Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Empty Echos of Laughter

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.

I told them the version with which I was familiar. It is but one of many, none of them known to be true or correct. I told them of the town of Hamelin. How the town had too many rats. Terrible, giant rats that chewed on clothes and ate up all the food. That chased the cats and tried to bite little babies sleeping in their cradles.

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


Irrational Dad said...

This is a children s' story?!?!? I need to read more.

I'm not looking forward to explaining the "real world" to Tyler. I love that he lives in a perfect world, and I hate to think that I have to alter that image for him. Explaining "bad touching"? It shouldn't have to be that way. :(

Anonymous said...

That was fascinating. I LOVE writing like this, informative and provoking. And I'm supposed to be writing when I visit the library today. But I imagine I'll spend a bit of time tracking down the story behind all this . . .

A Free Man said...

I heard the 'real story' behind this and some other fairy tales recently. Very cool stuff.

I'm in the same kind of conundrum right now with music - what do kids need to hear.

Really liking this post, NATUI!

Anonymous said...

I did a quick search and found a "sequel" to the story of Hamelin.

"After Hamelin" by Bill Richardson. Here's a quick summary . . .

"Featuring a wild and unpredictable dreamscape, this surrealistic tale begins 90 years after the Pied Piper of Hamelin's tale ends. Penelope, at age 101, is the only villager old enough to remember the events, and she records her account of what really happened to her town's children. She begins with her 11th birthday, marked by three significant occurrences. First she is mysteriously struck deaf. Then she watches helplessly as the piper lures her older sister and friends out of the city with an enchanting melody (her deafness spares her from the same fate). Next a mysterious town elder informs Penelope that she alone can rescue the children by journeying to a magic land that can be entered only through dreams . . ."


Anonymous said...

Very insightful and thought-provoking. Thanks for giving me something to ponder today.


Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Awesome post, hon. This reminds me of the "real" story of the Little Mermaid and how her prince doesn't fall in love with her and she turns to sea foam. I remember reading that as a little girl and crying and getting so upset at the beach any time sea foam would get on my legs as I walked in the surf.

Mouthy Girl said...

Yet again, I had the talk about NOT GOING OUT OF MOM AND DAD'S SIGHT when outside.

I am ready to tell him scary shit so he will LISTEN and not attempt to be Mr. Independent Whenever I Feel Like It.

I'm not going down the rat story with him, though. I had a tough enough time convincing the kid that crocodiles wouldn't be in the lake where we went today. And octopi. And crabs. And all sundry of other salt-water creatures.

Rassles said...

I feel like I've always known that version of the story, where the piper steals the children.

I guess momma Rassles didn't think it was necessary to change it. She was always like that, though. Very practical and matter-of-fact. And then it would be, "So what did we learn here? If you follow strange musicians you will drown and die."

"Okay, Mommy."

Rassles said...

Also, you know what? Reading this was fun.

Faiqa said...

That was great-- you know, I've often thought about this issue regarding the sanitizing of children's stories. I haven't figured out where I stand on that.

Also? This story reminds me of that Stephen King movie that took place in Roanoke... Storm of the Century, I think?

Cristin said...

so glad to have found you!

I'd tell my kids the real version... I like scaring my kids...

Not Afraid to Use It said...

@Joe: I hear you. We are already having the "bad touching" talks, and it is very hard.

@cheekofgod: Thanks! I love all the back stories too. I think I could live in a library.

@AFreeMan: The music we try to keep all over the musical spectrum. If it's got a catchy chorus the kids can repeat, it's added to the rotation. I'm not too picky about genres right now because I want them to hear everything.

@cheekofgod: Thanks for that update. I'd like to read that sometime.

@andbabymakesthree: I'm glad, too!

@CMGD: I haven't read that story, but have heard bits and pieces about the ending. I don't think I could handle reading the real one. As for the Disney version, we do talk about how less-than-bright Eric seems to be.

@buddhagirl: Yeah, they won't hear the real ending for a while.

@Rassles: There are other stories and phrases that the kids do know, but right now my 4 year old is having lots of questions about death, and I just didn't want to go there with this story.

@Faiqa: I am inbetween on the sanitizing. I think kids should learn in stages, but that the real versions should be available for when they are emotionally ready.

@Creepy: Glad you found me, too! Welcome!

Anonymous said...

Wow. I never thought it was based on a real event. Ok, maybe. I knew about the Children's Crusade. But still, it has more impact now that I'm a mother.
Great post.

only a movie said...

Fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing. :-)

Gwen said...

I think Fairy Tales, particularly Grimm's, are well...grim. Don't hate me for using a pun. (Wait, was that a pun or a bad joke? I can't tell anymore). Anyway, the Pied Piper is an interesting story. I never took the time to think about the psychological aspects of the tale. It does, indeed, fill me with panic to think about my child not being here, with me. Thanks for a well written, thought provoking (and fear inducing) post.

Blues said...

Love this post. Love the story. Love that fairy tales were full of scariness.