The Ghost of the Pied Piper, a guest post by S. A. Patrick
There are things from our earliest childhood that haunt us.
For me, there’s always been one particular bogeyman, a ghost I’ve never quite put to rest – the Pied Piper of Hamelin. We all know the story: the town of Hamelin is overrun by rats, and who should come along but a stranger dressed in multicolored clothes, a rat-catcher who claims he can rid them of their rodents. The townsfolk agree to the high price he sets, and he produces a pipe and begins to play. The music brings the rats out from every hiding place, all caught by the mysterious power that the stranger creates with his pipe. The rats follow him to the river, where they drown. The Piper returns, but the townsfolk break their promise – in some versions they pay less than agreed, while in others they refuse to pay at all. The angry Piper leaves, only to return that night and play his pipe once more. This time, it is the children of the town who follow; they, and the Piper, are never seen again.
What happened to them is a mystery, one which has always haunted me. Because at the heart of the legend is something that people are often unaware of – the story has its roots in something that really happened. Surely, then, we can look back to its origins and see what answers we find?
The earliest versions of the tale, though, contain no mention of rats, or of townsfolk breaking their promises. In the town records of Hamelin, an entry dated to 1384 states: “It is one hundred years since our children left.” The Lueneburg manuscript (c. 1440–50) is one of the earliest texts to actually mention a piper: “In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul on June 26, by a piper, clothed in many colours, one hundred and thirty children born in Hamelin were taken, and lost at the Calvary Cross near the koppen.” The town church had a stained glass window depicting a piper in colourful clothes leading a line of children up to a strange cave on the top of a hill; although this window was destroyed, there are various contemporary descriptions, and a painting of 1592 that is supposedly based on it.
This is all we have to go on. Many attempts have been made to uncover the true story, and there are plenty of theories – that the Piper represents death in a time of plague, or that the children were recruited for a Crusade, or to resettle in other parts of Europe. Perhaps even the term ‘children’ is misleading, referring merely to those born in the town, of whatever age. Only much later do the tales become filled out with rats and rat-catching, merging together one story with another as traditional fairy tales often do. The townsfolk of Hamelin are unfairly portrayed as bringing their fate upon themselves, and at last it becomes the familiar legend, a brutal warning about keeping your promises. Too brutal for some, it turns out. Even if the townsfolk intended to pay the Piper less than agreed – or to not pay him at all! – the taking of their children is such a monstrous punishment that modern versions often choose to water it down, allowing the people of Hamelin to pay up, and the children to come home. The story is presented as the greedy townsfolk learning a lesson, with the Piper as a benevolent teacher.
I don’t buy that for a second. The Pied Piper of my darkest nights is a force of evil, cold and ruthless and beyond redemption. He is a blend of myth and reality, a pure bogeyman. Any attempt to rehabilitate him seems like an act of cowardice, and a betrayal of the people whose children were lost.
And so, after reading everything I could find about the origins of the Pied Piper, I was still left with the same question I had as a young child: what really became of the children he’d taken? That was the question which drove me to write A Darkening of Dragons, and provide my own take on the legend, one in which the townsfolk of Hamelin aren’t made a scapegoat, and the Pied Piper is unquestionably a villain. My version went in a very different direction, though. I imagined that the story we know is merely an echo from another world – a world like ours, but one in which there are many other Pipers in the world, who are usually a force for good. A world of magic, and mythical creatures, whose tales sometimes reach us in our dreams. And there, we would follow the adventures of a thirteen-year-old boy who, like me, was fascinated with the Pied Piper, and just as terrified of him. A boy, training to become a Piper himself, who ends up seeking the answer to the question that has haunted me since I was a child.
With one difference: he will find it.
Meet the author
S.A. Patrick was born in Belfast. When he was a child, he wanted to write video games, become an author, and have magical powers. The first two came true. If he ever does get magical powers, he hopes people like dragons and griffins because there’ll suddenly be a lot of them around. A Darkening of Dragons is his first book for children.
@SethPatrickUK on Twitter
About A Darkening of Dragons
Three accidental heroes encounter one legendary villain in an epic dragon-filled adventure just right for young fans of Terry Pratchett, J.R.R. Tolkien, and How to Train Your Dragon!
13-year old piper Patch Brightwater is a boy in disgrace. Thrown in jail for playing a forbidden spell, he is no one’s idea of a hero. But then he discovers a deadly truth – the evil Piper of Hamelyn is on the loose.
With the help of Wren, a girl cursed to live as a rat, and Barver, a fire-breathing dracogriff, Patch must stop the Piper from sparking the biggest battle of them all.
S.A. Patrick’s debut children’s novel is a vivid retelling of one of the darkest legends of all time – the Piper of Hamelyn. Combining fairy tale lore with the very best of modern storytelling and empowerment, A Darkening of Dragons takes fantasy fans on a journey filled with adventure, magic, and the delight of finding friends in unexpected places. Perfect for fans of The Hobbit, Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books, and How to Train Your Dragon.
A Carnegie Medal nominee.
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Publication date: 04/01/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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