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How Feral Children Work

        Culture | Subcultures

Real-life Celebrity Feral Children
Peter the Wild Boy, circa 1780. He was found wandering in the woods near Hamelin in 1725 and was brought to England as a curiosity by King George I. A feral child, he never learned to speak, and he died in England in 1785.
Peter the Wild Boy, circa 1780. He was found wandering in the woods near Hamelin in 1725 and was brought to England as a curiosity by King George I. A feral child, he never learned to speak, and he died in England in 1785.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A kid doesn't have to suckle a wolf to be considered a feral child. The term covers any minor who has spent months or years isolated from human contact. While world mythology is full of stories like that of Romulus and Remus, there are some real-life instances in which children have spent years in solitude, often with animals as their closest companions. But the phenomenon is so rare that there are little more than a hundred instances of it in recorded history [source: ScienceDaily].

In the 1700s the townspeople of Hanover, in what is now northern Germany, came across a naked boy walking on all fours. He was about 12 years old and had clearly been living wild for many years. Given the name Peter, the boy became a celebrity and ended up living in England under royal patronage.

In the forests of southern France in 1800, a boy later dubbed Victor of Aveyron was captured naked and wild. He became the subject of scientific research and, in the 20th century, a film by Francois Truffaut.

Earlier, and farther north, in Champagne, France, a wild girl surfaced in 1731 wearing nothing but rags, skins and a gourd leaf for a hat. It seemed that her thumbs and fingers were overdeveloped because of her habit of climbing trees and swinging from branch to branch. Given the option, she preferred her meat raw and was able to skin a rabbit and devour it in a matter of minutes.

Baptized Marie-Angelique Memmie Le Blanc, the girl spoke no language known to her patron, the Viscount d'Epinoy. But she soon learned to speak French fluently, and when she did, a strange story emerged. It seemed that Memmie had been kidnapped from an unknown land, sold into slavery and shipwrecked off the coast of France where she made it to shore and survived in the wild for an unknown amount of time. It was later deduced that Memmie was probably a Native American from what is now the Midwestern U.S.

Like Peter and Victor, Memmie achieved a degree of celebrity in her time. Contemporaries looked to these stories of feral children with romantic fascination. As upper class Europeans became increasingly anxious about the "decadence" of their era, wild children were viewed as instances of a pure humanity emanating directly from a nature untainted by the corrupting forces of civilization [source: Newton].

But do feral children truly represent humanity in its natural state? The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is next.


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