Maybe the loss of 130 children from Hamelin, Germany in 1287 has a perfectly innocent explanation. Could the Pied Piper merely have been a recruiter who persuaded them to immigrate to Eastern Europe?
As we have seen in previous posts, the fairy tale we call the Pied Piper of Hamelin was inspired by actual historical events. The events in question, however, are a mystery. Were the children of Hamelin victims of the Black Death, could they have danced themselves to death, might they have become religious zealots itching to begin a Children's Crusade, or could they have been the victims of a pagan sacrifice? Well, maybe none of the above. Maybe they were just the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free...maybe they were simply immigrants.
War--Good God!--What is it good for?
If there's one thing we know about human beings, it's that they are a violent species. Scratch that. We are a violent species. And we really, really like to conquer other people's lands. In the early medieval period, Europe was wracked by one invasion after another. One warlord calling himself a king (which sounded nicer than egomaniacal murderer, I suppose) would storm another one's land, take it over, get pushed back, and then invade again. That's the pattern we see in Eastern Europe as well.
In the early decades of the 13th century (early 1200's) King Canute VI of Denmark (ahem, a viking, ahem) conquered parts of Eastern Europe. The armies of the Holy Roman Empire retaliated, and the struggle culminated in the Battle of Bornhoved in 1227. Remember that at this point in time, there were no missiles, canons, or even guns, so warfare was intimate, it was face to face, and it was bloody. "[T]he carnage was so great, that its combatants are said to have fought knee deep in blood. The King of Denmark had one of his eyes shot out, and had several horses killed under him" ("The Battle of Bornhoved"). The Holy Roman Empire triumphed over the Danes, and suddenly Eastern Europe was safe for Christendom, i.e. the Catholic Church.
But not for long. These were the middle ages, after all. One group was always attacking another to gain territory or plunder, but to top it off, the Mongols began attacking Eastern Europe during the 1200's. The Mongols were a tribe from East Asian, mostly modern day Mongolia, who conquered vast areas throughout Asia and Eastern Europe. They were kind of like what we think the Vikings were like except instead of being giant blonde people wearing helmets with horns, they looked like the Han Chinese and wore furs. Their greatest and most well-known leader was Genghis Kahn, who lived from 1162 to 1227, right as our story about the Pied Piper and Eastern immigration begins.
The Mongols were just as vicious as any good Viking, too. "Mongols were occasionally referred to as Tatars (or Tartars) by the people they terrorized. This was originally derived from Tata, a name the Mongols call themselves. However, when people realized this sounded a lot like Tartarus, Roman mythology’s variation of Hell, they started calling Mongols Tatars—'people from Tartarus,' meaning demons from hell" ("10 Amazing Facts about the Mongols"). It's little wonder that people imagined the Mongols were actually demons from hell. In 1241, a "Mongol invasion killed half of Hungary's population" ("Mongol Invasion of Europe"). When local populations resisted them, the Mongols slaughtered everyone around, and when local populations did not resist, "they forced the men into servitude in the Mongol army and the women and children were killed or carried off" ("Mongol Invasion of Europe"). They were even known to hurl the rotten remains of diseased bodies into the areas occupied by their enemies ("Destruction under the Mongol Empire").
The Mongols' intent, however, was not to colonize new lands. It was to spread terrorism and collect the spoils of war. So they didn't stick around. What they left behind was sheer devastation. It is said that the Mongols left so many dead that forests sprouted up in areas that had previously been populated, removing about 700 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere ("Genghis Khan the Green"). Not really a form of environmentalism I would recommend, and let's hope it never comes to that :-O
In the end, Eastern Europe was wide open for settlement. Also, the princes left behind in their walled cities after the Mongols gave up and went back home were hungry to develop the uninhabited land for one very good reason: taxes. Mongols may have brought death, but the princes and dukes brought taxes.
To persuade folks from the more heavily populated areas of Western Europe to leave everything behind and cut down the forests and build settlements in Eastern Europe, princes had to find salesmen, and they did so in the form of lokators. Lokators had a big job to do. They had to wander around Germany looking for suckers willing to resettle in Eastern Europe. On top of that, they were "responsible to a territorial lord or landlord for the clearing, survey and apportionment of land that was to be settled" ("Lokator"). Wikimedia describes them as medieval subcontractors ("Lokator"), and like a contractor, they got the job done.
Sachsenspiegel-Ostsiedlung, Sachsenspiegel, showing the German Ostsiedlung. Upper part: the locator (with a special hat) receives the foundation charter from the landlord. The settlers clear the forest and build houses. Lower part: the locator acts as the judge in the village, This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less.
