Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Pied Piper

A figure whose origins are lost in legend, but whose story (> Folktale) is best-known from the poem "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" (1842 in Dramatic Lyrics) by Robert Browning. 14th-century Hamelin is infested with rats (> Mice and Rats), and the burghers are at a loss what to do. As if from nowhere (> Answered Prayers) they are visited by a strange, quaintly dressed traveller or Minstrel who looks a little like Harlequin (> Commedia dell'Arte; Jester); he claims he can rid the town of the rats. They welcome his offer and agree to pay him 1000 guilders. He begins to play his pipe and immediately the rats begin to follow him and perish in the River Weser, save one, who returns to Rat-Land to tell of the fate of his fellows, remarking on the promise of beauty and plenitude that was in the PP's Music. The burghers refuse to pay the full fee, offering the PP 50 guilders. When he threatens them they pay no heed, so the PP plays a new tune and all the town's children follow him into the mountains, where a door admits all save one, a lame boy, who returns to tell the tale. The PP and the children are never seen again, although the poem ends with reference to a belief that there was a German-speaking community in Transylvania who did not know of their origin. Browning based his poem on a version his father had written and on other historical accounts. The earliest recorded version of the story, according to Humphrey Carpenter and Mari Prichard in The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (1984), was by the historian Heinrich von Herford, writing in 1450: a young man came to Hamelin in the year 1284 and lured all the children away with his pipe-playing. This may have its roots in the Children's Crusade of 1212. The link with the rats did not follow for some while. Other versions of the legend exist, the most common in story form being "The Ratcatcher", from Affenschwanz ["The Monkey's Tail"] (coll 1888) by the French folklorist Charles Marelles, trans in The Red Fairy Book (anth 1890) ed Andrew Lang; here the PP is dressed like a gypsy and plays the bagpipes, but the rest is the same.

The PP is sometimes perceived as a Trickster, but he was only claiming his right. The Children believed that they were being taken to some Secret Garden which could be accessed only via a door in the mountains (> Portal; Threshold). The end result for Hamelin was a Thing Bought at Too High a Cost.

The tale's Motifs have been utilized in many stories. The whole episode is replayed in Ashmadi (1985 Germany; English text The Coachman Rat 1987) by David Henry Wilson, from the perspective of the surviving rat, who is shown to betray his fellows in order to save mankind. The idea of music opening up a doorway to another land is used in A Strange Land (1908) by Felix Ryark. The trickster image is used by Mildred Clingerman in "The Gay Deceiver" (in A Cupful of Space coll 1961), where the PP continues to seek revenge upon the descendants of the townsfolk, and again in "Devlin" (1953 F&SF) by W B Ready (1914-1981), where the Devil plays a similar trick on an Irish marching band. In both "A Present from Brunswick" (1951 F&SF ot "Bargain from Brunswick") by John Wyndham (1903-1969) and "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" (1965 F&SF) by Fredric Brown and Carl Onspaugh, the PP's pipe comes to light and continues to have its effect. In "The Pied Piper Fights the Gestapo" (1942 Fantastic Adventures) Robert Bloch portrays the PP using his skills against the Germans. In "A Distant Shrine" (1961 Saturday Evening Post) by William Sambrot (1920-2007) the PP is discovered to have been a Martian, descendants of the lost children being found on Mars. The PP has been featured in a number of Animated Movies, but the only live-action movies seem to have been The Pied Piper (1971 UK) dir Jacques Demy, starring Donovan Leitch, Donald Pleasence, Michael Hordern, John Hurt and Roy Kinnear, and The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1984 tvm US) dir Nicholas Meyer, starring Eric Idle. The PP is an Underlier in other movies; e.g., The Navigator (1988). [MA]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.