One of my favorite stories growing up was a tale that my third grade teacher read to the class called “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” The story stuck with me and I have often lamented that it is not only fairly unknown (or at least not a prominent fairy tale), but even if it is known, this gem of a tale is censored and bubble-gummed up to have a happy ending. Granted, Mrs. Kratz — my third grade librarian — read us the buttered up version where all the children are retuned happily to their home, but like most fairy tales, the original is far darker.
For those who are not familiar with this horribly dark tale, it sprouts from the rat infestations during the black plague epidemic in the 1300s. The small village of Hamelin was overrun with rats and the people were all dying. A brightly dressed stranger with a flute came and offered his services of purging the town of the rodents. A price was agreed upon and he whipped out his flute, played a haunting tune, and all the rats followed him to be led off of a cliff and drown in the Weser River.
The piper returns after the extermination seeking payment and the Mayer either refuses outright or offers far, far less than the agreed upon price. In a rage, the piper vows vengeance and returns wearing hunter green while the citizens are all in church. The unnamed protagonist plays another tune which lures the children to follow him as the rats had done. Here is where the story versions branch from one another. In the fluffy version, he townsfolk all panic, pay the piper and all of their children are retuned and everyone lives happily ever after…. blah, blah, blah. Originally, the story is not so friendly: the piper leads the children to nearby caves and none of them are ever heard from again; my favorite, however, is the version where the piper leads the children to their watery deaths off of the same cliff and the into the same river as he had vanquished the rats.
This story is dark! It is full of horror elements such as murder, death, children being taken/killed, squelching on deals, religion, ambiguous villains, and it centers around a plague…THE plague. I think it is a crime that it is not only fairly unknown, bu that there are merely two notable films using this plot (one from 1942 and one from 1957). It seems as though we are forced to watch a glut of superhero movies with identical plots to one another – as fun and exciting as they are — and remakes of Disney movies instead of real, harrowing stories such as The Pied Pier of Hamelin and other classic tales of terror.