Friday, April 22, 2011

The Great Bunny Rabbit Uprising of Somety-Aught Something Or Other: An Epic Poem

The composition of the epic poem is a noble and time-honoured undertaking and is not for the faint of heart. The first and most important step in the writing process is the selection of a suitably historic event worthy of being rhymed. Poems have been composed on historical subjects as diverse as King Arthur and Paul Revere and even some people who didn’t ride horses. But I chose a story with a more local flair. Yes, I speak of none but the Great Bunny Rabbit Uprising of Somety-Aught-Something-Or-Other.

Perhaps the most devastating bunny-related day in Kentucky’s history, it seemed to me to be screaming out from the page. Screaming the way that the lead rabbit did as he led his brethren down that hillside and into the pages of history. I immediately resolved to take on the difficult challenge of composing a suitably epic poem in honor of those bunnies whose lives were lost on that fateful day.

‘Twas long, long ago, give or take a few years
When the good people had to face up to their fears.
I don’t quite recall, because I wasn’t there,
But I’ve heard the tale told and it gave me a scare.
I’ll tell it to you, but I’ll warn from the start:
This story is not for the fainter of heart.
But I’ll tell to you all if you haven’t read up
On the day that the bunnies got good and fed up

On the Flannery farm, things were going okay
And the farmer woke up as he faced the new day.
Then he filled up his lungs with some fresh country air
And he looked out across the farm land in his care.
He looked to the east and examined the corn;
He looked west at the cows in the bright, early morn.
But then came the moment all farmers are ruing
When he said “What in tarnation is that bunny doin’?”

The bunny in question was doing not much:
He was standing there chatting, small-talking and such
With a couple of pigs who he’d known for some time.
Surely talking to friends can’t be thought of as crime.
Now, real rabbit names are a difficult trick.
Just trying to say them makes humans feel sick.
So rather than start when I’ll just have to stop, he
Will heretofore after be known as just “Floppy.”

But the nice conversation would come to close
When Floppy heard something that wiggled his nose.
A gunshot! It rang out not ten feet away
And the farmer, advancing, could be heard to say,
“Gwan! Git outa here, you floppy-eared rat!”
And the shotgun went off with a deafening “blat!”
The time for such pleasantries clearly had passed.
With no word to the pigs, Floppy left that place fast!

He ran and he ran like, well, a rabbit I guess,
Until he was quite far away from distress.
He sat by the roots of an overgrown tree
And he cried. Yes, he cried. Just like you or me.
For poor little Floppy was very confused,
Cuz clearly the farmer had not been amused.
But why should he feel so violent and mad
At a wee little bunny? They can’t be that bad!

It was quite a few hours before he went back
To the warren he lived in with Orville and Mack
And Syvlia and Chauncey and Big Foot McGee
And all of the folks in his large family,
And when his mother saw him, I swear, I’m not lying
It only took seconds to see he’d been crying.
She asked him just why he was looking so grim
And he told her of all that had happened to him.

As he finished his story, the tears came again.
They fell down his cheeks like a cool summer rain.
“I was only just talking,” he cried to his mum
“So why did he treat me like some kind of bum?
“What did I do that could get him so mad?”
“Nothing,” said Mommy. “That man is just bad.
“And I’ll tell your father what happened to you
“And see if he can’t think of something to do.”

Now, maybe your father’s employed at a bank
And he may have worked hard to get up to that rank,
But for Floppy that job would’ve seemed very boring
For his dad was none other than Mayor of the Warren.
His name, as I said, would be tricky to utter
So we’ll call him “Charlie,” which is smoother than butter.
And though leading the rabbits was the pride of his life
He always made time for his son and his wife.

“Yes, dear?” said Charlie, when his wife came around
“What do you need me to—wait, what’s that sound?”
He had heard the faint whimper of small rabbit pup
Sniffling through tears and sucking it up.
Floppy’s mother explained the events of that day
And then Charlie said nothing. What was there to say?
He thought for a moment then said to his son
“I’ll take care of it,” and he left at a run.

“Attention! Attention! Look, everyone zip it!
“We’ve all got a problem and we’re going to nip it
“Right in the bud, now silence, I beg,
“And I’ll tell you how—Bernie, stop shaking your leg!”
Floppy’s Dad Charlie now stood at the head
Of the Rabbit’s High Council, a much honor-ed
Body of bunnies. And once they were silent
He told them a story both shocking and violent.

And when it was over, all their faces were grave
(Even Bernie whose leg at last now ceased to wave).
It was for these rabbits, all sizes, all kinds,
To all come together and make up their minds.
Until, with one voice, they were able to make
A decision on what kind of action to take.
For fully three days the debating wore on.
It ended at last on the following dawn.

