Literary Daybook, June 26

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors

Published June 26, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction
On June 26, the Black races Cyclone and Sun Raider in Chicago.
-- "The Black Stallion" (1941)
by Walter Farley

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

- - - - - - - - - - -

Today in literary history
On this day in 1284, the Pied Piper lured the children away from Hamelin, in Germany, to something better or worse, depending on which legend, poem, play, song or scholar you consult. The oldest document for the event is a note in Latin, written 150 years after the fact, although possibly earlier sources include a stained-glass window with an inscription describing how there "came a colorful piper to Hamelin and led 130 children away to calverie on the koppen mountain." Perhaps the piper was a Rattenfänger, and perhaps he played a drum, or nothing at all. Perhaps the children were infected by the plague and led out to a mass grave; perhaps they were conscripted for the Crusades, or to be settlers; perhaps they had Huntington's chorea and were deemed contagious; perhaps they were destroyed by natural disaster or accident while participating in Midsummer celebrations. One theory interprets "children" to mean merely the citizens or offspring of the town and links the date to celebrations of the summer solstice and/or St. John's day: the Hamelin tragedy thus becomes one of many documented instances of mass dancing hysteria that swept Europe in the Middle Ages -- a good time gone too far and somehow turning fatal.

Of the countless direct and indirect treatments of the theme in literature, perhaps the best known is Browning's "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," especially as illustrated by Kate Greenaway. Not that the plight of the child could ever be expressed better than by Jethro Tull in "Pied Piper," on his "Too Old to Rock 'n Roll, Too Young to Die" album:

"So follow me. Trail along, my leather jacket's buttoned up
And my four-stroke song will pick you up when your last class ends
And you can tell all your friends
The Pied Piper pulled you, the mad biker fooled you
I'll do what you want to
If you ride with me on a Friday anything goes

So follow me, hold on tight
My schoolgirl fancy's flowing in free flight
I've a tenner in my skintight jeans
You can touch it if your hands are clean

The Pied Piper pulled you, the mad biker fooled you ..."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

the Salon Books Editors

MORE FROM the Salon Books Editors

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Books Richard Blumenthal