The Legend of the Pied Piper in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Grimm, Browning, and Skurzynski
The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children’s Literature, Vol 17, No 1 (2013)
This paper examines the changes that were made in the literary telling and retelling of the story of the Pied Piper during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, comparing the folktale “Die Kinder zu Hameln” (1816) by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the poem “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”(1842) by Robert Browning, and the book What Happened in Hamelin (1979), by Gloria Skurzynski. A combination of New Historicism (a method based on the parallel reading of literary and non-literary texts from specific time periods), and comparative methodologies will be used to consider the impact of historical context, different authorial intentions via-a-vis child and adult audiences, and the intertextual relationships between these three texts.
The story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin is not without historical basis. Reportedly, the earliest recordings that were referenced, but have since been lost, are the Hamelin town chronicle, “Donat,” circa 1311 (Skurzynski 174) and a stained glass window in the town’s church of St. Nicholas (Wilkening 180). These refer to the disappearance of 130 children in the year 1284 A.D. after the appearance of a piper in the town of Hamelin, Germany.
In the nearly ninety years from the time of the supposed incident to the first preserved written account, changes in the legend may have been due to who was telling the tale. The earliest surviving record, according to Bernard Queenan in “Evolution of the Pied Piper,” is estimated to have originated around 1370, as a Latin endnote in a copy of the “Catena Aurea” of Heinrich von Herod. It is written in the style of a monk scribe and juxtaposes Arabic and Roman numerical figures, a feature of 14th century writings that were influenced by Mediterranean areas that spread across Europe (Queenan 108).