://www.heraldscotland.com/default_content/12469608.tragedy-behind-neverland-jm-barrie-cause-brothers-death/

And then there are the mermaids…

In the original Peter Pan story, the mermaids who inhabit Neverland all live in the lagoon. They enjoy the company of Peter Pan but are malevolent to everyone else. The are extraordinarily beautiful and have amazing singing voices, but they are vain and unfriendly.

The mermaids spend their days playing in the rock pools and ocean around Marooners’ Rock and they retire to their coral cave homes beneath the waves at night and during high tide.

The mermaids change when the moon is out and transform into darker creatures. They utter and wail strange calls in the moonlight. Captain Hook is terrified of the mermaids, calling them the ‘loreleis’ and saying that the lagoon is the most treacherous place in Neverland. A lorelei is a siren of Germanic legend whose singing lures Rhine River boatmen to destruction on a reef.

Picture credit: https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q5397781

If you are interested in the true story behind Peter Pan and the life of J.M. Barrie, you can read more here: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2014/12/78880/peter-pan-jm-barrie-true-story

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Roberta Eaton Cheadle is a South African writer and poet specialising in historical, paranormal, and horror novels and short stories. She is an avid reader in these genres and her writing has been influenced by famous authors including Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, Amor Towles, Stephen Crane, Enrich Maria Remarque, George Orwell, Stephen King, and Colleen McCullough.

Roberta has short stories and poems in several anthologies and has 2 published novels, Through the Nethergate, a historical supernatural fantasy, and A Ghost and His Gold, a historical paranormal novel set in South Africa.

Roberta has 9 children’s books published under the name Robbie Cheadle.

Roberta was educated at the University of South Africa where she achieved a Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1996 and a Honours Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1997. She was admitted as a member of The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2000.

Roberta has worked in corporate finance from 2001 until the present date and has written 7 publications relating to investing in Africa. She has won several awards over her 20-year career in the category of Transactional Support Services.

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Dark Origins” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it interesting or entertaining, please share.


Dark Origins – Bluebeard

The fairytale of Bluebeard was the most scary one I can recall hearing or reading as a child. This story is featured in Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics.

It this version of the story, Bluebeard’s bride is a teenage peasant girl named Josephine. She has been raised by her brothers who are woodworkers. In this version, Bluebeard, a wealthy widower with a blue beard, choses Josephine as his wife because she is beautiful, naïve and desires to marry a prince. The character design for Bluebeard strongly resembles that of the English King, Henry VIII, who had six wives, two of whom he beheaded. After the wedding, Bluebeard gives Josephine a key ring with all the keys to all the doors of his castle. He tells her that she must never use the golden key to open one of the doors.

Of course, Josephine’s curiosity gets the better of her and one day when Bluebeard leaves the castle on business, she opens the forbidden door. Behind the door she discovers the blood splattered remains of the former wives of Bluebeard, all of whom he’s murdered. Josephine is saved by her brothers before she can suffer the same fate as Bluebeards previous wives.

Blue Beard in Tales of Mother Goose (Welsh).png
Picture from Wikipedia

There are two possible sources for the story of Bluebeard.

The first theory is that the story of Bluebeard was based on the life of 15th-century convicted Breton serial killer, Gilles de Rais.

Gilles de Rais was a knight and lord from Brittany, Anjou and Poitou. From 1427 to 1435, he was a commander of the French army and fought alongside Joan of Arc against the English and their Burgundian allies during the Hundred Years’ War.

In 1434 or 1435, Gilles retired from military life and became a spendthrift, staging extravagant theatrical productions of his own composition. In June 1435 his family persuaded King Charles VII to proclaim a royal edit preventing him from selling his property and from entering into contracts with any French subject.

In 1438, Gilles became involved in alchemy and demon summoning.

According to his confession at his trial in October 1440, de Rais said he committed his first child assaults in 1432 and 1433. The first murders occurred at de Rais’ castle in Champtocé-sur-Loire. Murders of an unknown number of children took place after de Rais moved to Machecoul. de Rais was believed to have sexually assaulted the children before killing them. The bodies were burned in the fireplace in de Rais’ room. The number of de Rais’ victims is believed to be between 100 and 200 children aged between 6 to 18 years old and predominately male.

He was executed by hanging and burning on Wednesday, 26 October 1440 along with his two accomplices, Poitou and Henriet.

