Most of the fairy tales we learned growing up were diluted versions of what the Grimm Brothers or Hans Christian Andersen wrote or transcribed. Lately, our children have received the Disney-fied version. Happy endings. Good triumphs over evil. Love conquers all.
One of my children's favorite songs in the playlist is The Pied Piper by Crispian St. Peters. We pretend to play a piccolo, march in circles around the living and shout at the top of our lungs I'm the Pied Piper, trust in me, I'm the Pied Piper. They love it. Today, on the way home from visiting a friend and singing the song at the top of our lungs, I asked if they would like to hear the story of the Pied Piper. Ears and eyes were eager.
My children, saucer-eyed and breathless, sat still in their carseats.
I told them of the morning when the Pied Piper came to town. He told the townspeople of Hamelin that he had a magic pipe and could play a magic song. That he could bewitch the rats while he danced in the streets and lead the rats far away, never to return. All he asked for in return was a bag of gold.
The people of Hamelin agreed, and the Pied Piper returned early in the morning and began to play. He played and danced and bewitched the rats (okay, so I told my kids the Piper gave the rats googly eyes, but you get the idea). All of the rats heard his magic song, and he led the rats away from the town. And everyone was happy.
I did not tell my children that the Piper led the rats to the river and drowned them. I had started down that vein in the first telling of the story, but LittleBird caught on and I didn't want to have to explain why he'd drowned the rats. Because the rest of the story? Does not end well. The people of Hamelin refused to pay the Piper his gold. The rats were gone, and they did not hold to their end of the bargain. So one day, the Piper returned. He played his pipe for the children, and they danced and whirled in the streets. A colorful parade of ruddy cheeks and bouncing curls, the Piper led the children to the river and drowned them as restitution for the villagers reneging on their agreement.
My kids are two and four. For now, the Disney-fied version suffices.
What does not sit well with me, is that Hamelin is a real place. The earliest written record of the town of Hamelin begins
It is 10 years since our children left*
It is from this seemingly tragic event, shrouded in the fog of 1284 that the Legend of the Pied Piper arose. No one seems to be able to agree upon what happened or how. Was it a plague? A trick? Whether the children were sold, lured or went willingly it seems approximately 130 left Hamlin that day. They never came back.
The choice in words to begin any speech, journal or decree speaks volume of its writer. In this instance, ten years of grief are expressed in a single sentence. The why and how no longer matter. Some horrific tragedy befell these families. The children were gone, and the wounds were so fresh that the first official documents written for Hamelin express their mourning ten years later.
One of the few writings that gives a date for this event lists June 26. That's this Friday, folks. Most of the people who read this blog are parents. To hell with time and space. I don't care that it was over 700 years ago. One day parents woke up to a household filled with the happy chatter of their beloved children. That day the sun set to shuttered windows, the empty echos of laughter fading in the candlelight. They very thought of it makes me ill.
As my children grow and become more independent, temptations lurk around every corner. It is my duty to instill that all-important sense of self-preservation into my children so that no man, woman or organization can whirl them away. Though we just celebrated Father's Day, give your little ones an extra squeeze this week. We are lucky, damned lucky, for every day that starts and ends with our loved ones around us.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is today's history mystery.
*Shiela Harty Pied Piper Revisited, Essay published in: David Bridges, Terence H. McLaughlin, editors Education And The Market Place Page 89, Routledge, 1994 ISBN 0750703482