So what does any of this have to do with the Pied Piper of Hamelin? The thing is that the piper himself may have been a pitchman for Eastern immigration, a lokator hired by a prince to go out and collect bodies to settle unpopulated areas of Eastern Europe. "In 1284, Rudolph von Hapsburg, as Holy Roman Emperor, had recently acquired by conquest extensive new possessions in Moravia. The Pied Piper of Hamelin may therefore in fact have been one of Rudolph's emissaries, clad in a colourful tabard carrying the heraldic blazon of a coat-of-arms, and blowing flourishes on his trumpet to attract onlookers" (Bernard Queenan "The Evolution of the Pied Piper). Or he could have been representing some other nobleman, of course.
Imagine the piper coming to the town of Hamelin in the summer of 1284 with his funky, colorful clothes, playing music on his pipe and drawing all kinds of attention to himself. Then, he offers his sales pitch--free land in the East. Who wouldn't want to follow him? He seems like a pretty cool guy, right?
On top of free land, lokators had other incentives to entice would-be immigrants: "The attractions they could offer included special legal privileges and exemptions from dues or taxes for a number of years . . . The size of land allocated to farmers was also on a more extensive scale than in old Europe" (The German Myth of the East). It's sort of like the propaganda used in the United States to encourage settlers to move West during the 1800's and then in the early part of the twentieth century to settle "Indian Territory," i.e. Oklahoma.
Go East, Young Man...and Woman
It's theorized that the historical records in Hamelin are referring to the townspeople, not children at all, when it says, "130 children--born in Hamelin--were led out of the town by a piper wearing multicolored clothes."
Researchers have also dug up evidence that indicates Hamelinites may very well have made the trek to Eastern Europe. Here's what linguistics professor Jurgen Udolph discovered: "130 children did vanish on a June day in the year 1284 from the German village of Hamelin (Hameln in German). Udolph entered all the known family names in the village at that time and then started searching for matches elsewhere. He found that the same surnames occur with amazing frequency in Priegnitz and Uckermark, both north of Berlin. He also found the same surnames in the former Pomeranian region, which is now a part of Poland. Udolph surmises that the children were actually unemployed youths who had been sucked into the German drive to colonize its new settlements in Eastern Europe" ("Pied Piper of Hamelin--History--Emigration Theory"). The evidence is not limited to people's names either: "The settlement, according to the professor's name search, ended up near Starogard in what is now northwestern Poland. A village near Hamelin, for example, is called Beverungen and has an almost exact counterpart called Beveringen, near Pritzwalk, north of Berlin and another called Beweringen, near Starogard. Local Polish telephone books list names that are not the typical Slavic names one would expect in that region. Instead, many of the names seem to be derived from German names that were common in the village of Hamelin in the thirteenth century. In fact, the names in today's Polish telephone directories include Hamel, Hamler and Hamelnikow, all apparently derived from the name of the original village" ("Pied Piper of Hamelin--History--Emigration Theory").
And the winning theory is...
So there you have it, folks, the children of Hamelin were just settlers who moved from Germany to Eastern Europe looking for a better life...or were they? This seems to be the theory most cherished by researchers, but do you buy it? Or do you think the kids were killed by the plague, victims of the Dancing Mania, crusaders defending Christendom, or pagans killed by bloodthirsty counts? The truth is that we will probably never know, so you can entertain whichever pet theory you prefer.
In my next post, we'll look at some interesting trivia about the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
Could the children of Hamelin have been born-again pagans? Were they not quite down with the Catholic Church? During the Medieval period, EVERYONE in Europe was Catholic...well, almost everyone. Those who weren’t Catholic were subject to suspicion, torture, burning at the stake, wicked stares, or the Spanish Inquisition, and as we are all aware--
No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!
So let’s delve into the theory that the Hamelin-ites were dirty, foul, wicked, crystal-loving, antlers-wearing, body odiferous, wildly hairy, icky-poo PAGANS!
And a pagan is...what exactly?
First, let’s think about what a pagan is exactly. In the U.S., we have negative connotations of the word, but in actuality, a pagan is…
...any person who practices a religion other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.
(This definition is derived from Wikipedia, the ultimate fount of crowd-sourced wisdom, and thus should be taken with a grain of salt and maybe a smidgen of applesauce).
So according to the definition, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Sikh, and pretty much anyone else who practices any religion other those listed above would be considered a pagan. That’s a pretty broad definition and one I assume most people would object to (or at least those who practice a religion other that the BIG THREE would object to).