Picture of the execution of Gilles de Rais from Wikipedia

Another possible source for the story of Bluebeard is early Breton king, Conomor the Accursed, who was notorious for his cruelty. According to the biography of St Gildas, a 6th century British monk, Tréphine married Conomor after he threatened to invade her father’s lands and kill his people.

While Conomor was away, Tréphine found a secret room containing relics of his deceased wives. She prayed for their souls and their ghosts appeared and warned her that Conomor will kill her if she becomes pregnant due to a prophecy that states he will be killed by his own son.

According to legend, Tréphine fled when she discovered she was pregnant and gave birth to her son, Trémeur, in the forest. She hides her son but Conomor finds her and beheads her. St Gildas restores her to life and she and her son live lives of saintly retirement until Tréphine dies. After her death, Conomor finds Trémeur and kills him.

Both Tréphine and Trémeur are deemed saints in Brittany and there are many churches dedicated to them.

Copy of St Tréphine from Wikipedia

Based on these two stories, I was quite right to be scared of Bluebeard when I was a child.

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Roberta Eaton Cheadle is a South African writer and poet specialising in historical, paranormal, and horror novels and short stories. She is an avid reader in these genres and her writing has been influenced by famous authors including Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, Amor Towles, Stephen Crane, Enrich Maria Remarque, George Orwell, Stephen King, and Colleen McCullough.

Roberta has short stories and poems in several anthologies and has 2 published novels, Through the Nethergate, a historical supernatural fantasy, and A Ghost and His Gold, a historical paranormal novel set in South Africa.

Roberta has 9 children’s books published under the name Robbie Cheadle.

Roberta was educated at the University of South Africa where she achieved a Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1996 and a Honours Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1997. She was admitted as a member of The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2000.

Roberta has worked in corporate finance from 2001 until the present date and has written 7 publications relating to investing in Africa. She has won several awards over her 20-year career in the category of Transactional Support Services.

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Dark Origins” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it interesting or entertaining, please share.


Dark Origins – Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush

Do you know the nursery rhyme Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush?

I remember it from when I was a girl. The girls used to hold hands and dance in a circle singing the lyrics and doing the actions.

These are the first two stanzas of the most modern version:

Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
On a cold and frosty morning.

This is the way we wash our face,
Wash our face,
Wash our face.
This is the way we wash our face
On a cold and frosty morning.

The rhyme was first recorded by James Orchard Halliwell, an English Shakespearean scholar, antiquarian, and a collection of English nursery rhymes and fairy tales, as an English children’s game in the mid-nineteenth century.

The song and associated game are traditional in England and different versions are found in Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

R.S. Duncan, a prison governor at HM Prison Wakefield in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England suggested that the nursery rhyme was about female Victorian prisoners exercising in the yard at Wakefield. A mulberry tree grew in the yard and women inmates would dance around the tree with their children and sing the song. The tree died in May 2019.

About the Victorian prison system

The Victorian prison system was created by men for men. Accommodation for women was usually an after thought and the penal system designed for them as generally a modified version of the men’s prison.

Women convicts were considered to need saving twice, firstly from their criminality and secondly from their deviance from expected female behaviour.

To this end, instead of being subjected to hard labour, women progressed through several disciplinary stages intended to put them on the path to reform. The stages were separate confinement for four months (men had to endure nine months of separate confinement), associated labour and, finally, a transfer to a female-only institution.

Prison authorities had to deal with pregnant and postpartum women. Lying-in wards and nurseries had to be created and the regulations relating to exercise, communication, and dietary provision had to be modified for such women.

 The rhyme refers to Victorian female prisoners at HMP Wakefield who would exercise around a mulberry tree
Picture credit: https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/8356830/historic-stories-behind-nursery-rhymes/

Another possible interpretation of the rhyme is that it references Britain’s struggle to produce silk. Silkworms eat mulberry leaves and during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Britain tried to emulate the success of the Chinese silk production industry. Britain’s cold winters with frost proved to be to harsh for the mulberry trees to thrive and this hampered the development of a successful silk production industry.

The lyrics: “Here we go round the mulberry bush / On a cold and frosty morning” are thought to be a joke about the difficulties experienced by the industry.

