Friday, 21 November 2014

THE BIRTH OF VENUS, Jan Vander Laenen

Only after four heavy-breathing phone calls, did young Madeleine realise what was probably going on: someone must have printed her phone number by mistake under the really inviting contact adverts of one daily or periodical or another.

What a difference a type, a six instead of a zero for instance, can make in a world that is constantly being reduced to digits! Somewhere in her neighbourhood, somewhere in the centre of the city, there was a lady in heat with almost the same subscription number as hers waiting in fain for the telephone to ring, while she, the rather cool Madeleine, had to reject four potential lovers already in less than two hours.

It was just a quarter past eleven. The rain was falling dejectedly on the window of her ground floor flat in Brussels, but it was promising to be a warm - and above all unusual - day.

When the futuristic ring of her telephone set went off for the fifth time, Madeleine decided to go into action. If it was another horny male on the line, she would ask in which newspaper her telephone number had appeared by mistake, and about the eloquent and erotic description that accompanied it.
“Madeleine Leroy,” she tried to say in a stringent tone when she picked up the receiver.
“Oh la la,” a man answered cheerfully, “what a resolute, but pleasant voice. I am certain that you look as pleasant.”
“Perhaps,” said Madeleine, somewhat perplexed.
“And,” continued her invisible interlocutor, “could we met tonight or do you prefer to warm me up a little over the telephone? I am alone in my office and could use a ten-minute break.”
“I think you have the wrong number, sir…”
“Sir, sir, … Mark, please.”
“You see,” Madeleine stammered as she tried to explain, “I never placed a contact advert; they must have printed a wrong number and…”
“Oh, you want to play prim and proper type, you do not want to admit that you are a naughty girl?” the man interrupted her incredulously - and with a voice breaking with excitement. Perhaps he was sitting behind his monumental desk with the grey trousers of his stylish suit unzipped, ready to stroke his member at the slightest arousing allusion from her. And Madeleine shuddered at the thought, although she, as if driven by a strange curiosity, could not decide to slam the receiver down as she had done the previous four times. The voice on the other side of the line sounded sweet and pleasant this time, and it could be so heart warming, even for her, to be able to count on the interest of a man. Even if this man's interest was limited to her body. “And, my dear Madeleine,” the man now spoke pronouncing her name, as if they had known each other for years, “what do you look like, because the advert is not very specific.”
“What do I look like?” babbled Madeleine.
“Yes, describe yourself. In as an arousing manner as possible, of course.”
Madeleine took a deep breath and stared in front of her.
“Do you know the 'Birth of Venus?'” she asked carefully.
“The painting by Botticelli? Of course I do,” the man answered.
“Well,” continued Madeleine in a light tone, “it may sound a bit conceited, perhaps, but people have often told me that I am the spitting image of her.”
“Continue, continue,” her interlocutor said impatiently.

And Madeleine now started to describe herself, lyrically, passionately, and with an abandon that she had never felt before in her young life. She talked about her white, perfect skin, the curves of her tender breasts, the soft pinkness of her nipples, the nearly unnoticeable curvature of her belly, the elegance of her slender legs, and the golden colour of her hair, her long hair that came down to her buttocks, a frivolous curly lock of which she timidly keeps in front of her pubic area. And the sound of the unknown man's breath gradually changed to a soft pant, and the panting in a thankful groan, and finally he shouted her name twice over the receiver: “Madeleine, my Venus, Madeleine!” He had climaxed. And hung up.

With the receiver in her hand, Madeleine burst out into bitter tears. She looked up to the poster on the wall in front of her, a poster of “the Birth of Venus,” which she had brought back from her only trip - to Florence. In her dream, she does look like her.

And now it was too much for Madeleine, she cried her lungs nearly out of her flat chest and felt for her crutches with her hands, because she was almost suffocating in her apartment and wanted to go out.

At the cruel sounding rhythm of her crutches on the tiled floor, she left her flat and reached the hall, where she time and again would experience the bitterest moments of her life: there was a mirror on the wall.