Generally, when we think of a pagan, we think of someone who worships nature, like someone who practices Wicca, also known as Pagan Witchcraft.
In regards to the Pied Piper of Hamelin and the Middle Ages, what we have to consider is the fact that the ONLY religion acceptable in Europe was Catholicism. And that was the ONLY form of Christianity since Protestantism hadn’t been invented yet.
Mind-bending fact: The Catholic church is far older than the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Mormon, and every other Christian church. In fact, Catholicism began in the second century AD/CE (although some say it’s older and can be dated all the way back to Jesus and his Apostles), and Protestantism didn’t begin until the 1500’s when Martin Luther nailed his Theses to the door of the Wittenberg for the world to see.
The Pagan Piper of Hamelin?
Now for something completely different…
...Let’s get back to this theory that the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin originated with a pagan massacre...crazy stuff, man.
Our friend Wikipedia gives this as theory for the origin of the Piper: “Another modern interpretation reads the story as alluding to an event where Hamelin children were lured away by a pagan or heretic sect to forests near Coppenbrugge (the mysterious Koppen 'hills' of the poem) for ritual dancing where they all perished during a sudden landslide or collapsing sinkhole” (“Pied Piper of Hamelin”).
People love their crazy theories, don’t they?
Julian Scutts has a related theory, which he details in his book The Pied Piper of Hamelin At the Crossroads of History, Religion and Literature (available on Amazon) and in a record of an interview he has posted online (“Interview with Gernot Husam”), which serves as the basis for the theory described below.
According to Scutts, Gernot Husam, the one-time director of the Museum of Coppenbrugge, has done his own research into the legend of the Piper. The Coppenbrugge the museum refers to is a region of Germany, and near it is the small town of Hamelin (now spelled Hameln in Germany). This region is punctuated by hills, where Husam (the museum director) came across carved stone figures. Husam was excited by the appearance of these carvings and connected them to a dissertation written by a woman named Waltraut Woller, who had connected the Coppenbrugge to the Piper legend.
In case you missed it--or just don’t want to go back and look it up--the Rattenfangerhaus (“Rat Catcher’s House) has an inscription in stone that reads, in part, “After passing the Calvary [the execution place] near the Koppenberg [hills] they disappeared forever."
Husam connects the “Koppenberg” of the inscription to the Coppenbrugge region. He believes that the “Calvary” mentioned in the inscription “should really be translated as skull or skull cover” (“Interview”). He then connects this description to the word “head,” “which is what ‘Koppen’ means” (“Interview”). His train of thought about the semantic origins of the term “koppen” ends with this thought: “in the Middle Ages itself the concept of Calvary referred exclusively to the head or skull surmounting the jaws of Hell” (“Interview”).
I found this word origin theory intriguing and looked it up. It turns out the translation for “head” in German is “kopf,” not “koppen.” However, one of the northern dialects does use “koppen” as the term for “head,” so Husam is not out of his koppen when he makes this connection.
Husam believes that because of the geographical features of the hills of Coppenbrugge, they were a prime location for certain nature rituals. There are “long approach lanes for marchers, the extensions of which spiral round the dome at the summit,” (“Interview”), similar to the features of the Blocksberg, which is a place in the Harz mountains “where witches are said to perform occult rites” (“Interview”).
I’m going to break away from dear old museum director Gernot Husam for a minute because as an ignorant American, I had never heard of the Blocksberg or the Harz mountains or how they were associated with witches, but I can’t help investigating further. I mean--witches!--that’s like trying not to eat chocolate that’s dripping down your face.
Steenie Harvey in her article “Season of the Witch” has a lovely, evocative description of the mountains:
“Wandering through Germany's Harz Mountains, it's impossible not to realize that you have entered a domain of enchantment, a place where landscape conspires with legend to create a sense of lurking mystery. A terrain of craggy peaks, gloomy forests, and river valleys banked by towering cliffs, the mountains remember folk beliefs dating from pre-Christian times. . . . they are steeped in tales of witchcraft, magic, and apparitions. Stories collected in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries show that the region's mythic reputation reached beyond Germany. From France to Scandinavia, countryfolk traded fireside yarns of strange happenings on the Brockenberg (Brocken Mountain), the Harz's highest peak at 3,747 feet. Rumor had it that Europe's witches gathered there on Walpurgisnacht, May Eve” (“Season of the Witch”).
The drawing below by Johannes Praetorius from 1668 illustrates the fear people had of the Blocksberg. You can see the devils dancing around as the celebrants wind their way around the hill itself, in the same way Husam described the Koppenberg above.