And the rabbits, who’d lived their whole lives “in the stew”
Would all band together. They knew just what to do.

The following morning on Flanery’s farm
Nothing had happened to cause him alarm.
The cattle were mooing, the horse saying “nay,”
All in all, things were perfectly pleasant that day.
Until all at once to old Flannery’s ears
Came a sound he’d not heard in quite a few years
Or ever, for that matter, for this scary sound
Was a kind of a rumbling deep underground.

An earthquake? No, no, that’s not possible, is it?
Perhaps someone large has come by for a visit?
Not large, rather numerous; he looked up the hill
And saw such a sight that he dreams of it still:
For out from their holes and descending en masse,
Were about three or four hundred rabbits! Alas!
For the pounding of each tiny paw on the ground
Had been cause of that strange sort of rumbling sound.

Flannery stood there, what else could he do?
As he stared in dumb silence assessing the view
Of hundreds of bunnies now charging his land.
Something had clearly gone well out of hand.
And he looked at the problem and thought, as would you,
“Just what exactly am I s’posed to do?
“My farm’s being charged by a few hundred bunnies;
“This kind of disaster comes straight from the funnies.”

And charge him they did, with all of their speed
(A few of them stopping to graze and to feed),
But most of them running with all of their might
To fight against hate in the soft morning light.
And Charlie himself, and his family too
Were right out in front and leading the crew
Of rabbits whose minds were full up with their goal:
To never again be chased down a hole
To never be treated like vermin or rats
To never be threatened by beagle or cats
To be free! Ah, yes, free! To live as they please
Is the right of all creatures, from camels to fleas.

But something occurred as the charging continued
(To voice any questions right now would hae been rude)
But across every mind of each bunny that day
A question came up they were too scared to say.
As they gradually neared the old Flannery farm
These rabbits had thoughts that caused each one alarm.
“We’re advancing quite nicely. Yes, that much is true
“But once we get down there...just what do we do?”

“We haven’t got fangs or sharp claws like a bear,
“We haven’t got weapons to fire in the air.
“We have greater numbers, this can’t be denied,
“But rabbits aren’t fighters. We’ve not even tried!
“When facing down danger it’s rabbit tradition
“To run for the hills. Now this dangerous mission
“Will surely end badly for me and for you.
“I feel like this plan wasn’t really thought through.”

So the uprising failed; we all knew it would.
At fighting and clawing, rabbits just ain't that good.
But the news is still good from this botched operation,
And that’s why this day is known throughout the nation.
For though he was not so afraid of the bunnies,
He did think the sight of their charge was quite funny.
And Flannery vowed from that day till tomorrow
To stop filling their lives up with grief and with sorrow.

A truce! Yes indeed, a most noble endeavor.
A peace among species to last till forever.
And an honor bestowed upon all rabbit kind.
For if you consider the date, you will find
That the great bunny uprising, so long ago,
Took place on a Sunday I think we all know.
And every year since on this wonderful day
We commemorate rabbits in some special way.

So that’s why a bunny makes each Easter greater.
As for the eggs? Er, well…ask again later!


Next Week: "The Nine Dancing Princesses"

Friday, April 15, 2011

CHICKEN LITTLE & Other Animal Stories

I found that I had a lot of stories that were really too short to post on their own (then again, most of you may be looking back at my previous posts and asking “what the heck would he know about ‘too short?’”), so I decided to post them all together. A few of these stories, you will, doubtless, be familiar with. Others, probably not cuz I made ‘em up.

Our first story this week is one that I didn’t know the ending too, so I made one up. I could’ve done some research and found out what the ending was, but that would cut into my all too important Sitting-Around-Staring-Off-Into-Space time.


In a farmyard in a farm (as, where else would one find a farmyard?) there lived some birds. Ducks, geese, chickens, turkeys, that kind of thing. And all these birds lived quite safely behind a very high fence with a very strong lock on the only door. They were in no danger of being eaten by wild animals…or so they thought.

Because not far from where they lived was a cave, that was the home of Foxy-Loxy, a neighborhood fox. His dream was to catch a fat goose or a chicken from that farm and have it for supper. But he could never get in.

The community inside the fence was not that different from the community you live in. People lived with their families and had little houses (or coops) that they lived in. The Turkey-Lurkey family lived on one end of town, the Goosey-Poosey’s down the road and at the very center of town lived the Cocky-Locky’s.