And she limped and hobbled near the mirror, but for the first time, in a long, long time, she dared to look at her reflection. She, Madeleine, the little monster of scarcely one metre thirty, with her hump, her crippled legs and her block-shaped orthopaedic shoes, was today, for just a few fleeting moments, crawled into the skin of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. She, Madeleine, the girl that people looked at only with horror or pity, had managed to make a man climax today. A man had pronounced her name and that of Venus in the same breath as he shed his seed.

Jan loves to hear from his readers -- you can contact him either through comments on this blog post, or by email;;

Jan Vander Laenen (° 1960) lives in Brussels, Belgium, where he works as an
art historian and translator (Dutch, French and Italian). He is also the
author of numerous collections of short stories, plays, and screenplays
which have attracted keen interest abroad.

A romantic comedy, "Oscar Divo", and a thriller, ³The Card Game², have been
optioned in Hollywood, while his short fiction collections, "The Butler" and
"Poète maudit", and his horror play "A Mother's Revenge" are eliciting the
requisite accolades in Italy.

His most recent publication are the tales ³A Glass of Cognac² in ³Bears: Gay
Erotic Stories² (Cleis Press), ³Epistle of the Sleeping Beauty² in the Bram
Stoker Award winning ³Unspeakable Horror² (Dark Scribe Press), ³Fire at the
Chelsea Hotel² in ³Best Gay Love Stories 2009² (Alyson Press), ³The Stuffed
Turkey² in ³Best Gay Erotica 2010 (Cleis Press),³The Corpse Washer² in Best
S/M III (Logical Lust), ³Lise² in ³Strange Tales of Horror² (NorGus Press),
the E-Books ³Skilfully and Lovingly² (Sizzler Edition) and ³The Centrefold
and other Stories of working Men² (Silver Press), the Dutch and French
version of his novel ³The housekeeper and other scabrous tales² (Œt
Verschil, Antwerp (Belgium) - Textes gais, Paris (France)), and the weird
tale ³The bat² in the anthology ³A Darke Phantastique² (Cycatrix Press).

Jan is a member of the Poe Studies Association and the Horror Writers
Association. He presented his paper "Hypotheses on Poe's homosexuality" at
the Bicentennial Congress in Philadelphia in October 2009. Since then he has
given lectures on Poe, Baudelaire, Wiertz, Andersen, Guy de Maupassant,
Grand Guignol and the guillotine at the universities of Porto (Portugal),
Gent (Belgium), Louisville (Kentucky), Madrid (Spain), and the Paris

Jan is currently working on a play/screenplay around the life of the
Romantic Belgian "horror" painter Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865), a novel called
"The Psychomanteum" around the practice of mirror gazing, and a screenplay
around the life of Lucida Mansi.

Friday, 14 November 2014

WHEN WOMEN GO BAD; the female paedophile

Paedophilia isn’t something I spend a great deal of time thinking about. I know that some people do. They probably have kids and grandkids, so I suppose they are bound to. I know when I was a kid, my mum always told me that if a strange man tried to talk to me, that I should run and find a lady and tell her. Then along came Myra Hindley, in the 1960’s, and more recently, Vanessa George.

I guess my mum was naïve, I am sure that there have always been predatory women around. You just don’t hear about them very often. But both women have become archetypes of evil, because they stepped out of the traditional role of women as nurturers, instead embracing, and seemingly relishing, doing harm to children.

It’s not good enough to say that both women were under the influence of charismatic men. They knew right from wrong. It seems that some dark, latent, fascination was drawn from them, by the compelling influence of the men who came into their lives. Without those men, maybe the two women would have led quiet suburban lives; but we just don’t know.

Myra Hindley was working quietly in an office, in the 1960’s when she met Ian Brady. He introduced her to the writings of the Marquis de Sade and Adolf Hitler. Brady and Hindley were lovers, but lovers who embarked on a spree of rape and murder. Myra’s role was to lure and abduct. Ian Brady raped then murdered the children that she procured for him. He sucked the life out of them like a greedy vampire. They buried their poor little violated remains on bleak Saddleworth Moor.

