Over the course of this series I have reviewed the feckless and pitiable beast of Scotland, the twisted object lessons of Greek mythology, and the bloodthirsty child murdering perverts of Slavic and Germanic myth. Some were monsters worthy of the name, some cruel by circumstance, and others fearful only in appearance. The motivation of the Lange Wapper, the shape-shifting giant of Flemish legend, defies easy categorization. A little backstory:
The Lange Wapper was born in Wilrijk in the 16th century. And by born I mean a farmer found an enormous garden parsley and red cabbage in his bed, and when the farmer touched the abandoned produce it transformed into a baby. The farmer, a confirmed bachelor, gave the mysterious infant to his neighbor. The fact that the Lange Wapper was born as two separate vegetables, that spontaneously changed into a single human baby, is never mentioned again, and has nothing to do with his trademark shape-shifting and size changing abilities. He acquired those as a reward for thwarting a local youth gang’s attempt to throw an old woman in the river.
Country of Origin:
The Netherlands, which contains Holland, and sometimes is called Holland, but not by the Dutch who live there…except in Holland. If this seems confusing feel free to consult a primary source written in one of the implausible, but real, official languages: Dutch, West Frisian, Low Saxon, or Limburgish. The people of Belgium, who I will not try to conjugate, also were big fans.
Is he Scary:
For the most part the Lange Wapper was more petty vigilante than monster proper. He spent most days shape shifted into a giant form, bounding from city to city, terrorizing drunks, ruthlessly beating child-abandoning old ladies, hustling children for candy, and flinging ships about the harbor.
The closest thing to murder I can pin on him began on a rare quiet day, when he was enjoying a pint at a corner pub. Two lagers in he caught wind of some juicy local gossip; there was a young woman of high standing that was indulging the attention of four suitors. I can’t say if it was out of prudishness, or boredom, but the Lange Wapper’s first instinct was to transform into the young woman at the center of the love pentagon, track down each of the four beaus, and individually invite them to join her(him) for a late night rendezvous at a graveyard. The following actually occurred (as recounted in amazingbelgium.be ):
“The first suitor had to prove that he loved her and had to sit on a big cross in the cemetery for two hours. The second suitor had to lie down for two hours in a coffin under the cross. The third one had to knock on the coffin and wait for them to pick him up. The fourth had to walk with a long metal necklace around the cross. When he did that he found the other three suitors dead. The first suitor was in shock and fell death from the cross when the second got into the coffin. The second died of fear when the third knocked on the chest and the third died when he heard the sound of the chain and thought that the devil was coming to get him. The fourth suitor went crazy, jumped into the river Scheldt and drowned”.
Let me state up front, these men deserved to die. Two of them died of fright because they heard an unexpected noise, one died because he fell four feet off a cross onto grass, and the last one flung himself into the river instead of contacting the authorities. What sort of personal ad did this woman run to get four suitors of this uncommon temperament?
“Looking for fragile timid rube with zero self-esteem for no strings courtship. Must enjoy late night walks, theatrical displays of devotion, and the company of fellow duds. Inability to survive minor travail a plus.”
I am not absolving the Lange Wapper of wrong doing. We’ve all overhead chatter about toxic five-person relationships and wanted to intercede, but that doesn’t justify shape-shifting yourself into a woman and staging a prank show version of “The Bachelorette“. It’s an overreach and he was wrong to do it…but that was an eminently survivable situation for all parties. Worst case scenario should have been a sprained ankle and broken arm…it may have been a planned group suicide.
What does this say about the Dutch/Belgians
Another quote from AmazingBelgium.
Sometimes Lange Wapper can disguise himself as a small child to drink breast milk of a young mother. And if a parent wants to take the child to another room to care for and to put it in a crib, “Lange Wapper” can let himself grow so large that he does not fit in that room .
Let me say upfront that I was never a twice-abandoned Parsley and Cabbage that somehow became a baby, and I cannot speak to the lingering trauma that might cause, but this was way more troubling then those four guys he killed. And let me assure you that this is not the only “Lange Wapper hustled some breast milk” story, but it is the darkest in implication. For instance:
Where did the real baby go?
What happens when you call the Lange Wapper’s bluff?
How long a con is Lange Wapper prepared to work? Pre School? College? Let them know on their death bed?
What is the lesson?
If someone leaves a cabbage and parsley in your bed and it turns into a baby, ask some questions. Who put them there? How did they get into your house? Why is there a baby now? The answer to all of these question is: someone is fucking with you. Don’t just hand your problem off to the first child thirsty townies that you run into.
I can understand wanting to roll with a miracle, but just because it’s magical doesn’t mean it is good. For every limitless basket of fish and bread there is a rain of poison blood-frogs that kill your first born son. Never assume that the gods are on your side, and maintain a healthy skepticism when presented with implausible gifts.