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

I am a South African writer specialising in historical, paranormal and horror novels and short stories. I am an avid reader in these genres and my writing has been influenced by famous authors including Bram Stoker, the Bronte sisters, Amor Towles, Stephen Crane, Enrich Maria Remarque, George Orwell, Stephen King, and Colleen McCullough. 

I was educated at the University of South Africa where I achieved a Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1996 and a Honours Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1997. I was admitted as a member of The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2000. 

I have worked in corporate finance from 2001 until the present date and have written seven publications relating to investing in Africa. I have won several awards over my twenty year career in the category of Transactional Support Services.

I have been published a number of anthologies and have two published YA books, While the Bombs Fell and Through the Nethergate. I have recently published my first adult novel called A Ghost and His Gold which is partly set in South Africa during the Second Anglo Boer War.

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Dark Origins” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it interesting or entertaining, please share.


Dark Origins: The Sleeper, a poem by Edgar Allan Poe and my reading

1849 "Annie" daguerreotype of Poe
Picture of Edgar Allan Poe – Picture credit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Allan_Poe

The Sleeper, a poem by Edgar Allan Poe takes as it subject a beautiful woman in death.

     At midnight in the month of June,
     I stand beneath the mystic moon.
     An opiate vapour, dewy, dim,
     Exhales from out her golden rim,
     And, softly dripping, drop by drop,
     Upon the quiet mountain top.
     Steals drowsily and musically
     Into the universal valley.
     The rosemary nods upon the grave;
     The lily lolls upon the wave;
     Wrapping the fog about its breast,
     The ruin moulders into rest;
     Looking like Lethe, see! the lake
     A conscious slumber seems to take,
     And would not, for the world, awake.
     All Beauty sleeps!—and lo! where lies
     (Her easement open to the skies)
     Irene, with her Destinies!

The speaker in the poem begins by describing the cemetery at midnight in the month of June. He observes the moon and notes the flowers that grow about the grave. At the end of the movement, he introduces the beautiful woman whom has died and whose grave is being prepared ready for her internment.

     Oh, lady bright! can it be right—
     This window open to the night?
     The wanton airs, from the tree-top,
     Laughingly through the lattice drop—
     The bodiless airs, a wizard rout,
     Flit through thy chamber in and out,
     And wave the curtain canopy
     So fitfully—so fearfully—
     Above the closed and fringed lid
     ‘Neath which thy slumb’ring soul lies hid,
     That o’er the floor and down the wall,
     Like ghosts the shadows rise and fall!
     Oh, lady dear, hast thou no fear?
     Why and what art thou dreaming here?
     Sure thou art come p’er far-off seas,
     A wonder to these garden trees!
     Strange is thy pallor! strange thy dress!
     Strange, above all, thy length of tress,
     And this all solemn silentness!

Irene is still lying on the bier in her room. The speaker can see her corpse through the window and watches the moving shadows on the wall and floor as the curtain of the canopy are blown about by the wind. The watcher is struck by her pallor, her strange dress, and her unusually long hair.

     The lady sleeps! Oh, may her sleep,
     Which is enduring, so be deep!
     Heaven have her in its sacred keep!
     This chamber changed for one more holy,
     This bed for one more melancholy,
     I pray to God that she may lie
     Forever with unopened eye,
     While the dim sheeted ghosts go by!

     My love, she sleeps! Oh, may her sleep,
     As it is lasting, so be deep!
     Soft may the worms about her creep!
     Far in the forest, dim and old,
     For her may some tall vault unfold—
     Some vault that oft hath flung its black
     And winged pannels fluttering back,
     Triumphant, o’er the crested palls,
     Of her grand family funerals—
     Some sepulchre, remote, alone,
     Against whose portal she hath thrown,
     In childhood, many an idle stone—
     Some tomb from out whose sounding door
     She ne’er shall force an echo more,
     Thrilling to think, poor child of sin!
     It was the dead who groaned within.

The speaker refers to Irene as being asleep and wishes for her sleep to be deep and for her not to be disturbed by on-going life such as children playing and throwing stones at the family sepulcher. The speaker calls Irene a “child of sin” but that holds no special significance. She is human and, therefore, is a child of sin.

Why did Poe write about women?

Throughout his life, virtually every woman Poe loved and who loved him died young.

His mother died before he was three years old and he was taken into the home of John Allan, a Richmond merchant who was presumed to have been his godfather. His foster mother died when he was in his late teens.