I think that it was Myra Hindley who changed the way children played in this country. When I was a kid, we played outside and rambled far from our homes. I remember distinctly, I was 10 years old and my friend Jean and I would cycle around the countryside and be gone all day, looking for fields with ponies. No particular reason – we just loved ponies. Our parents never worried, nor scolded us for being away for so long – they were innocent times.

In 2009, Vanessa George, a mother of two, and a worker in a children’s nursery, appeared in court, having been charged with seven offences, including two of sexual assault by penetration and two of sexual assault by touching children in her care. She was also charged with making, possessing and distributing indecent images of children. Vanessa George, 39, was arrested after indecent images of children taken at Little Ted’s Day Nursery in Plymouth, were found on a computer disc seized by police from a suspected paedophile in Manchester. Police said that the photographs included pictures of children’s torsos taken on a camera phone at the nursery, where Vanessa George had worked for the past two years.

So far, none of the children have been identified, and the officer leading the investigation said that some of them might never be. Parents of the 64 children, aged between 2 and 5, have been asked to complete a questionnaire and list any features that could help to identify individual children from the images.

Russ Middleton, the head of Plymouth CID, said: “At this time we have been unable to identify any images of individual children and it is right to say some images may never be identified.” The number of photographs being examined by the computer experts could eventually run into thousands, Mr Middleton said, though he could not say how many had been taken in the nursery.

He added: “We have specially trained officers looking at the images. We have a large number taken from laptops and PCs but the starting point was from a camera phone. Some of these images were clearly taken inside the nursery but it is impossible to say where others were taken.”

Vanessa George’s arrest followed that of her mentor, Colin Blanchard, who appeared at Trafford Magistrates’ Court charged with possessing and distributing indecent images.

Officers searched a caravan that Mrs George owns at Harlyn Bay near Padstow, Cornwall, in addition to the family home in the Efford area of Plymouth. Police said that her husband, Andrew, and two teenage children had been taken into “protective care”.

Police will be speaking to the nursery’s 15 other members of staff but say they are not looking for anyone else in connection with the investigation.”

Vanessa George still refuses to say which children she abused.

Paedophilia isn’t a topic that sits easily with writers. Perhaps there is a fear of being identified, associated with the crime, let alone the idea of finding a publisher to take the book on. But a paedophile with a female accomplice? Myra Hindley had Ian Brady, Vanessa George’s mentor was Colin Blanchard.

From Wiki

Then there is also the case of “Marc Dutroux a Belgian serial killer and child molester, convicted of having kidnapped, tortured and sexually abused six girls during 1995 and 1996, ranging in age from 8 to 19, four of whom he murdered. He was arrested in 1996 and has been in prison ever since. His widely publicised trial took place in 2004. He married at the age of 19 and fathered two children; the marriage ended in divorce in 1983. By then he’d already had an affair with Michelle Martin. They would eventually have three children together, and married in 1989 while both were in prison. They divorced in 2003, also while in prison."

Michelle Martin was complicit and indulged in Dutroux’ atrocities.

Henry James anticipates this type of insidious, dark exchange in 1898, with his novella, “The Turn of the Screw”.

“The Turn of the Screw”, is essentially a ghost story. The subtle indications of paedophilia are there, but in a more “creeping up behind you”, dark manner than in Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”, which tackles it head on.

A young governess, is sent to a country house to take care of two orphans, Miles, aged ten, and Flora, aged eight. Soon after her arrival, Miles is expelled from boarding school. Although charmed by her young charge, she secretly fears there are ominous reasons behind his expulsion.

With Miles back at home, the governess starts noticing ethereal figures roaming the estate's grounds. Desperate to learn more about these sinister sightings she discovers that the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of her predecessor, Miss Jessel, hold grim implications for herself.

As she becomes increasingly fearful that malevolent forces are stalking the children the governess is determined to save them, risking herself and her sanity in the process.

Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are the bad guys in “The Turn of the Screw”.

Peter Quint had been a servant at the house at Bly; Miss Jessel was the children’s previous governess. They had an intense erotic interest in one another. Both are now dead; Peter Quint in some sort of brawl. Miss Jessel, under strange circumstances, after she left Bly.

It is much more than a ghost story, “The Turn of the Screw”, is an enthusiastic romance of children and sex. The implication that Miles, the young ward of an impressionable governess, is sexually aware, sexually experienced, and sexually hungry has its draw. Titillating in its inappropriateness, the novel suggests through metaphor and silences what was, and still is, unmentionable.

A dialogue between the narrator and the housekeeper, Mrs Grose, emphasises this;
Mrs Grose says that she was afraid of Peter Quint. “I daresay I was wrong, but, really I was very afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Of the things that man could do. Quint was so clever -- he was so deep.”

I took this in still more than, probably I showed. “You weren’t afraid of anything else? Not of his effect --?”
“His effect?” she repeated with a face of anguish and waiting while I faltered.
“On innocent little precious lives. They were in your charge.”

So the new governess, has strong suspicions that Peter Quint has corrupted young Miles, in addition to seducing and corrupting Miss Jessel.

Peter Quint and Miss Jessel haunt the house at Bly, they also haunt the children’s new governess. It seems that even in death the ghosts want the children for themselves.

When Mrs Grose and the narrator next converse they speak of the children as their darlings, their little dears. But Quint and Jessel, even as ghosts are still a threat. The narrator is certain that Quint and Jessel want to possess the children.

“They’re not mine -- they’re not ours. They’re his and hers!”
“Quint’s and that woman’s?”
“Quint’s and that woman’s. They want to get them.”

Poet and literary critic Craig Raine in his essay on Sex in nineteenth-century literature states quite categorically his belief that Victorian readers would have identified the two ghosts as child-molesters.

Mrs Grose tells the governess about Quint’s relationship with Miles;
“It was Quint’s own fancy. To play, with him I mean -- to spoil him.” She paused a moment; then she added; “Quint was much too free.”

Psychoanalytically, the governess, who is alluded to as being sexually inexperienced and sexually repressed, has attached the image of raw, animalistic sexuality with the ghost of Peter Quint, which explains why she is fervent in her efforts to keep this ghost away from the young and impressionable Miles. The housekeeper, Mrs Grose, early in the novel, implies that Peter Quint, who acted as master of the house at times, and the young Miles may have engaged in some man-boy intimate contact, and thus the strange behaviour of Miles can be read in this manner.

Quint represents a scary threat: sex. We know that he seduced the unfortunate Miss Jessel; Quint is a destroyer of young ladies, and that he spent far too much time alone with young Miles. Quint is described as handsome, but dastardly, and he is seductive and frightening in equal measure. Basically, Peter Quint stands for everything the Governess is afraid of, and this sense of menace is his most distinguishing characteristic.

The narrator tells Mrs Grose about the ghostly vision that she’d had of Miss Jessel.
She describes her as “handsome, but infamous.”
Mrs Grose replies; “Miss Jessel was infamous…they were both infamous.”

But what is it that the governess is so afraid of? It seems that her entire focus is on the “corruption” of the children -- she is certain that they were corrupted by Quint and Jessel when they were alive and that they continue to be corrupted now that they are ghosts. Before she even knows about Quint, the governess guesses that Miles has been accused of corrupting other children. Although corruption is a euphemism that permits the governess to be vague about what she means, the clear implication is that corruption means exposure to the knowledge of sex. For the governess, the children’s exposure to the knowledge of sex is a far more terrifying concept than confronting the living dead, or of being killed.

In the final chapter, Miles tells the narrator the reason he was expelled from school.

“I said things.”

When asked how many boys he had “said things” to, he replies;

“No -- only a few. Those I liked.”

Then later:
“…they must have repeated them. To those they liked.”

The narrator asks; “What were these things?”

