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“‘Please your honors,’ said he, ‘I’m able, by means of a secret charm, to draw all creatures living beneath the sun that creep, or swim, or fly, or run, after me so as you never saw! And I chiefly use my charm on creatures that do people harm: the mole, and toad, and newt, and viper; And people call me the Pied Piper.’”
-An introduction to a character that needs no introduction
For 300 years, a stained glass window depicting a colorfully dressed piper stood in the church of the German town of Hamelin. Although the window was destroyed in 1660, records detail the message enshrined upon it:
In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul on June 26, by a piper, clothed in many kinds of colors, 130 born in Hamlin were seduced and lost at the place of execution near the koppen.
Another entry in Hamelin’s town records dating from 1384 follows up with a grim assessment:
It has been 100 years since our children left.
It’s said that every folk story and fairy tale has a grain of truth to them…which can make the tale in question even more disturbing when there are written accounts to back it up. Such is the case with The Pied Piper of Hamelin. We know something terrible right out of a fantasy story did indeed happen, but the details and reasoning behind it are lost to time. From there the human imagination takes over and fills in the spaces with dark suppositions. What of this enigmatic Piper who lured so many victims to an unknown fate? Is he Death personified? One of the fae? A remnant of the mysterious dancing plague that struck 14th century Europe? Was he a colorful recruiter of German colonizers looking to settle further east? A metaphor for the Children’s Crusade, where thousands of children were rounded up to take the Holy Land only to never return? Or, perhaps, a dark manifestation of the fear of child predators?
Curiously, neither the window nor documents make any mention of a rat plague that so often accompanies retellings of the Pied Piper story. That aspect didn’t appear until the 16th century. The wonder and terror surrounding the Piper’s doings have inspired one interpretation after another. Can Faerie Tale Theatre recapture the magic, or is it full of sour notes?Continue reading