Getting back to the interview with Herr Husam--
If the idea of witches dancing around a hillside wasn’t weird enough, Husam actually claims to have witnessed the aftermath of a pagan ritual. He says, “I have indeed experienced such an occasion myself at the Wackelstein (a boulder that rocks or wobbles, not being firmly fixed to its pivotal base). I went up there on midsummer’s night, the 21st of June, in fact while it was still twilight and almost dark. When I reached the Wackelstein, what should I see but tea-light candles adorned with flowers on this dish-shaped stone. They were still burning, mark you. There in the middle lay the severed neck of a swan, a remarkable sight, and then there was a rock at the side and this also had niches in it and even here tealight candles had been placed. I think I must have arrived at the spot immediately after the celebration of an occult rite” (“Interview”).
And apparently Husam is not the only one to happen upon such grisly leftovers. A forestry official also “once came across chickens’ bones amid flowers and candles” (“Interview”).
What does this have to do with the story of the Pied Piper?
If you look at the picture of above, you will see three stags (deer) in the middle underneath the trees. Husam equates these stags to three brothers, the counts of Spiegelberg. The brothers “took the stag as the emblem shown on their coat of arms” (“Interview”) and were thought to have taken measures to stop the heathen practices occurring in the hills around their castle.
So according to this theory, on a summer’s day, the youth of Hamelin walked away from town led by a piper in colorful clothing so that they could get their paganism on. What they didn’t know was that the counts of Spiegelberg weren't down with their heathen ways--this was the Catholic middle ages, after all--and when the kids showed up, they were slain by Nikolaus and his men.
“Count Nikolaus of Spiegelberg with the help of his two younger brothers, in order to get into the good books of the Church and civil dignitaries, organized a massacre of youthful miscreants execrated as dancing devil-worshippers who allegedly performed forbidden rites on the Koppenberg” (“Fieldwork on the Pied Piper”).
Thus, the children of Hamelin had indeed met their Calvary, their Golgotha, and were never to return to their homes or their families, their whereabouts forever unknown except for suspicions cast upon the Spiegelberg brothers.
And what happened to the good count? “As to Count Spiegelberg, he disappeared from historical records only weeks after the 26th of June, his last location being Stettin on the east German border. According to which theory you choose, he was either about to embark on an ill-fated voyage in the Baltic and drown with his youthful followers or he was on the run after instigating a bloodbath” (“Fieldwork”).
There you have it--the Hamelinites were killed for being too witchy. “Oooooh, witch-ay woman, see how high she fli-i-ies. Oooooh, witch-ay woman, she got the moon in her ey-hi-hi-eys” (The Eagles “Witchy Woman”).
So which theory do you think is most likely--the children of Hamelin died from the plague, they suffered from the dancing mania, they left for an ill-fated children’s crusade, or they were cut down by a bloodthirsty count?
In my next post, we’ll explore the scenario that experts believe is the most likely, so put on your traveling shoes!
Did the children of Hamelin set out for some sort of ill-fated mission dubbed The Children's Crusade in 1284? Is that the source material for the Pied Piper of Hamelin?
As I've shown in previous posts, the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin was based on a real historical incident, and some people have speculated that the disappearance of the children was due to an outbreak of the plague while others wonder if it could have been a case of the dancing plague. If you haven't read those posts, you definitely should because it is some CRAZY stuff.
So today, I bring you another theory...
Kids on a Crusade
One of the things I remember most vividly about the story of Robin Hood is that he was supposed to have just returned from the Crusades in the Holy Land when he discovered the wicked ways in which Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham were treating the common people. This memory comes chiefly from the 90's romantic flick Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner playing the leading man. While this story is completely made up and romanticized, in truth people actually were doing quite a bit of crusading during the early Middle Ages.
When we think of the Crusaders, we think of people like Robin Hood, heroic knights in shining armor, and the Knights Templar. What we don't think about are little kids strapping on swords and putting to death the infidels (i.e. in this case, non-Christians). But apparently, that's kinda, sorta what happened.
In the summer of 1212, a 12-year-old shepherd from a small town in France named Stephen had an epiphany. Jesus appeared to him in the dress of a pilgrim and asked for bread. After Stephen shared his food with the holy visitor, Jesus gave him a letter to take to the king of France, King Philip II. It is believed that the letter contained a call for the king to begin another crusade to reclaim the holy land for Christendom. Exhalted, Stephen began his journey to Paris, and as he traveled, he attracted hundreds--possibly thousands--of followers who wanted to share in his glorious quest. When he got to Paris, however, the king thanked him but otherwise blew him off. King Philip was not in any way interested in riding to the Middle East, and apparently, he wasn't into asking anyone else to do it either. The king told Stephen's followers to go home, and while some of them did, others flocked to the boy to join his crusade.