Cocky-Locky was the Cock of the Walk, which meant he was in charge. He had a wife called Henny-Penny and a little son whose name was Cocky-Locky, Jr. But he was still very small and young, so most people called him “Chicken Little.”

One day Chicken Little was walking along, minding his own business when he felt a sharp pain on his head and said “ow!” Something had clearly fallen from the sky and landed on his head. Now, Chicken Little, was not the brightest of chickens, and he arrived at very much the wrong conclusion. A sensible chicken would’ve looked up, seen the chestnut tree that stood next to the fence, looked at all the chestnuts on the ground around him, and realized what had happened. Instead, Chicken Little screamed and started running around the farmyard as if he’d just had his head cut off.

“The sky is falling!” he yelled. “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

Panic has a tendency to spread faster than anything in the world (even butter) so it wasn’t long before all the other birds believed Chicken Little and were running around screaming their heads off. And, let me tell you, if you’ve never seen an entire farmyard worth of ducks, chickens, geese and turkeys running around and screaming in a panic…well, actually, it sounds kind of funny, but for them it was scary.

Of course, the decision on what to do next fell to Cocky-Locky. “We must leave the farmhouse and find someplace safe. Like a cave or something.” So, they all got to work tearing down a section of the fence so that they could escape. Cocky-Locky led the way as this caravan of poultry made its way across the field toward the only cave they knew of. When Foxy-Loxy saw them coming, he licked his chops with glee and invited them all in. They told the fox about the sky falling and he humored them, though he knew it was impossible.

“Everyone inside!” he said. But as he was leading the birds inside his cave, he knew that as soon as he attacked one, the others would flee. “Let me make us more secure,” he said, after thinking of a plan. He ran outside and looked around for a rock. A rock big enough to cover the entrance to the cave. He found one and rolled it right up to the mouth of the cave. Then he went inside and pulled it until it totally blocked the one and only entrance.

But he pulled it in with such force and it hit so hard that the cave shook. The vibrations went all the way up to the top of the cave, where an apple tree was growing. As it shook, apples started falling from the branches of the tree and landing on top of the cave.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” screamed the fox. “The sky really is falling! We’ll all be trapped! I’m outta here!” And he slid through a tiny opening between the rock and the mouth of the cave and ran away, never to be heard from again.

Of course, it wasn’t long before the chickens and ducks and everyone figured out what had happened and how foolish they had been. They returned to the farm, fixed the hole in the fence and went on with their lives. In years to come they would tell the story of how the sky fell down on their heads and have a good laugh about it. The funniest part, though, was that the panic had spread so fast that nobody could even remember how it started…except Chicken Little who learned a very valuable lesson that day.


This story was my losing entry in a contest held by a local second-hand book store. Actually, I entered thrice, but this story happens to be my favorite of the three because…well…elephant.

As we all know, elephants never forget. Yes, an elephant’s memory is something remarkable. Like a steel trap from which nothing can escape. It is for this reason that one should be very careful when borrowing money from an elephant. It doesn’t matter how many years go by, he’ll never forget so you might as well cough up right away cuz, let me tell you, that is NOT a visit you ever want to get, especially when you have some people over and…

I digress.

The point is that elephants have great memories…except for Peter. Peter, for whatever reason, had the worst memory of any elephant in history. He couldn’t remember anything. He couldn’t remember where he left his things, what he had said to his friends, whether it was Martin Sheen or Michael Douglas in that one movie (most elephants rock at the Kevin Bacon game, but not Peter). But worst of all is he forgot when he made plans with people. Anyone who knew Peter well had, on more than one occasion, known him to show up very late with some pathetic apology or excuse. Most elephants were annoyed by Peter’s chronic lateness (that’s if he remembered to show up at all), but they had come to accept it about him.

But not Sheila.

Sheila was Peter’s girlfriend and she was getting good and fed up with him standing her up all the time. He didn’t mean to, of course, he simply forgot things, but just the same, it was beginning to make Sheila feel like she didn’t matter to him at all, when nothing could be further from the truth. Finally, after he had missed three dinner dates in a row, she gave it to him straight.

“Tomorrow night is our anniversary. If you aren’t right on time for dinner…we’re through!”

Poor Peter didn’t want to forget this time, so before he went to bed, he tied a big red ribbon around his left tusk so that when he woke up the next morning, he would see it in the mirror and it would remind him of his date.

But Peter’s memory was so bad that when he woke up the next morning and looked at himself in the mirror, he saw the ribbon and knew that it was there to remind him of something…but he couldn’t remember what! Now Peter was panicking because he knew whatever it was he had forgotten this time must be something very important, if he had tied that ribbon on to remind him. So he spent the rest of his day going around to all the places he usually hung out and calling on all the friends he had ever made plans with and asked them if they knew what he was supposed to remember about today. But they all shook their heads and said they had no idea.