Events take over and we never find out for sure -- although we share the narrator’s suspicions.

Consequently, her attempt to save the children takes the form of a relentless quest to find out what they know -- to make them confess, rather than predict what may happen to them in the future. Her fear of innocence being corrupted seems to be a big part of the reason she approaches the problem indirectly -- it’s not just that the ghosts are unmentionable, but what the ghosts have said to them, or introduced them to that is unspeakable.

But what the hell is going on with this current governess? She is the narrator and we only ever see things from her point of view. Is she reliable? Can the reader trust her? At times her narration seems to border on the hysterical. She describes the children as “little dears”. “Our sweet darlings”. But just pages later, she hints that they are duplicitous; colluding with the ghosts. And what about her own relationship with the children, especially Miles? On their walk to the church, their dialogue reads like an adult flirtation.

“I could say nothing for a minute, though I felt, as I held his hand and our eyes continued to meet, that my silence had all the air of admitting his charge and that nothing in the whole world of reality was perhaps at that moment so fabulous as our actual relation.”

Then later, the narrator is so overwhelmed, (we would say turned on; aroused) she cannot bring herself to follow Miles into the church.

“…it was too extreme an effort to squeeze beside him into the pew; he would be so much more sure than ever, to pass his arm into mine and make me sit there for an hour in close, silent contact with his commentary on our talk. For the first minute since his arrival I wanted to get away from him.”

Let’s not forget that Miles is a ten year old boy and the governess is a woman in her twenties. Does she have an infatuation with Miles? She speaks of their relationship as if she is violently, sexually attracted to him. Is she as guilty in her secret thoughts of the sin that she condemns Quint and Jessel for? Or maybe she is just flustered around males; she is seduced by Miles -- she continually tells us of his goodness; but it is plain that he makes her nervous. She has certainly been attracted to Miles’ uncle, when he interviewed her for the position of governess in Harley Street. And Peter Quint’s raw, animalistic sexuality terrifies her. It’s as if she can scent Quint’s musky, relentless, sexual arousal. Quint is primal, feral. He takes what he wants.

Henry James clearly knew what he was doing, when he created his characters and this malevolent situation. Never is he explicit, he lets his words work on us, like burrowing maggots. What we, as readers can imagine is vastly more frightening and haunting than what he, the author, could have ever committed to the page.

Perhaps James is asking us to consider; what is the source of evil? We know that evil exists, but where does it come from? He "turns the screw" on the conventional notion of evil, by introducing the innocence of children.

Miss Jessel, Myra Hindley, Vanessa George, Michelle Martin. What are we to make of them?

Paedophilia is silenced. Okay, these days we talk a lot about it. We babble and say nothing. When we try for a constructive dialogue, we end up screaming at each other. We panic.

What is less admissible, more unspeakable than paedophilia? And what then is more silenced than the female paedophile?

Friday, 7 November 2014


I love Robert Browning’s poem; THE PIED PIPER OF HAMLYN. I love its lulling rhythms, the chanting, lyrical story that it tells.

I went to Hamlyn some years ago; I walked over a bridge, crossing the River Weser, deep and wide…

I came away enchanted; I imagine most tourists do. At the time I never gave much thought to what happened to the children of Hamlyn. If I did, it was of a Disneyfied version.

But it’s a strange story; a whole generation of kids just disappearing. Has anyone ever asked what exactly happened to the children of Hamlyn? Browning’s narrative poem is based on an actual event. Something went very wrong in that quaint German town, so many years ago.

Jack Marx talks about the narrative poem on his blog. The story of what happened to the children of Hamlyn.

Thursday, July 24, 2008.

“Most of the English-speaking world knows of the Pied Piper from the poem by Robert Browning, which itself was adapted from the tale as told by The Brothers Grimm. The story goes that a flamboyantly-attired troubadour promised to rid the town of its rat infestation, which he did by hypnotising the vermin with his flute and leading them to drown in the nearby river. However, when the townsfolk refused to pay him for his services, the piper took revenge by leading the children of the town to an unknown fate, never to return.