It's unclear what happened to Stephen at this point, but what is clear is that this grassroots campaign did not stop in Paris, and it did not stop with the young shepherd boy either. At around the same time, possibly in a separate movement or possibly in a continuation of the same movement, a young man named Nicholas of Cologne donned the mantle and became the new leader of the group.
Like Stephen, Nicholas was led by divine inspiration, and his belief was so intense that he thought when he and his followers reached the Mediterranean, God's hand would descend and part the sea just as it had for Moses as he led the Jews from Egypt. Also like Stephen, Nicholas attracted thousands to the cause with his charisma and piety. "Hundreds and then thousands of children, adolescents, women, the elderly, the poor, parish clergy, and the occasional thief joined him in his march south. In every town the people hailed the 'Crusaders' as heroes, although the educated clergy ridiculed them as deranged or deceived. In July 1212, despite the summer heat that had caused many to give up and return home, Nicholas and his followers crossed the Alps into Italy" ("Crusades," Encyclopedia Brittanica).
But something strange happened when the band of believers reached Genoa, Italy: nothing. God's hand did not reach down, the waters did not recede, and the waves continued to break against the shore. Many of Nicholas's followers turned from him in disgust and disappointment. However, "The Genoese authorities were impressed by the little band, and they offered citizenship to those who wished to settle in their city. Most of the would-be Crusaders took up this opportunity" ("Children's Crusade," Wikipedia). Other zealots returned to their homes in Germany. But some were not so lucky. For those still brimming with religious fervor and desperate to get to the Holy Land, "immoral merchants duped them into boarding ships bound for Alexandria, whereafter some were drowned in shipwrecks and others were sold into slavery" ("The Real Story of the Children's Crusade"). The remaining group traveled to Rome and appealed to the pope to release them from their crusading vows, which he did.
A Crusader in Pied Clothing?
So how likely is it that the children of Hamelin joined a group of religious zealots in 1284 and disappeared from their hometown forever?
I like a few things about this theory. First, the Children's Crusades occurred around the same time as the supposed disappearance of the children of Hamelin. These "crusades" happened in 1212, and Hamelin's children are said to have left in 1284, sixty-two years later. That is a gap in time, but as Bernard Queenan states in "The Evolution of The Pied Piper," "Some have seen the exodus of the young people of Hamelin as a distorted memory of an episode in the Children's Crusade of 1212." Note the word "distorted." Is it possible that the people of Hamelin, reflecting on events that had occurred over a hundred years before, made a mistake about the year when the children disappeared? I suppose it's possible.
Another thing I like about this theory is that it is a good reason for the children to have left Hamelin. They wanted to get in on the whole saving-the-world-for-Christianity action. And since we know that both Stephen and Nicholas were rounding up people to join their holy cause, this explanation is a logical one for why the children would disappear.
I also appreciate the fact that there is no dancing in this version. Remember that the original transcriptions make no mention of dancing, and the Children's Crusade does not mention dancing either.
In addition, the Children's Crusade occurred during the summer, and Hamelin's children were said to have left during the summer.
Finally, the original texts say, "130 children--born in Hamelin--were led out of the town by a piper wearing multicolored clothes." They didn't just leave; they were led out of town. Could this leader have been Nicholas of Cologne? We don't know what kind of clothing Nicholas wore, but I assume he was dressed in the patched and fraying clothing of a peasant. "Little is known about Nicholas except that he originated from the countryside near Cologne and carried a cross shaped like a T (the tau cross), which was his charismatic emblem" ("Children's Crusade," Encyclopedia Brittanica). Maybe the cross could have been confused for a pipe? Okay, I'll admit that's a bit of stretch, but it is a possible theory if the people of Hamelin's memory was truly "distorted." Even it was not Nicholas himself who was recruiting the children, however, this theory sees "the unnamed Piper as their leader or a recruiting agent. The townspeople made up this story (instead of recording the facts) to avoid the wrath of the church or the king" ("Pied Piper of Hamelin," Wikipedia). Pretty good theory, then, right?
The big problem with this theory is, of course, the time frame. If the children of Hamelin really disappeared in 1282, not in 1212, then they were probably not part of some doomed Children's Crusade. Besides, some of the children from the crusades survived and returned home, but there is no report of any of the missing children ever returning to Hamelin. In fact, they are said to have "disappeared forever," not just temporarily.