Well, the day passed quickly and Peter was beginning to panic. Then he had an idea. “Sheila!” he said. “She’s the smartest elephant I ever met. She’s bound to know what I was supposed to remember today.” So he ran straight to see Sheila and before he could ask her what he had forgotten, she turned to him and her face lit up.

“You remembered!” Sheila cried and she gave Peter the biggest kiss of his elephant life.

So Peter and Sheila had a lovely anniversary dinner…though Peter never did remember what that whole ribbon thing was about.


A long time ago, I wrote a screenplay about a writer of children’s stories. In it, he describes a book he wrote about a horse. The screenplay no longer exists in any reasonable form, but his story has survived. (ILLUSTRATOR'S NOTE: Horses are hard to draw! That's all)

Henry was a horse. This, in itself, was nothing so unusual, as being a horse is a frame of mind shared by many individuals on this planet of ours. In Henry’s case, it was nothing to be alarmed about because, in addition to being in the frame of mind of a horse, he actually was a horse.

Probably still is.

But Henry was no ordinary horse. He was a beautiful white stallion. His coat shone in the sun as though he were glowing. He was proud and majestic, the envy of all the other horses. You see, Henry lived on a horse farm with lots of other horses, all of whom were perfectly nice. The only problem was that the other horses were all brown or gray or spotted. They were ordinary-looking horses. Henry felt very self-conscious being the only white stallion on a farm full of ordinary-looking horses. So one day, he decided that he didn’t belong there. He gave his two week’s notice and quit the horse farm to find another home.

Henry wandered around for days, trying to find someplace he could live. He ended up deep in the forest (the kind of forest that always crops up in fairy tales) where he found something amazing: A unicorn farm!

Like most people (horses or otherwise), Henry had assumed that unicorns were extinct or imaginary. But he was proved wrong by the sight of a whole corral full of unicorns. Some were whiter even than Henry and some looked like there was starlight in their coats. Some were pink or green, some looked like rainbows. And every one had a beautiful golden horn on their heads.

So Henry asked if he could join their farm, and the unicorns were only too happy to have him. And, at first, things were going well for Henry. Until he became aware of something he hadn’t expected. Now he was no longer the nicest-looking horse in the farm, but the plainest. He no longer stood out in a crowd. Whereas before, he stood head and shoulders above the other horses, now he was thrust into the background.

After much deliberation, he decided it was time to go home. He returned to his horse farm (where they’d missed him terribly) and no longer worried about how he looked in comparison to anyone else. And that’s how Henry learned that a gold nugget is happier in a coal mine than a diamond mine.


This is a story I’m sure you’re all familiar with. But, again, the ending elluded me, so I had to fiddle with it slightly.

There were once three brothers who, by a strange coincidence, all had the same last name. They were called Huff Gruff, Tuff Gruff and Nuff Gruff. In addition to having the same last name, they had many other eerie similarities. In the first place, they had the same mother. They also had the same father. They lived in the same home. And they were all the same species: Goats.

Seriously, how freaky is that?

Anyhoo, these Billy Goats Gruff used to graze in a meadow. This meadow was full of yummy grass and yummier flowers and a little brook ran alongside it. On the other side of the brook was another meadow with grass just as yummy and flowers just as yummier as their home meadow. This meadow was also easily reached by a small, stone footbridge which ran over the brook. So why is it, do you think, that these three Billy Goats Gruff (Say! That’d be a good name for a story!) never ventured into that other meadow?

“Because of what lives under the bridge.”

Oh? And what’s that?

“The troll, of course.”

Oh, of course. Silly me forgetting.

You see, kids and people, there are lots of different kinds of trolls. Some live under bridges, some live in mountain caves, some have crazy hair and little plastic jewels in their tummies and are available at toy stores and gift shops the world over. But bridge trolls are some of the most unpleasant in the world. And this particular troll, the one who dwelt under the bridge between the two meadows, would wait under the bridge until someone was foolish enough to cross, then he’d spring out and attack!

So, it was for the best, these goats staying on their side of the bridge.

Until, one day when, quite unintentionally, the goats found they had eaten all the grass and flowers and their meadow was quite barren and foodless. They had to figure out what to do next, so they put their heads together…which just got their horns tangled together so then they took a good five minutes trying to get their heads apart. Then they started to think.