In 1835, when he was 27 years old, Poe married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, who was only 13. In 1842, Virginia became ill with tuberculosis and she died on the 30th of January 1847 at the age of 24.

VirginiaPoe.jpg
Virginia Clemm Poe – picture credit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Eliza_Clemm_Poe

Why did Poe almost always write about women who died? It may have been because all the important women in his life died or he might have done it anyway. No-one will ever know.

Excerpt from Edgar Allan Poe’s letter to George W. Eveleth, Fordham, New York ,January 4, 1848 about his wife.

“Six years ago, a wife, whom I loved as no man ever loved before, ruptured a blood-vessel in singing. Her life was despaired of. I took leave of her forever & underwent all the agonies of her death. She recovered partially and I again hoped. At the end of a year the vessel broke again—I went through precisely the same scene. Again in about a year afterward. Then again—again—again & even once again at varying intervals. Each time I felt all the agonies of her death—and at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly & clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitive—nervous in a very unusual degree. I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness I drank, God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink rather than the drink to the insanity. I had indeed, nearly abandoned all hope of a permanent cure when I found one in the death of my wife. This I can & do endure as becomes a man—it was the horrible never-ending oscillation between hope & despair which I could no longer have endured without the total loss of reason. In the death of what was my life, then, I receive a new but—oh God! How melancholy an existence.”

You can read more extracts of letters about Virginia Clemm Poe here: https://www.nps.gov/people/poe-virginiapoe.htm

My reading of The Sleeper by Edgar Allan Poe

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

I am a South African writer specialising in historical, paranormal and horror novels and short stories. I am an avid reader in these genres and my writing has been influenced by famous authors including Bram Stoker, the Bronte sisters, Amor Towles, Stephen Crane, Enrich Maria Remarque, George Orwell, Stephen King, and Colleen McCullough. 

I was educated at the University of South Africa where I achieved a Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1996 and a Honours Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1997. I was admitted as a member of The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2000. 

I have worked in corporate finance from 2001 until the present date and have written seven publications relating to investing in Africa. I have won several awards over my twenty year career in the category of Transactional Support Services.

I have been published a number of anthologies and have two published YA books, While the Bombs Fell and Through the Nethergate. I have recently published my first adult novel called A Ghost and His Gold which is partly set in South Africa during the Second Anglo Boer War.

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Dark Origins” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it interesting or entertaining, please share.


Dark Origins – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a gothic story by American author, Washington Irving, and is included in a collection of 34 essays and short stories entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.

Cover of The Sketch-Book by Washington Irving from Amazon US

The plot

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane (1858) by John Quidor

The story is set in 1790 in the countryside around the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town, New York. Sleepy Hollow is a secluded glen which is famous for its ghosts and haunting atmosphere.

Ichabod Crane moves to Sleepy Hollow to be the schoolmaster of the village. As was customary at the time, Ichabod earns practically no money, but is provided with lodgings and food on a rotational basis by the local farmers who are also the fathers of the boys he teachers. This arrangement, and the singing lessons he gives on the side, keeps him employed and also gives him numerous opportunities to listen to the many tales about ghosts, haunted spots and twilight superstitions shared by the farmers wives.

Ichabod is most fascinated by the story of the ghost of the Headless Horseman who is believed to be a Hessian soldier who lost his head when he was hit by a cannon ball during the Revolutionary War. The ghost has been seen riding near the church where he is believed to have been buried.

Katrina Van Tassel is one of Ichabod’s students and the beautiful daughter of one of the most successful of the farmers in the area. Ichabod comes to believe himself in love with her. He sets out to woo her but crosses swords with one of the other men in the village, Brom Van Brunt or Brom Bones. In order to scare off Ichabod, Brom resorts to trying to prank him.

One evening, Ichabod is travelling home late after a party at Katrina’s home. He is confronted by a rider with no head on his shoulders. The head is sitting on the saddle in front of the shadowy man. Ichabod tries to run away and ends up near the church. Ichabod makes a dash for the bridge where the ghost is said to disappear and not follow, but when he looks back, the Horseman throws his detached head at him. It knocks Ichabod off his horse.

Ichabod disappeared leaving nothing behind but hoof prints and a smashed pumpkin. He is never heard from again in Sleepy Hollow.