In the end though, I can't fully discredit this theory, and I certainly think it is one worth pondering.
In my next post, we will look at one of the more bizarre theories related to the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Prepare yourself for a pagan massacre.
We've explored the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, discovering that it is based on historical fact and that while it might appear to be a case of plague run amok, it actually is not. If you've not read those two posts, go back and read them now.
So now we move to a new theory, something most of us sitting in our living rooms might find far-fetched but those who attend raves on a regular basis might find completely normal...
Medieval Dance Madness
On a warm summer day in 1518 in Strasbourg, France, a young woman named Frau Troffea stepped into the street and started to dance. Hours passed, but she did not stop. As she spent the long day leaping and throwing herself around the street, she drew a crowd. Finally, in utter exhaustion, she fell to the ground. But the show was not over, folks. As soon as she had rested, she jumped up and began to caper about the streets once more, and she continued to do so, day after day, until about a week had passed, and oddly enough, by that time, about 34 people had joined in the massive party experiment. By month's end, the berserker who had originally caused the crazed dance had been joined by 400 other "dancers" ("Mass Hysteria in Germany 500 Years Ago").
This incident may seem like a strange blip in history, but it's actually an example of a larger epidemic. If people who are not of European descent think that white people are crazy, well, here's the proof. Dancing madness popped up across Europe repeatedly throughout the Middle Ages. According to Wikipedia (and if it says it on Wikipedia, then it must be true, right?), the first outbreak of chorea (from the Greek word for "dance")--also called Dancing Mania, Dancing Plague, St. John's Dance, and St. Vitus' Dance--was in the seventh century (the 600's), and it lasted through the 17th century (the 1600's) ("Dancing mania"). So for a thousand years, people would gather in the streets occasionally and begin convulsing and jerking their arms and legs around until they collapsed from exhaustion.
This phenomenon may sound a bit disturbing and a whole lot hilarious, but it was actually quite deadly. "The unfortunate people who succumbed were described as dancing and leaping until the flesh was worn from their feet and the bone and sinew exposed" ("Mass Hysteria in Germany 500 Years Ago"). But it didn't stop with broken bones and ripped feet. "The people would continue vigorously jumping and dancing about, sometimes also screaming out or chanting, until completely exhausted at which point they would collapse and some would die from cardiac arrest or injuries suffered from their violent dance. Those who didn’t die, once exhausted, would often twitch around on the ground, foaming at the mouth and gasping, until they were able to once again get up and continue their dance" ("This Day in History, 1374"). By the end of Frau Troffea's dance party in Strasbourg in 1518, dozens were dead from exhaustion, heart attack, or stroke ("'Dancing Plague' and Other Odd Afflictions Explained").
Crazed Dancers Led by a Man in Patchwork Clothes?
You can probably already guess how the outbreak of hysterical dancing relates to the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. In the story, the Piper blows on his pipe, creating a music so enchanting that the children begin to dance.
There was a rustling, that seemed like a bustling
Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling,
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
Little hands clapping, and little tongues chattering,
. . . .
Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.
(Robert Browning "The Pied Piper of Hamelin").
It seems completely probable that the story is in fact based on an incident of the dancing plague. Perhaps it wasn't children, but townsfolk who actually succumbed to the madness. Perhaps it was both adults and children.
An incident from history has remarkable parallels to the story of the Pied Piper. In 1237 in the city of Erfurt, Germany, a large group of children set out for the town of Arnstadt, and what was strange about them is that they "appeared to have been dancing and jumping uncontrollably all the way" ("The Dancing Plague and a Raw Deal for the Pied Piper").
What's more is that musicians were often associated with these strange outbreaks of dancing. Some towns actually hired musicians to play during these interludes, matching the rhythm of their music to the pace of the dancers. Then, they would attempt to slow the music down in the hope that the dancers would naturally begin to slow their dancing as well and eventually stop. It didn't help, however. Sometimes the added music would just encourage other people to join in as well.
However, this idea of the dancing plague and the accompanying musician does seem to be a compelling origin story for the historical event and the fairy tale of the Pied Piper. Perhaps a man in motley clothing was hired to put an end to the madness gripping the town of Hamelin, or perhaps a man with a pipe led the children from Erfurt to Arnstadt, someone in Hamelin heard about it, and somehow the two stories became mixed up so that suddenly the man who was supposed to be curing the children of their mad dancing became the bad guy who killed them all.
