– Janet Coopey
Are there similar survival stories, from around the world, to that of Childe killing his horse and using the carcass to shelter from a severe blizzard? Here’s an ancient Berber tradition, as seen on the Channel 4 series: ‘Bear Grylls: Born Survivor’, the Sahara series.
Grylls demonstrates how the Berbers of the Sahara Desert have, for generations, used dead camels to shelter from severe sandstorms or from the extreme temperatures (these can soar to over 50°C during the day during the summer months, but plummet to freezing at night during the winter).
The programme shows Grylls disembowelling a dead camel. He drags the 60m long entrails well away from it, as it is more likely to attract predatory jackals than the carcass itself. He dines on some of the meat (albeit tough), and spends the night tucked up inside the carcass, wrapped snugly in the skin, nestling against the neck for a pillow (not exactly your average, 4 star overnight accommodation!).
There is also an earlier Saxon story recorded, which has distinct similarities to that of Childe . Anna Eliza Bray (1836) A Description of the Part of Devonshire Bordering on the Tamar and the Tavy, 2, p.53 when telling the old Dartmoor tale of Childe who crawled into his horse’s belly in a blizzard, wrote: ‘it is not impossible he might have called to mind one [miraculous adventure] recorded of Elsinus, the Saxon Bishop of Worcester, when crossing the Alps to receive his pall from the hands of the Pope. Be this as it may, he [Childe] determined to take up the same kind of lodging the saint and bishop was said to have done; and so killing his horse, and emboweling him on the spot, old Childe crept into the body for the purpose of procuring a little warmth in his distress. But the expedient had not saved a saint, how then could it be expected to preserve a sinner?’
Mrs Bray was mistaken about Elsinus, as explained by Dr David Morrison, librarian/archivist at Worcester Cathedral:‘The story that Anna Bray used appears to come from a misreading of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs… The correct facts are that Elsinus’s name is in fact Elfsige, who was already Bishop of Winchester and was to be made Archbishop of Canterbury on the death of Oda [in AD 959]. Elfsige was so eager to get the pallium from the Pope, he hurried over the Alps and he and his party were caught in a terrible snowstorm, where the would be archbishop died of cold, despite his party plunging his feet into the belly of his horse to try and keep him warm.’
The legacy of Childe the Hunter extends even, it would seem, to the far flung reaches of the solar system (albeit a fictional one). In ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ from the Star Wars series of books, we find Luke Skywalker close to death in a blizzard on the planet Hoth. Hans Solo comes to the rescue riding on a Tauntaun (a snow lizard to you and me). In this thinly veiled version of the Childe legend, the rescuer’s beast dies immediately upon finding Skywalker. Solo then proceeds to cut open the carcass ‘from hairy head to scaly hind paws.’ (p27). The animal is disembowelled (sounds familiar), and Solo pushes his frozen friend inside it in a bid to keep him warm. We are told, a few pages further on, they had a 725:1 chance of surviving the freezing temperatures over night. As they lived to fight another day, one can only assume a dead Tauntaun is a handy creature to have around. Perhaps both Childe and Bishop Elfsige would have fared better with one rather than a horse?
Are there any other historical, contemporary or fictional stories of dead animals being used by travellers as shelter from storms?
Bray, Mrs (1834) A Description of the Part of Devonshire Bordering on the Tamar and the Tavy Vol.II London: John Murray
Glut, Donald F. (1996) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back London: Little, Brown and Company