The Pied Piper has was always one of my favourite fairytales. The story is sinister, unsettling and tragic and it certainly does not end happily ever after, especially for the rats! I’m not trying to suggest I was a creepy, disturbed child who only enjoyed tales of misery and death; I merely liked the tale because it stood out from the rest.
For me, my favourite fairy tales were split into two categories. You had tales such as Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Frog Prince and Cinderella. Although still dark and disturbed tales in their own right, they were still essentially romances with ‘Happily Ever Afters’ tagged onto the end. Then you had tales such as The Pied Piper, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel and Rumplestiltskin which did not follow the traditional romantic route and ended in violence and even tragedy. Mix these two types of stories together in a collection (as the Brothers Grimm did) and you have a truly fantastic anthology of enchanting, romantic, disturbing and brutal stories.
Back to the Pied Piper though, one of the most intriguing facts about this fairy tale is that it is based on an actual event in history. In the story Hamelin town is infested with rats. A stranger comes through the town and offers to rid them of their rats for a small fee and they accept. Playing his pipe, the piper lures the rats out of the town and takes them to a river where they drown. However, the town refuses to pay and the piper leaves promising they will regret that decision. Later that night he returns and, like the rats, lures the town’s children away and takes them to the same river where they drown. More sanitized versions have the piper shut them away in a cave until the townspeople paid up. It is quite a dark and hypnotic tale of revenge.
In the 1300s in Hamelin, Germany, it is recorded that the town “lost” their children. There was recorded to be a stained glass window in the church depicting a “pied piper” taking the children away. How they were really lost has never been verified. Some speculated that the children died, the pied piper being a manifestation of death, leading them away from this world. The inclusion of the rats in the tale naturally led to the argument that the children died of the plague. Some have even suggested the children did not die but merely emigrated or were recruited. Whatever happened to the children, their disappearance was referenced in 1384 in the town chronicles which states:
“It is 100 years since our children left.”
The tale itself is therefore given more substance and depth, being based on a true story.
The story of a strange man luring hundreds of rats from a town through music, then returning for the town’s children to punish the adults for not paying what was owed is truly a haunting premise. What makes it more sinister is the peculiar character of the piper. It is never explained who he is, where he came from or exactly how he could lure animals and people by his music. The ambiguous and haunting nature of the tale just made it all the more fascinating to me and that is why I chose The Pied Piper to rewrite in rhyme. The first of many retellings I wish to bring you. I wanted to capture that mysterious and evocative atmosphere of the story and give it that hypnotic rhythm that only rhyme can achieve. So for those of you who, like myself, find yourself drawn to piper’s tune, please check it out at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pied-Piper-Rachael-Stuart-MacRae-ebook/dp/B08WJBLBWM/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=pied+piper&qid=1613578734&sr=8-1