So, a little while later, the youngest of the goats, young Huff Gruff, made his way nervously to the bridge. He stepped onto it carefully and when he was about halfway across, he heard a viscious-sounding voice wheezing, “Who’s that trip-trapping on my bridge?”

“Oh, that would be me,” said Huff. “I’m Huf Gruff…I’m a goat.”

“Do you know what the bridge troll does to goats who trip-trap across his bridge?”

“Er…a verbal warning?”

“No, I eat them!”

“What? Eat me? No, you don’t wanna eat me. I’m just a little goat. Small and scrawny. Really, I’d just get stuck in your teeth. My big brother, on the other hoof, is much bigger with lots of nice, tender meat on his bones. Do yourself a favor and eat him instead.”

Well, the troll considered this and ultimately decided that he would rather eat Huff Gruff’s brother. Huff Gruff crossed the bridge harmlessly and, a short while later, Tuff Gruff stepped onto the bridge.

“Who’s that trip-trapping on my bridge?” wheezed the troll a second time.

“Only me. Tuff Gruff the goat.”

“Do you know what the bridge troll does to goats who trip-trap across his bridge?”

“A small fine and a flag in my file?”

“No, I eat them!”

“What? You want to eat me? You must be crazy. I’m nothing but fat! Don’t you know goat fat is very bad for troll cholestorol…or ‘trollestorol?’”


“Look, trust me on this, my big brother will be along in a minute. He’s much bigger and much leaner than me. You’ll enjoy him much more.”

Once again, the troll was persuaded to allow Tuff Gruff to pass in exchange for his big brother. Sure enough, not long after that, Nuff Gruff himself stepped onto the bridge.

“Who’s that trip-trapping on my bridge?”

“It’s me: Nuff Gruff the goat.”

“Do you know what the bridge troll does to goats who trip-trap across his bridge?”

“Depends: Am I the one millionth trip-trapper?”

“What? No, you idiot! I eat them!!”

“Eat me? You must be joking.”

“Oh, don’t you start with all that!”

“No, I’m serious. I’ve been sick lately. Haven’t been exercising, haven’t been eating right. I’d probably just make you feel lousy. Between you and me, I think I have a touch of Mad Goat Disease.”


“I know, right? Tell you what though…if you want to wait a little while, my brother is on his way and—”

“Wait, your brothers already crossed this bridge.”

“Oh, no. Those were my younger brothers. I’m talking about my older brother. Er…Muff Gruff!”

“Muff Gruff?”

“Yeah. Why else do you think this story is called ‘The Four Billy Goats Gruff?’”

Wait, I thought this story was called the—


Oh, sorry.

Four Billy Goats Gruff?” said the troll. “Are you sure?”

“Trust me on this. Muff Gruff is a veritable goat delicacy. Fine quality meat, very nutritious, plus he’s just been to the supermarket so he’s carrying his own vegetables with him!”

“Ooh! That does sound good.”

“Yeah, so let me pass and you can eat my big brother. Honest.”

“Well…what kind of vegetables are we talking about here?”

“Carrots, potatoes…asparagus…ya like mushrooms?”

“I looooove mushrooms! Go, go! Make room for your big brother!”

“With pleasure. Bon apetit!” With that, Nuff Gruff joined his younger brothers in the other meadow where they grazed happily for many a year…

And, for all I know, that mean old troll is still hiding under that bridge, waiting for the fourth billy goat to trip-trap across…but I won’t tell him if you won’t!


If You Liked These Stories, You Might Enjoy:
  • Chicken Little (1940) The story was animated by the Walt Disney Company during World War 2 and was rewritten as an allegory for Hitler’s rise to power through spreading misinformation. Throughout the cartoon (which ends with the fox eating every bird in the story) the fox consults a book of “Psychology,” but the original idea was that he should be reading “Mein Kampf.”
  • Chicken Little (2005) Disney once again tackled the story with the studio’s first entirely computer-animated feature (not counting Pixar). Though a charming comedy with a great voice cast including Zach Braff in the title role, it was more of a sequel to the fairy tale, as throughout, poor Chicken Little is trying to live down the embarrassment of his well-publicized mistake.
  • The Three Billy Goats Gruff & The Three Little Pigs (album) The very talented (though, in my opinion, somewhat underrated) Holly Hunter recorded these two children’s stories some years ago. If you like fairy tales, browse the children’s music section of your favorite music store, because you’ll often find little known recordings like this one.

Next Week: "Something very special"

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

A sombre but beautiful story as adapted from the poem by Robert Browning, whose version is the one most of us know today. Some of his language, such as “They fought the dogs and killed the cats, and bit the babies in their cradles,” has made it into other versions of the story.