Origins of the story

Although one of America’s most famous tales and one the resurfaces every Halloween, Irving did not invent the idea of a headless rider. Tales of headless riders existed in Europe during the Middle Ages, including stories by the Grimm Brothers and the Dutch and Irish legend of the “Dullahan” or “Gan Ceann”, a Grim Reaper-like rider who carries his head.

One theory is that Irving’s headless horseman is derived from Sir Walter Scott’s ballad, The Chase, which is a translation of the German author Burger’s The Wild Huntsman.

Another popular theory is that Irving was inspired by the story of the actual Hessian soldier who was decapitated by a cannon ball during the Battle of White Plains around Halloween 1776.

As a teenager, Irving moved with his family to the Tarry Town area due to an outbreak of yellow fever in New York City. The character of Ichabod Crane may have been inspired by Jesse Merwin, a teacher from upstate New York and who was a mutual friend of Irving and Martin van Burden, America’s eighth president. An alternative theory is that Ichabod was based on Samuel Youngs, a lieutenant from Tarry Town and a friend of the Van Tassel family.

Jesse Merwin 1783-1852.jpg
Jesse Merwin, picture credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Merwin

The name Ichabod Crane belonged to a real army officer, Colonel Ichabod B. Crane who served at Fort Pike during the British-American war of 1812. Irving was also stationed at Fort Pike but there is no evidence that he knew Colonel Crane.

Ichabod B Crane.jpg
colonel Ichabod Crane, picture credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichabod_Crane_(colonel)

Katrina Van Tassel is also believed to be loosely inspired by Eleanor Van Tassel Brush and, possibly, another woman Irving knew.

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

I am a South African writer specialising in historical, paranormal and horror novels and short stories. I am an avid reader in these genres and my writing has been influenced by famous authors including Bram Stoker, the Bronte sisters, Amor Towles, Stephen Crane, Enrich Maria Remarque, George Orwell, Stephen King, and Colleen McCullough. 

I was educated at the University of South Africa where I achieved a Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1996 and a Honours Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1997. I was admitted as a member of The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2000. 

I have worked in corporate finance from 2001 until the present date and have written seven publications relating to investing in Africa. I have won several awards over my twenty year career in the category of Transactional Support Services.

I have been published a number of anthologies and have two published YA books, While the Bombs Fell and Through the Nethergate. I have recently published my first adult novel called A Ghost and His Gold which is partly set in South Africa during the Second Anglo Boer War.

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Dark Origins” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it interesting or entertaining, please share.


Dark Origins – Little Jack Horner, a nursery rhyme

When I was a girl I loved nursery rhymes. I had a beautiful Mother Goose book which I used to read often. Over the years that book disintegrated from frequent use and it was eventually disposed of. When my oldest son was born, I replaced it with a few new nursery rhyme books, all of which are beautifully illustrated.

Nursery Rhymes Are Not What They Seem: The Story Behind “Little Jack Horner”  | History Daily
Picture from: https://historydaily.org/nursery-rhymes-are-not-what-they-seem-the-story-behind-little-jack-horner

One of my favourite nursery rhymes is Little Jack Horner. The modern version goes like this:

Little Jack Horner.

Sat in the corner,

Eating a Christmas pie;

He put in his thumb,

And pulled out plum,

And said “What a good boy am I.”

The text of the original nursery rhyme is somewhat different and is believed to have originated in 1538 during the English Reformation. During the years 1536 to 1541, King Henry VIII set about an administrative and legal process whereby he disbanded monasteries, priories, convents, and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland. The incomes previously earned by the monasteries were expropriated by the crown and their assets were seized.

It is speculated that the Jack from this nursery rhyme is Thomas Horner who was a steward to the last abbot of Glastonbury, Richard Whiting. According to the story, Horner was sent to London with a Christmas pie for King Henry VIII. Inside the pie the deeds to twelve manor houses were hidden. These were intended to be a gift to the king and a last effort by Richard Whiting to prevent the nationalisation of church lands and the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey.

On the way to London, Horner discovered the deeds hidden in the pie and took for himself the deeds of the manor of Mells in Summerset. Shortly afterward, Horner moved into the manor and his descendants have lived in the manor house for generations. They dispute the claim that the deeds were stolen by Horner.