It's a good theory, so obviously there must be something wrong with it, right? I actually can't find anything in my research that disputes the idea that the story of the Pied Piper was inspired by an incident of the dancing plague--after all, it seems to have been a popular pastime in Germany during the time--however, I can't find anything that confirms it either. The only problem I can see with it is that the journey from Erfurt to Arnstadt--and the dancing that ensued--happened in 1237, fifty years before the children of Hamelin were said to have disappeared. On the other hand, that doesn't necessarily mean that the epidemic of hysterical dancing hadn't put such a grip on the public imagination of the people in Hamelin that it gave rise to the claim that a musician had led their children astray either.
There is one more tiny glitch in this theory though. In the original quotes that I cited from my first post, there is never any mention of dancing. The children are said to have "disappeared," been "led away," been "lost," or simply "left." And actually, when I look at the different versions of the fairy tale, Robert Browning's is the only one I can find that even uses the word "dance." Of the child who was left behind when the Piper blew on his pipe, Browning writes, "One was lame, / And could not dance the whole of the way" (Robert Browning "The Pied Piper of Hamelin"). Then, later in his poem, Browning adds, "And Piper and dancers were gone forever" (Robert Browning "The Pied Piper of Hamelin"). Browning published his famous poem in 1842, roughly six hundred years after the children mysteriously disappeared from the town of Hamelin. So it appears as if the children who went missing were not seen dancing at all...at least not until Robert Browning put his particular spin on the tale.
So what did happen in Hamelin in 1287?
In my next post, I'll be looking at another theory behind the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, but before I do, here are some strange little factoids about the dancing plague, including the idea that it was caused by a fun guy. No, wait, that should be spelled "fungi."
So what do you think caused the disappearance of 130 children from Hamelin, Germany in 1287: the plague, the dancing plague, or something else? I'll discuss another theory in my next post.
As I discussed in my last blog post, historic records indicated that something happened in Hamelin, Germany in 1284 leading to the disappearance of 130 children, something possibly sinister. The question is what exactly happened. Did a fellow with a pipe and bad fashion sense really charm the children away with his magical pipe? Well, probably not. The truth is that we don't really know what happened, but as with any good mystery, that fact doesn't keep people from guessing.
In this post, I begin by looking at one of the many theories surrounding the tale of the pied piper of Hamelin.
The Black Death
Rats, missing children, the Middle Ages...it all but screams bubonic plague, right?
Black Death is the name given to a highly infectious illness otherwise known as bubonic plague that broke out everywhere from China through Europe during the Middle Ages. Giovannio Boccaccio, writing in the Decameron, describes the appearance of the disease this way: "in men and women alike it first betrayed itself by the emergence of certain tumors in the groin or the armpits, some of which grew as large as a common apple, others as an egg . . . which the common folk called gavoccioli. From the two said parts of the body this deadly gavocciolo soon began to propagate and spread itself in all directions indifferently; after which the form of the malady began to change, black spots or livid making their appearance in many cases on the arm or the thigh or elsewhere, now few and large, then minute and numerous." The blackening of the skin as a result of the buboes (infected lymph nodes) is what inspired the name "Black Death."
The plague is transmitted by infected rats. As you probably know if you have a cat or dog, fleas like to hang out on hairy animals where they can hide in the layers of fur and take their sweet time sucking out as much blood as they want. Unfortunately for them and the rats (and later the humans as well), plague is a fast-acting killer. It only takes about a week or two between the time of infection to the time of death. So as the rat population diminished, the fleas who had been sucking the plague-infested blood from the rodents' bodies had to turn to a new host. And that happened to be the humans (and doubtless other animals) living nearby. "Thus, from the introduction of plague contagion among rats in a human community it takes, on average, twenty-three days before the first person dies" (HistoryToday).
The Black Death ended up killing about 30-60% of the European population. Some regions were hit harder than others. About 40% of Egyptians were killed off, half the population of Paris, and 60% of Hamburg (Germany) and London. If a similar catastrophe hit the United States today, it would kill about 144 million people. That would be like losing everyone in the the seven most populated states in the U.S.--California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio--everyone suddenly gone in less time than it takes for a freshman to flunk out of college.