But even before Browning wrote his verses, the legend of the Pied Piper was well known, and it has one of the most interesting histories of any story I have yet related. It seems that on or around the date in question (July 1376, as you’ll see) something happened in the town of Hamelin which cost the people of the village dozens of their children. Precisely what happened is no longer known, but it is this event that the legend of the Piper commemorates.

Perhaps a plague (maybe one spread by fleas on rats) wiped out all the young people. Perhaps the term “child” simply refers to a younger person, and a large group simply emmigrated. Another (much less likely) theory, is that the Piper was a real man, who lured unsuspecting children away only to molest and kill them, though this theory, as I said, has been widely discredited.

So in the end all that we know for sure is that the Pied Piper is a metaphor for something, though we may never know what. Perhaps it is nothing so sinister, however, Perhaps the Piper simply represents fleeting youth. The children we all once were had to leave to make way for the adults we have all become. My intention was to present this story as Browning did, with its original, sad ending, but…well, to tell the truth, it bummed me out too much. Besides, it’s too soon after “Godfather Death” for a downer, so I, like so many before me, changed the ending to make it happy. Hopefully it’ll still work.

If you should visit the town of Hamelin, near Brunswick, you might come across a street leading from the main street to the Wesen River which bears the label “Pied Piper Street.” Should you find yourself walking down this street, do not sing, whistle, dance, or play any kind of music. Such frivolities on so solemn a boulevard would be forbidden. Why should this be so? Well, that is what our story is about.

As with so many other things in life, it started with something very small. A rat. A hungry rat who wandered into Hamelin town in search of food. The rich, fat people of Hamelin had more food than they knew what to do with so the garbage cans were full to bursting. The rat had never seen such extravagance before, so he vowed to stay in Hamelin forever.

Now, one rat living in your town would not be much of a problem. But, of course, it’s never just one rat. Another will come to share in the success of the first and another and another and so on and so on until, before they even knew how it had occurred, the people of Hamelin were overrun with dozens, hundreds, thousands of rats! Well-fed and courageous rats who took on the dogs. Greedy rats who killed the cats that were sent after them. Soon they were not content to eat out of the garbage and began invading people’s pantries.

The problem was serious. These rats were eating the people of Hamelin out of house and home and everything in between. The angered citizenry stormed the Courthouse and demanded that the Mayor of Hamelin do something. But the Mayor had no idea what he could do. He and his advisors locked themselves inside for days trying to come up with a strategy to rid the town of rats once and for all. They called in professional rat catchers, hunters, even magicians to lift the curse of vermin from the town, but to no avail. The situtation was becoming desperate, and it looked as though nothing short of a miracle would save the people of Hamelin from being buried alive in a sea of hungry vermin.

This is how it was…before the Piper came to town.

When the townspeople saw this garrishly clad stranger, they could not help but stare. Tall, thin, piercing blue eyes, loose, soft hair, and elaborate clothes made of crimson and gold thread. His long cape swept the ground when he walked, his head was covered by a pointed cap, and tucked in his belt was a long pipe. His fingers seemed to twitch as though all too eager to play it. He came across a young boy, lame from birth, leaning on a crutch and asked him where to find the man in charge.

“You want the Mayor, sir,” said the boy. “The courthouse at the end of the main street.”

“Thank you, young man,” said the Piper.

“But you won’t get to see him. He’s been locked up in there for days trying to solve the rat problem.”

“Ah!,” said the Piper eagerly. “But that is why I am here. I am come to rid this city of its dreaded infestation.”

“Can you really?”

“I can, my boy. And I can help you, too. I know you might not understand this, but the day may yet come when I have worn out my welcome in this town and when I take my leave, I may be able to set you free of your constraints as well.” He thanked the boy again and marched straight to the Mayor, leaving the boy confused and unsure of this mysterious stranger.

The Mayor, like the other citizens of Hamelin, was not sure what to make of the Piper. But, as he had come promising to end the rat problem, he decided it couldn’t hurt to hear what he had to say. “And how do you propose to get rid of the rats?” asked the Mayor.

“If it please your Lordship,” said the Piper, graciously, “I have a peculiar talent. One which I have used many times in the past to dispose of unwanted creatures. Lice, moles, vipers, scorpions…even rats. And I can offer you the same service.”

“You can eliminate all the rats?”

“Every last one. If I start now, your town will be free of rats by…lunchtime.”


“I understand your skepticism, sir, but I am guaranteed. Let me do what I intend. If I fail, I leave town, never to return, and you owe me nothing. But if I can do as I say…will you give me a thousand guilders?”