The origin of this nursery rhyme fascinates me so much I have incorporated it into my writing. In my supernatural novel, Through the Nethergate, it is mentioned by one of the main supporting characters, the Monk.

Extract from Through the Nethergate relating to Little Jack Horner

Here is an short extract from Through the Nethergate that details the original wording of this nursery rhyme and a peek into its history:

“Margaret continued to watch him. She wasn’t sure where this outpouring of information was going.

I’m talking to a ghost, she thought. Someone who says he was born in 1483. Bewilderment and fear fluttered in her stomach.

The monk seemed to pull himself together and continued to speak:
“In 1536, King Henry VIII set about the dissolution of the monasteries. Monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland were disbanded and their income and assets appropriated by the Crown.”

The monk’s eyes seemed to glisten in the dim light.

“In the run up to Christmas 1538, Richard Whiting sent a gift to the king in a last effort to prevent the nationalisation of church lands and the destruction of the abbey. The gift was a huge Christmas pie with the deeds to a dozen manor houses hidden inside it. The abbot chose two trusted men to deliver the gift; one was his steward, Thomas Horner, and the other was me.”

A smile suddenly lit up the monk’s face.

“Do you know the nursery rhyme, Little Jack Horner?”

Margaret nodded again. A little taken aback at this sudden change of direction to the conversation.

Now he sings of Jackey Horner,
Sitting in the Chimney-Corner,
Eating of a Christmas pye,
Putting in his thumb, Oh fie!
Putting in, Oh fie, his Thumb,
Pulling out, Oh strange! A Plum.


“That nursery rhyme was written about Thomas Horner. During the journey, he opened the pie and took out the deeds of the manor of Mells in Somerset, which he kept for himself.”

“What about you?” Margaret asked. “What happened to you?”

The monk looked at Margaret, his smile slowly fading.

“I was killed, of course. Stabbed through the heart by that treacherous and thieving Thomas Horner.”

The monk’s shoulders slumped dejectedly and his mouth turned downwards.”

The story of the Monk’s death is included as a short story in a murder mystery anthology, Death Among Us.

Picture from Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glastonbury_Abbey

I was planning to visit the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey last year, but sadly Covid-19 put paid to that trip.

There are two interesting features of Glastonbury Abbey that make it very interesting to me:

  1. The graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere’s tomb are purported to be in Glastonbury; and
  2. The Abbot’s Kitchen is described as “one of the best preserved medieval kitchens in Europe”
Site of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere’s purported tomb beneath the high altar. Picture from Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glastonbury_Abbey

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

I am a South African writer specialising in historical, paranormal and horror novels and short stories. I am an avid reader in these genres and my writing has been influenced by famous authors including Bram Stoker, the Bronte sisters, Amor Towles, Stephen Crane, Enrich Maria Remarque, George Orwell, Stephen King, and Colleen McCullough. 

I was educated at the University of South Africa where I achieved a Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1996 and a Honours Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1997. I was admitted as a member of The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2000. 

I have worked in corporate finance from 2001 until the present date and have written seven publications relating to investing in Africa. I have won several awards over my twenty year career in the category of Transactional Support Services.

I have been published a number of anthologies and have two published YA books, While the Bombs Fell and Through the Nethergate. I have recently published my first adult novel called A Ghost and His Gold which is partly set in South Africa during the Second Anglo Boer War.

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5

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Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Dark Origins” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it interesting or entertaining, please share.


Dark Origins – Hansel and Gretel

Most people are familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel, a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm and published in their Grimm’s Fairy Tales in 1812.

In summary, the story goes as follows:

Hansel and Gretel are a brother and sister whose starving parents decide to abandon them in the forest. Hansel overhears his parents plotting and drops pebbles on the path so that he and Gretel can find their way home later. The family’s plight does not improve and a short while later the mother [or stepmother depending on the version] persuades the father to take the children into the forest again and leave them there. This time, Hansel drops a trail of breadcrumbs but the birds eat them and the two children become lost in the forest.

The starving children come across a gingerbread house and they begin to break off bits and eat it. The house, however, is a trap set by a wicked witch who captures the children, enslaves Gretel and locks Hansel in a cage. She sets about fattening Hansel up so that she can eat him.

Gretel saves Hansel by shoving the witch into the oven which she has heated up in order to cook Hansel. The pair escape and manage to find their way home with the witch’s treasure. In the meantime, their mother [or stepmother] has died and their father is a broken man having abandoned his beloved children. The family live happily ever after.