As fairytales go, it’s one of the more ghastly, whose moral appears to be little more than a warning about neglecting bills. But the legend seems based upon a true incident whose exact details have vanished into history, to be subsequently coloured in by centuries of folklorists. What is certain is that there is a town in Germany called Hameln and some children did go missing there sometime in June, 1284, the event so significant the early Hameln statutes measured the passing of time in ‘years after our children left.’

But there’s something about the silence in this tale - an event so terrible it remains forbidden to play music and dancing on a certain street in town, that suggests something more dastardly than an organised change of address took place.

Is it just possible that the fate of Hameln’s children was dealt with the townsfolk’s knowledge, if not necessarily their blessing? Perhaps they were sold, ‘donated’, abandoned en masse, or simply neglected, in a moment later regretted. At very least, they were lost, and nobody wants to be responsible for loss, especially a parent.

Enter the Pied Piper, with his seductive ways and other-worldly appearance. It was he who took the children, and then he vanished, an alien abduction for the Middle Ages. He is an invention, a diversion, and an absolution at once. Browning and the Brothers Grimm were probably closer to the truth than the town scribes - the Pied Piper was not so much a tragedy as a dubious transaction, and the less said about it the better.”

The writer, John Boswell, casts children as a kind of burdensome currency in the Middle Ages. All over Europe, they were frequently left to die in the wilderness, sold into the slave trade, used to pay debts, made to ‘disappear’ en masse so that rivals could be blamed and forced to compensate, or, most commonly, “donated” to the church, the return being relief from that mouth to feed and a promise of spiritual dividends.

The Holy Roman Empire turned something of a blind eye to the moral question of child abandonment, (no surprise there then) its various edicts on the matter seemingly more concerned with maintaining a fluid serfdom than protection of the children.

In 13th-century Spain, for example, it was law that “a father who is oppressed with great hunger or such utter poverty that he has no other recourse can sell or pawn his children in order to obtain food.” Furthermore…

“...a father who is besieged in a castle he holds for his lord, may, if so beset with hunger that he has nothing to eat, eat his child with impunity rather than surrender his castle without permission of the lord.”

The Pied Piper story seems to have its root in an event that happened on June 26, 1284. Hamelin historian Martin Humberg states that around 1300 a stained glass window was added to the central market church in Hamelin showing "an old figure of a man in coloured clothes and surrounded by a crowd of children." The inscription around this window has been reconstructed and reads:

“In the year of 1284, on John's and Paul's day
was the 26th of June.
By a piper, dressed in all kind of colours,
130 children born in Hamelin were seduced
and lost at the calvarie near the koppen.”

Scholars disagree on the meaning of "the calvarie near the koppen" but most agree that it refers to a place of execution near an as yet undetermined hill. There are many other references to the story in Hamelin itself, including a street named "Bungelosen Strasse," literally "the street without the sound of drums," allegedly so named because dancing was forbidden in that street in memory of what had happened to the children.”

In A World Lit Only by Fire (1992) by William Manchester, Manchester makes a passing reference to the Pied Piper of Hamelin. According to Manchester the piper was a psychopath and a pederast who was involved in some sort of mass child killing. Many of our children's stories are based on real events, many of them sinister and certainly not the type of thing you would want to lull your child to sleep with, but this seems especially grim. Is this true, and if so what's the whole story?

The quote in question comes from page 66 of Manchester's book and reads;
"The Pied Piper of Hamelin . . . was a real man, but there was nothing enchanting about him. Quite the opposite; he was horrible, a psychopath and pederast who, on June 24, 1484, spirited away 130 children in the Saxon village of Hammel and used them in unspeakable ways. Accounts of the aftermath vary. According to some, the victims were never seen again; others told of disembodied little bodies found scattered in the forest underbrush or festooning the branches of trees."

