Who Really Wrote the Poem “Come Little Children”?

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UPDATE: This post was updated on 11/12/16 with new information. See the additions at the end.

When I started writing my first novel, Come Little Children, I wasn’t sure who had composed the poem with the same title. Turns out, it’s a little complicated.

come-little-childrenLike most moviegoers, I first heard about the poem in Disney’s 1993 film HOCUS POCUS when a much younger, much blonder Sarah Jessica Parker sung the lines while riding a broomstick and flaunting her—what do you call them, Max?—yabbos for the town of Salem. When you Google the lyrics, however, you find a lot of versions with extended verses that were never in the final cut of the movie.

Originally, Sarah sang:

Come little children, I’ll take the away
into a land of Enchantment.
Come little children, the time’s come to play
here in my garden of magic.

But the version that’s floating around the internet has two extra verses:

Come little children, I’ll take thee away
into a land of Enchantment,
Come little children, the time’s come to play
here in my garden of Shadows.

Follow sweet children, I’ll show thee the way
through all the pain and the Sorrows.
Weep not poor children, for life is this way
Murdering beauty and Passions.

Hush now dear children, it must be this way
to weary of life and Deceptions,
Rest now my children, for soon we’ll away
into the calm and the Quiet.

Come little children, I’ll take thee away
into a land of Enchantment,
Come little children, the time’s come to play
here in my garden of Shadows.

Aside from some capitalization and formatting differences, the most noticeable change is the last word of the first verse: “magic” becomes “shadows”. So what’s the original version? Where did it come from? Was it written for Disney, or is it based on older material that’s now in the public domain? Well, like I said, it’s a little complicated…

A lot of people claim the poem is by Edgar Allan Poe, including this site and this site. However, Poe-enthusiasts think that’s ludicrous because it doesn’t show up in his omnibus and, apparently, it doesn’t fit his style.

Other people argue that Brock Walsh is the original author, whose IMDB credits from HOCUS POCUS include “Chants and Incantations”, as well as lyrics for “Sarah’s Theme” and “Come Little Children”. Sounds promising, right? Well, back when I was researching this, “promising” wasn’t good enough. I wanted to republish the poem in my novel, and I wasn’t keen on the idea of being sued. [To be clear: asking for forgiveness rather than permission is fine when it comes to buying a pet or pranking someone on April Fools, but it falls apart quickly when you’re served cease and desist papers from The Big Mouse.]

So I contacted Brock Walsh.

Anecdote: I actually contacted John Debney first, because he’s the one credited for the music of HOCUS POCUS. Alas, I was informed that he didn’t come onto the project until after “Sarah’s Theme” had been written. The original composer was James Horner, but when I tried contacting him, his agent said that since Debney was the one who got the final music credit, it was best if I talked to the studio attached to the film (Disney). In other words: “Sorry, but Mr. Horner is too busy composing his next Academy Award-winning score to answer a question about a tune he may or may not have written for a couple of witches in 1993.”

Anyhow, I asked Mr. Walsh if he was the original poet or if the internet was right and Poe was the author. His response was the following:

Dear Mr. Melhoff,

That has to be the most gratifying, and apocryphal, bit of internet misinformation ever! Being confused with Poe? Must have been my obsession with him as a child. Yes, the lyric is my creation, written in tandem with James Horner.

As to extended verses, if you can provide, I’ll vouch for their veracity.

Best Regards,

Brock Walsh

Finally I was getting somewhere! Unfortunately—and this is where the rabbit hole gets deeper and darker—when I gave Brock the extended verses, he told me that he was not the author of them.

Right. Now what.

Well, both of us did some digging and discovered an artist by the name of Kate Covington who had a YouTube channel called Erutan Music. She had covered the song (fantastically, I might add) and took credit as the person who changed the word “magic” to “shadows”.

Sadly, that’s where the case goes cold. Neither Kate nor Brock know where the other two verses came from, so I handed it over to a licensing company and let them take it from there. Months later, they got back to me and told me to credit it as follows:

Garden Of Magic
from HOCUS POCUS*
Text based on the poem “Come Little Children” by Edgar Allan Poe
Additional text by Brock Walsh
Music by James Horner
(c) 1993 Walt Disney Music Company
All Rights Reserved Used by Permission
*Adapted lyrics not used in film
Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard Corporation

If you’ve followed the whole story thus far, you’re probably as surprised as I was. At this point, the licensing company knows more about it than I do (maybe they found that someone had written the mystery verses based on Poe’s work? Or maybe it’s become too untraceable to know for sure?), but for now I’m content having the permission to print.

If you know more about the mystery verses, please leave a comment or email me and I’ll gladly update this article. Cliffhangers can be great in movies, but they blow in real life.

UPDATE: November 12, 2016

There might be a light at the end of the tunnel, folks. Thanks to some clever digging from someone who found this blog post, it appears that a person who goes by the name Belos takes credit for the extra verses on their site. That website is no longer live, but thanks to the Wayback Machine (an internet archive of web pages), you can see their claim here.

In the event that the archive disappears one day, here’s a screenshot of it:

come-little-children-source

Callid, the person who messaged me about this find, has another interesting theory too:

“Thanks to the Internet Archive, we know [Belos] published those lines in December 2002 or earlier. As you can see, the page is entitled ‘Poe3’, which is probably why some people assumed it displayed Poe’s work, but seems to be simply short for ‘poetry’. Apparently, these misattributions were common even early on, as Belos published an addendum in early 2006 , clarifying that he is the author of the middle stanzas (in his counting, stanzas 3 to 6), and that he also made the change from ‘magic’ to ‘shadows’.”

Belos’ claim that he/she was the one to change “magic” to “shadows” conflicts with Kate’s claim, but nevertheless, Belos is the first person I’ve seen to take credit for the middle verses.

Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about this topic, particularly Callid. I had no idea it would be such a wild goose chase. If you find any more information, don’t hesitate to email me. I’m clearly obsessed with this topic.

D.

D. Melhoff

D. Melhoff was born in a prairie ghost town that few people have heard of and even fewer have visited. While most of his stories are for adults, he also enjoys terrifying younger audiences from time to time, as seen in his series of twisted picture books for children. He credits King, Poe, Hitchcock, Stoker, and his second grade school teacher, Mrs. Lake, for turning him to horror.

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