Hansel and Gretel - Wikipedia
Picture from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hansel_and_Gretel

The real history behind this already rather grim story, is even more grim.

The true story of Hansel and Gretel may have its roots in the great flood and great famine of 1314. 1314 was a year of continuous rain and this continued throughout 1315 and 1316. The wet conditions resulted in crops rotting in the ground, harvests failing and livestock drowning or starving. Food prices increased dramatically as a result of severe food shortages.

The great famine is estimated to have effected 400,000 square miles of Europe, 30 million people and to have resulted in the deaths of up to 25 percent of the population in certain areas.

The famine was so bad that during the winter of 1315/1316, the peasants resorted to eating the seed grain they had stored for planting in the spring. People resorted to begging, stealing and even murder in their quest for food. Parents abandoned their children to fend for themselves and their were rumours of cannibalism. An Irish chronicler wrote that people “were so destroyed by hunger that they extracted bodies of the dead from cemeteries and dug out the flesh from the skulls and ate it, and women ate their children out of hunger.”

In the story of Hansel and Gretel, the pair are taken into the forest by their father and abandoned. They are taken in by an old woman living in a cottage. When the old woman starts to heat the oven, the children realise she is planning to roast and eat them. Gretel tricks the woman into opening the oven and pushes her inside.

It is interesting to note that this time of famine coincided with the end of the medieval warm weather period and the beginning of the little ice age. The changing climate with its cooler and wetter summers and earlier autumn storms damaged the harvests. Given the strange wet and cool summer South African is experiencing, coupled with severe cold in the northern hemisphere, this really is food for thought.

Another grim early tale along the lines of Hansel and Gretel is a Romanian story called The Little Boy and the Wicked Stepmother. You can read this story here: http://www.planetofbirds.com/the-story-of-the-little-boy-and-the-wicked-step-mother

The story of Hansel and Gretel was the inspiration for my recent twisted fairy tale Covid-19 cake which featured a gingerbread house and a witch who is trying to keep children out after they are declared to be vectors for the virus.

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Roberta Eaton Cheadle has published nine children’s books under the name of Robbie Cheadle. She has branched into writing for adults and young adults and, in order to clearly separate her children’s books from her adult books, is writing for older readers under the name Roberta Eaton Cheadle.

Her supernatural stories combine fabulous paranormal elements with fascinating historical facts.

Supernatural fantasy YA novel:
Through the Nethergate

Horror Anthologies (edited by Dan Alatorre):
Spellbound
Nightmareland
Dark Visions

Paranormal Anthologies (edited by Kaye Lynne Booth):
Spirits of the West
Whispers of the Past

Murder mystery Anthology (edited by Stephen Bentley)
Death Among Us

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5

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Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Dark Origins” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it interesting or entertaining, please share.


Dark Origins – Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary is an English nursery rhyme which is believed to have religious and historical significance.

Picture from Origins – What Does History Say?

The most common modern version of this nursery rhyme is as follows:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells, and cockle shells,

And pretty maids all in a row.

The oldest known version was first published in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book in 1744 and the lyrics were a little different.

Mistress Mary, Quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With Silver Bells, And Cockle Shells,

And so my garden grows.

The origins of this nursery rhyme are disputed and these are the three most popular theories.

Religous origin

One theory is that this nursery rhyme is a religious allegory of Catholicism as follows:

Mary is Mary, the mother of Jesus,

The bells are the sanctus or altar bells used to create a joyful noise to the Lord as a means of giving thanks for the miracle taking place on top of the altar,

The cockleshells are the badges of the pilgrims to the shrine of Saint James (one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus according to the New Testament) in Spain, and

Pretty maids are nuns.

Historical origins

The origin of this nursery rhyme has also been attributed to two 16th-century British queens, Mary Queen of Scots and Mary I, also known as Bloody Mary.

Mary Queen of Scots

Picture from Biography of Mary Queen of Scots where you can read more about her life

The tragic Mary Queen of Scots may have been the heroine of this nursery rhyme.

The cockle shells and silver bells were thought to have been ornaments on a dress given to her by her first husband, the Dauphin of France, who died in 1561, leaving her a widow.