Manchester doesn't footnote this passage and although he does give a long bibliography at the end of the book, the reader can't readily determine where he got it. The official website of the German town of Hamelin makes no mention of it, which is no surprise, since the romantic version of the legend has monetary value and they have an official town "Pied Piper" to this day. Perhaps Manchester got some of the details wrong -- among other things, he appears to be off about 200 years on the date. But he didn't just make the whole thing up.

The legend of the Pied Piper has probably as many variants as it does tellers. The most popular versions derive from the poem by Robert Browning and the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. In pretty much all versions, rats infest Hamelin and the town hires a travelling rat catcher to exterminate them. When he does so, the king, mayor, or whoever decides not to pay him, so he extracts his revenge by spiriting away the town's children.

Taken at face value, the inscription suggests that Manchester was right --130 kids came to a bad end at the hands of a deviant. But there is no corroborating record of any mass execution of children in the vicinity of Hamelin, which would seem to be an important event if it really happened.

The window with the inscription was replaced in 1660 and is now lost, so we're relying strictly on secondary evidence and not much of that. There doesn’t appear to be any factual basis for Manchester's lurid tale of "disembodied little bodies found scattered in the forest underbrush or festooning the branches of trees."

The earliest versions of the tale make no mention of the piper's skill as a rat catcher--that part of the story doesn't show up in literature until about 1550. It appears that the final tale was a mixture of the true story of whatever happened to the children in Hamelin plus various European rat catcher legends. Stories of an itinerant rat catcher similar to the one in Hamelin show up in Austria, France, Poland, Denmark, England, and Ireland. Duke Froben von Zimmern (1556) was the first to put the legends together into the tale we know today. Fifty years later Richard Verstegan was the first to tell the tale in English and introduce the name "The Pied Piper" in his book A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence.

But there is still too much speculation and not enough evidence to say what actually happened to the children of Hamelin in 1284. A typical conjecture might be; the Pied Piper was a charismatic leader who, in the eyes of the ecclesiastical as well as secular authorities, misled a group of young people in a revival of pagan worship. He and his group were therefore captured and killed.

The Black Death has also been mentioned as a possible suspect, although the plague post-dated most of the legends and would have affected adults as well as children. Earthquakes and the Children's Crusade have also been mentioned as possibilities, but are far from convincing.

One currently popular interpretation comes from Jurgen Udolph and focuses on the variant that the children emerged from the cave either in Transylvania or somewhere in eastern Europe. Udolph believes that the phrase "children of Hamelin" should be interpreted figuratively and not literally. He thinks the tale may refer to an eastward migration of people from Hamelin into the area between Berlin and the Baltic. The theory has root in German historian Wolfgang Wann's conjecture that Bruno von Schaumburg, who was then Bishop of Olmutz, recruited some residents of Hamelin to settle in Moravia. This would have happened in 1281, three years before the date in question.

Udolph rejects this particular idea but thinks something along the same lines may have occurred. He uses place names to fortify his speculation, on the theory that people who relocate to a new land tend to name their new homes after the places they came from. Therefore, it should be possible to trace new settlements by establishing the origins of their names. In an article in Time International, Ursula Sautter reports:

"After the defeat of the Danes at the Battle of Bornhoved in 1227, the region south of the Baltic Sea, which was then inhabited by Slavs, became available for colonization by the Germans." The bishops and dukes of Pomerania, Brandenburg, Uckermark and Prignitz sent out glib "locators," medieval recruitment officers, offering rich rewards to those who were willing to move to the new lands. Thousands of young adults from Lower Saxony and Westphalia headed east. And as evidence, about a dozen Westphalian place names show up in this area. Indeed there are five villages called Hindenburg running in a straight line from Westphalia to Pomerania, as well as three eastern Spiegelbergs and a trail of etymology from Beverungen south of Hamelin to Beveringen northwest of Berlin to Beweringen in modern Poland.

Udolph's explanation seems likely. Like most legends, the Pied Piper story probably has its origin in something more prosaic than fantastic.
But the fantastic does make a much better fairy tale.

This blog post has been put together using sources from the Web.