“A thousand?” said the Mayor. “If you can deliver on this promise, you will have fifty thousand!”

“No thank you, sir. I am not greedy. One thousand is more than enough for me. Have we a deal?”

“We have, sir,” said the Mayor, enthusiastically. “Get rid of every last rat in Hamelin before lunchtime and I’ll give you a thousand guilders!”

With a bow of thanks to his lordship, the Piper stepped out into the courtyard. All was silence, everyone waiting to see what this mysterious man was about to do. He smiled a knowing smile, raised the pipe to his lips…and played. He played a haunting melody that no one had ever heard before. It was light and joyous, yet powerful and moving. Something that spoke to the heart of every creature alive…but none more than the rats.

Indeed, the rats were so enraptured of his playing that they followed him as he played. He moved all through the town playing his song and every rat he passed pricked up his ears and joined the parade. The townsfolk could not believe their eyes or their ears as they watched the Piper walk straight down Main Street, then turn down an alley that led to the river. Once at the banks of river, the Piper stopped, but the rats, poor things, dove into the waters and were swept away by the current. The rats of Hamelin were finally gone!

Never have you heard such rejoicing and celebrating! Singing and dancing in the streets. The entire township gathered under the balcony of the Courthouse to praise the Mayor for solving the problem and setting them free. The Mayor silenced them with his hands and spoke:

“Thank you for your kindness, citizens of Hamelin. But now we have much to do. The rats all but devoured our fair city, and we must rebuild. Destroy their nests so that they never return. Call the builders and carpenters to repair the damage they called. And tonight a feast! A feast such as has never been seen in Hamelin town!”

“But first,” came a voice from the crowd, “my thousand guilders, if you please.” The Pied Piper stepped forward and the Mayor turned white. In all his joy he had quite forgotten his promise to the Piper. One thousand guilders? For playing a song? Did he really have to pay?

“Well,” said one of the Mayor’s advisors, “You did promise him.”

“Only because I never dreamed he’d be able to do it! Exterminate rats with a  pipe? Who ever heard of such a thing? He cannot possibly hold me to that. He must know I was joking.”

The Mayor and his advisors discussed the issue at some length. In the end the conclusion they arrived at was simple: The rats were gone. Even if they had not drowned in the river, they had been taken far away from Hamelin and were no doubt gone for good. So what if they didn’t pay the Piper? It’s not as if he could bring the rats back from the dead. Surely, his pipe could not do that. And so, the Piper was sent for. He strode confidently into the room, eager to receive his payment.

“Now then, Mr. Piper,” said the Mayor, as diplomatically as he knew how, “far be it from me to go back on a promise or to deny you what you are entitled to…but you must know that when I said I would pay you a thousand guilders I was only joking.”

“I beg your pardon, sir?”

“I mean, a thousand guilders is a little steep for what you did, isn’t it?”

“But you offered my fifty thousand.”

“Never mind what I said, you said you wanted a thousand and…well, look, obviously we have a lot of rebuilding to do now that the rats are gone and we simply don’t have that kind of cash available right now. But, as I said, you are entiteld to payment so…how does fifty guilders sound?”

The Pied Piper’s face was hard. He was livid. “You gave me your word,” he said through clenched teeth. “You swore to me that if I rid the city of rats, you would pay me one thousand guilders. The rats are gone, where is my payment?”

“Young man! I will not be spoken to in this manner. Now if you want payment, I have offered you a very generous amount. Take it or leave it.”

“I see…I was mistaken. I did not rid the city of every rat, one has clearly remained behind.” The Mayor was about to respond to this, but the Piper went on. “This is your last chance, Mr. Mayor. And be careful: This pipe doesn’t just work on vermin, you know. If you make me angry, I may be moved to play a different tune.”

Of course, the Mayor assumed that the Piper was bluffing so he said, “Go ahead, do your worst. Blow that pipe until you burst!”

“So be it,” said the Piper, and with that he turned on his heel and went back into the streets.

The courtyard was vacant, now, as the people of Hamelin were in their homes, making repairs or preparing for the night’s festivities. The only people who met the Piper’s eye as he looked around were a few children playing in the street…and of course the Mayor and his advisors, who looked down on the Piper from their balcony, wondering what he would do next. This time, there was no knowing smile. Just a deep breath, and a sad look in his eye, as, once again, the Pied Piper raised his pipes to his lips.

It was a very different song than before. Haunting and beautiful as the last, but there was something else in this melody. It spoke of loss, and fading memories of youth and innocence. It spread throughout the town like morning fog, seeping into the very hearts and souls of Hamelin’s people and even those who didn’t hear the notes felt the sadness and the heaviness that the song conveyed. A melancholy hung over the town.