The pretty maids all in a row is believed to refer to her ladies-in-waiting, the famous Four Mary’s: Mary Seton, Mary Fleming, Mary Beaton and Mary Livingston. These four young girls, all of noble and high birth, accompanied her when she travelled to France. They all had Scottish fathers and two of them had French mothers and could be relied upon to be loyal to the Scottish Queen and also to her French mother, Marie de Guise.

Mary I or Bloody Mary

Mary I was the elder daughter of King Henry VIII. Mary was a devout Catholic and upon ascending to the throne, following the death of her brother Edward VI, restored the Catholic faith to England. This, according to this theory, earned her the description Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.

Bloody Mary was renowned for torturing Protestants and “silver bells” was a nickname for the thumbscrews. “Cockleshells” were believed to be instruments of torture attached to the genitals. Pretty maids in a row was said to represent people lined up to be executed by the Halifax Gibbet, the same as a guillotine, which was nicknamed ‘a maiden’.

“How does your garden grow?” could be a taunt about Mary I’s failure to produce an heir or it could be a reference to the cemetery and the fact that the more deaths there were, the more the cemetery flowers would grow.

What do you think about this nursery rhyme? Which theory do you think is the most likely? Let me know in the comments.

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Roberta Eaton Cheadle has published nine children’s books under the name of Robbie Cheadle. She has branched into writing for adults and young adults and, in order to clearly separate her children’s books from her adult books, is writing for older readers under the name Roberta Eaton Cheadle.

Her supernatural stories combine fabulous paranormal elements with fascinating historical facts.

Supernatural fantasy YA novel:
Through the Nethergate

Horror Anthologies (edited by Dan Alatorre):
Spellbound
Nightmareland
Dark Visions

Paranormal Anthologies (edited by Kaye Lynne Booth):
Spirits of the West
Whispers of the Past

Murder mystery Anthology (edited by Stephen Bentley)
Death Among Us

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Dark Origins” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it interesting or entertaining, please share.


Exciting Happenings for Writing to be Read and WordCrafter

2021 is off to a great start and today, I wanted to take a minute to update you on the really cool stuff scheduled on Writing to be Read in the coming months. I’ve talked about some of these new additions previously, but one or two have only come together recently and I can’t wait to share them.

Dark Origins

You’ll find Robbie Cheadle’s new series, “Dark Origins”, posted on the fourth Wednesday of each month, and the first post will be this coming Wednesday, January 27th. Robbie will be delving into the origins of nursery rhymes and fairy tales, which can be very dark indeed, so be sure and watch for it.

Jeff’s Game Reviews

Jeff Bowles already shared the first post in his new video game review series, “Jeff’s Game Reviews”, where shared his thoughts on Hitman 3. This series will post the fourth Friday of each month, and each post includes a link to the video version of the review.

WordCrafter Book Blog Tours

Last but not least, February will see the launch of WordCrafter Book Blog Tours. The first tour will be for the Spirits of the West western paranormal anthology. Later in the month, tours are scheduled for Arthur Rosch’s poetry and photography collection, Feral Tenderness, and Barbara Spencer’s first book in the Children of Zues trilogy, A Click of a Pebble. I do hope you’ll all join us in learning about these wonderful books and their authors. Tours include interviews, book reviews and informative posts by the authors. You’ll find the complete tour schedule, as well as instructions for scheduling your own book blog tour on the WordCrafter Book Blog Tours page.

Where Spirits Linger

I’d also like to remind everyone that there is still time to submit your story in the 2021 WordCrafter Paranormal Short Fiction Contest, and to have it included in the resulting anthology, Where Spirits Linger. See the full submission guidelines for details. There is a $5 entry fee, which you can pay with a button right on the contest post, and the winner receives a $25 Amazon Gift Card and guarenteed inclusion in the anthology. But don’t wait too long. The deadline is April 30th.

2020 was a pretty good year for Writing to be Read and WordCrafter, in spite of the unusual circumstances of the pandemic and the “new normal”, which isn’t normal at all. After all the lock downs and mask mandates and social distancing, I think everyone needs a little makeover, and this blog is no exception. Writing to be Read may be getting a facelift with new types of content which will change it’s appearance a little, but the end result is that the blog will be so much better for them. Jeff’s and Robbie’s new series, the WordCrafter Book Blog Tours, and this year’s contest and anthology, are all welcome improvements, and I for one, can’t wait.

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