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Myths, Legends, Fantasy...
The Pied Piper of Hamelin
This item was prepared by Ida Baj who teaches at Kolegium Karkonoskie in Jelenia Góra
The information about the story and its background is taken from: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Millenium Edition. 2000. London: Cassell, and from: Kopaliński, W. 1985. Słownik mitów i tradycji kultury Warszawa: PIW.
The town of Hamelin (Hameln) in Westphalia, Germany was infested with rats. The townspeople went to the Mayor asking him for help, but he said that he couldn’t make the rats go away. The mysterious Pied Piper came to town and offered to get rid of the rats. (The word ‘pied’ means that he was wearing brightly coloured clothes.) The Mayor promised the stranger a certain sum of money. The Pied Piper played a tune and all the rats followed him. He walked into the river and the rats drowned.
However, the Mayor refused to pay the Pied Piper. On the following St John’s Day, the Pied Piper played a different tune and all the children of Hamelin ran after him. The Pied Piper led them to a mountain cave, where all disappeared save a lame boy who couldn’t run fast enough. Another version is that they were led to Transylvania where they formed a German settlement.
The story, familiar in England from Robert Browning’s poem (1842), has its roots in the Children’s Crusade (1212). That event was a result of misguided zeal: it was believed that the children would defeat the Saracens by sheer innocence. There were two main expeditions: some 40 000 German children led by one Nicholas set off over the Alps for Italy. Most of them died in the mountains. Only a few reached Rome, where Innocent III ordered them home. Some hundreds possibly sailed from Brindisi to disappear from history. Another 30 000 French children at the age of 10 to 16, under a visionary shepherd boy, Stephen of Cloyes, set out for Marseilles and about 5000 were eventually offered passage by dishonest shipmasters who sold them as slaves to the Muslims in North Africa. A Polish artist Witold Wojtkiewicz (1879-1909) painted an evocative picture The Children’s Crusade (1905).
‘Framing’ the Pied Piper story
For background to this activity and discussion of the concept of ‘framing’ - see Teaching Culture through Drama: Dorothy Heathcote’s approach
For the full text of Robert Browning’s poem - see www.indiana.edu/~librcsd/etext/piper, each page beautifully illustrated in colour by Kate Greenaway from 1888
The Pied Piper homepage www.ims.uni-stuttgart.de/~jonas/piedpiper.html will give you much more about the story. This is a well-produced, colourful and accessible source of information and links about the Pied Piper and similar stories from other cultures and languages. It has the poetry, literature, music, opera and films (from the first silent in 1911 to “It's the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown'' in 2000) made from the story, and links to Hameln today. There is a link for instance to an American poem connecting the tale to the 1999 high school massacre in Colorado.
For more material in English on the Pied Piper try the excellent D. L. Ashliman folk tale pages from the University of Pittsburgh www.pitt.edu/~dash/hameln.html
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