The children playing in the streets pricked up their ears upon hearing the sound of the pipe. And without knowing why, they began to move. Following the Piper as he walked the streets, playing his haunting melody. And just as the rats had done before, all the children of Hamelin were following the Pied Piper.

By now, their parents were aware of what was going on, but whatever it was about the song that compelled their children to move, it was preventing their parents from following. The adults were powerless to stop them. All they could do was watch in horror as the Pied Piper led them down the same alley toward the river where the rats had drowned! But the mothers and fathers breathed one last sigh of relief when the Piper turned and led the children away from the river and straight toward Koppelberg Hill, just outside of town.

“Thank goodness!” was the thought among the parents. “He cannot climb that mountain. He’ll have to stop and then our children will come home to us.”

But, such was not the case. For as the Piper and his entourage approached the foot of the hill, a deep crack began to form and soon opened up into a passageway, into the mountain itself. Without so much as a look over his shoulder, the Piper strolled through the portal, followed by the children. As the last of the children entered, the passage began to close again and the last thing anyone in Hamelin saw was that little crippled boy the Piper had spoken to that morning throwing away his crutches and fairly sprinting into the cavern before the portal shut…and the music stopped. All was silent. Able to move again as if by magic, the townspeople of Hamelin raced to Koppelberg Hill but there was no trace of the doorway, nor of their children. It seemed all the children were gone.

For weeks after the children vanished, the Mayor worked tirelessly to find them. Envoys were sent to all corners of the globe, a sizeable reward was offered for anyone who could locate the Piper and beg him for mercy. But, in the end, the search was abandoned when it became clear that neither Piper nor child would ever ben seen again. The date of July 22, 1376, which was meant to be remembered as the joyous day when the town was freed from its infestation, is now remembered as the sombre day on which one hundred and thirty children were spirited away from their families. The Mayor decreed that the street down which the Piper led the rats and then the children would be forever known as “Pied Piper Street” and music, singing or happiness of any kind was forbidden on that street. Parades in town would stop playing until they reached the other side and no tavern or hotel or home would ever be built there for fear of the sound of laughter resonating in that hallowed place.

And it was then, when the people of Hamelin had given up all hope, that a miracle occurred. As they went slowly and miserably about their business, from the fields outside the town they heard the unmistakable, oh-so-familiar sound that they all thought they might never hear again: The laughter of children! And the next moment, the streets of Hamelin (even Pied Piper Street) were filled with their children, running, laughing, joyous at the thought of being home. They ran into their parents arms and were at once gobbled up by loving hugs and kisses.

It was a happy ending, to be sure…the only odd part being that, to this day, no one knows what happened to the children while they were gone. Their parents asked what became of them, but they got no answer, at least none that was satisfying. It was as if the children simply did not remember what had happened to them. The crippled boy did not even seem to remember that he had been afflicted. Of course, the parents didn’t worry about it too much, as their precious children had come home to them. Nonetheless, it is a perplexing mystery, and one which shall likely never be solved. Especially since the Pied Piper of Hamelin has never been heard of again.


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • The Pied Piper (1933) This Silly Symphony version was the only one I knew for years. In this version, the rats are led to a sort of “Rat Paradise” in the form of a giant block of cheese and we see the children (including the boy on the crutches, who is tragically left behind in the original story) arriving at a kind of playground with candy and games.
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957) This made-for-TV adaptation borrowed heavily from Browning’s poem and starred Van Johnson as both the mysterious piper and a young man of the village who was invented to carry the love story and sing the songs. This version also had a happy ending, in which the Piper brought the children back.
  • “The Muppet Show” (TV) In the episode featuring acclaimed flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, the closing number showed a village of rats being overrun by babies and the Piper (Rampal) being called in to save the rats from this infestation. Rampal plays and the babies sing “Ease on Down the Road” as the piper leads the babies out of town. In a word: Weird.
  • “Faerie Tale Theatre” (TV) Eric Idle plays the narrator and the Piper in this version which was based very closely on Browning’s poem. In fact, the whole thing was in verse, with new lines added to fill in the narrative gaps of the poem. This version retains the sad ending of the original, in which the children are never returned. Idle had previously written, directed and narrated the “Frog Prince” episode of the series.
  • “It’s the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown” (Video)(2000) The last ‘Peanuts’ animation special to be written by Charles M. Schulz before he passed away. A very liberal adaptation and, honestly, not Sparky’s best work.

Next Week: 
"The Match Box"