…He advanced to the council-table:
And, “Please your honours,” 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….
The centuries old fable of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” is a folk story we use to frighten children. Perhaps you remember hearing it when you were a youngster. This strangely macabre tale is based upon a mysterious, real-life event.
The story is set in the year 1284 in the Duchy of Saxony in the district Hamelin-Pymont located in what is now the modern German State of Lower Saxony. A brief summary of the fairytale goes something like this:
The provincial town of Hamelin was suffering through a severe rat infestation. During a town meeting, an odd looking man, dressed in a coat of many colors appeared at the gathering. He promised to exterminate the rodents in return for a payment. The townsfolk eagerly agreed to the man’s terms. The man led all the rats out of the town with haunting music from his flute to a lake where the rats drowned. The citizens of Hamelin reneged on their agreement. The piper felt cheated and vowed revenge on the town later that year.
The piper arrived in Hamelin that summer and played another haunting tune on his flute. The children followed the musician out of town while their parents helplessly watched. The young people of the town were never to be seen, ever again. Only three kids remained in town. One was lame and couldn’t keep up, the second was deaf and couldn’t hear the tune, and the third was blind and couldn’t see to follow the rest. The mystery as to the fate of the children has never been satisfactorily solved.
The scant historical records imply that Hamelin had an actual loss of about 130 children from the town. As we would expect, the story has changed form over the centuries. The question remains as to whether the Pied Piper was an actual man or an analogy that represents a plague or maybe a villainous inhabitant of the town.
The story can be seen as a morality play that is relevant to contemporary civilization regarding popular styles and social movements. Because Americans are in the midst of an election year, it is tempting to apply the tale to present day campaigns.
The town of Hamelin can represent the United States. The rats can represent the various fears and scapegoating that rampage through the population. The town meeting can obviously represent the campaign season. The Piper might portray whichever candidate you wish. The children stand in as the citizens of the nation. The grownups might be thought of as political operatives, the movers and shakers of the US.
We might hear the Piper playing our own tune and we are seduced into following the musician down the road. Are we walking upon the road to a grand future or are we being led down the garden path? Are we, the children, being saved from the stagnant, corrupt grownups who cheated our hero? Or, are we in a death march?
Of course, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” can be seen as a lesson in other ways that are not political. I recommend that the reader search the Web for a copy of the story and read the tale for yourself. What sort of wisdom do you find within the verses?
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Robert Browning.
“So, Willy, let me and you be wipers
Of scores out with all men — especially pipers!
And, whether they pipe us free from rats or from mice,
If we’ve promised them aught, let us keep our promise!”