But it wasn't just a matter of numbers. Real people were affected. Boccaccio writes, "The fact was that one citizen avoided another, that almost no one cared for his neighbor, and that relatives rarely or hardly ever visited each other--they stayed far apart. This disaster had struck such fear into the hearts of men and women that brother abandoned brother, uncle abandoned nephew, sister left brother; and very often wife abandoned husband, and--even worse, almost unbelievable--fathers and mothers neglected to tend and care for their children, as if they were not their own." According to author J.F.C Hecker, so many died that "[t]he church-yards were soon unable to contain the dead, and many houses, left without inhabitants, fell to ruins. In Avignon, the Pope found it necessary to consecrate the Rhone, that bodies might be thrown into the river without delay, as the church-yards would no longer hold them" (History-world.org). People were surrounded by death, in their cities, in their neighborhoods, in their very homes. So pervasive and devastating was the Black Death that it inspired a morbid artistic conceit known as the Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death.
Rats, dancing children a la the "Dance of Death," a menacing piper who himself personifies death--it seems that every detail of the Pied Piper fairytale points to Black Death as source material. Could the story be an allegory for those lost in the town of Hamelin during the plague?
There is one VERY BIG problem with this theory, attractive as it may be. Black Death did not arrive in Europe until 1347...Okay, so I have to interrupt here because the story of how it arrived is pretty creepy and must-be-shareable. On an otherwise ordinary day in October 1347, twelve ships floated into the docks of Messina, in Sicily. But there was something very strange about those ships--most of the sailors on board were dead, and those still living were gravely ill. "The Sicilian authorities hastily ordered the fleet of 'death ships' out of the harbor, but it was too late: Over the next five years, the mysterious Black Death would kill more than 20 million people in Europe–almost one-third of the continent’s population" (History.com).
There are two other problems with this theory. The first problem is that people didn't understand that the fleas that rats carried could spread the plague until the late 1800's, far after the rats became a part of the story. So why would they include rats in a story about Black Death if they didn't even know that rats spread the disease? Speaking of which, the rats did not make their appearance in the Pied Piper's story until 1559. Since they weren't even implicated in the original historical record, it is highly unlikely that rats and the plague killed off 130 children in Hamelin in 1284.
So maybe Black Death was not the source of the fairy tale, but there are a few other details about the plague that are frightening yet fascinating at the same time:
Next week we'll look at another theory--Was the dancing induced by the piper's pipe actually a form of fungal poisoning? We'll take a looksy in my next post.
There is often a grain of truth in those things we find fantastic. Take the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, for instance. It is not, as one might imagine, merely a fairy tale. It is actually based on fact.
I've scoured the Internet for references to the story in the historical record, and while many sources of information simply repeat each other, other ones are confusing and refer to different names for documents as well as different dates. I've pieced together the information as best I can.
Let's start with the Rattenfangerhaus, which literally translates to "The Rat Catcher's House"--ah, those hilarious Germans and their place names. This building in Hamelin dates to 1602 and has these words inscribed in stone: "A.D 1284--on the 26th of June--the day of St. John and St. Paul--130 children--born in Hamelin--were led out of the town by a piper wearing multicolored clothes. After passing the Calvary [the execution place] near the Koppenberg [hills] they disappeared forever."
Execution place? Seriously? This is what inspired a fairy tale meant for children? No sugarplum fairies and unicorns for these German tots--they get tucked in bed with tales of dead kids. But to be fair, the story of the Pied Piper was popularized by a Brit in 1842, the poet Robert Browning, to be specific.
The graffiti on the rat catcher's house is not the only evidence of the existence of the pied piper, however. In ye olde medieval days ("die alten mittelalterlichen Tage" in German--i.e. a mouthful of phlegm) a church in Hamelin was decorated with a stained glass window, circa 1300, complete with the image of a piper along with these words: "In the year 1284, on the day of John and Paul, it was the 26th of June, came a colorful Piper to Hameln and led 130 children away." The window was described several times between the 1300's and 1600's, so either it really existed or German eyewitnesses thought it would be funny to play a trick on us by claiming it existed. Whatever the case may be, we can't actually check the original text because the window was destroyed in 1660. Reports are contradictory as well. In fact, I also found this possible transcription: "On the day of John and Paul 130 children in Hamelin went to Calvary and were brought through all kinds of danger to the Koppen mountain and lost," which is very similar to the stone at The Rat Catcher's House. Below is a reproduction of the original window done by Augustin von Moersperg in 1592, before the window was destroyed, and since I can't make out the letters at the top of the image or read old German, I can't translate what it actually says. But the date is definitely noticeable--1284--which seems to confirm the first translation, which would make the second reported transcription the work of a liar, liar, pants on fire.
The Hamelin town scribes were also in on the story. A reference to the tale of the pied piper was recorded in the register for the town of Hamelin in 1384. It reads, "It has been 100 years since our children left." Just as we date years according to the birth of Christ--A.D. stands for "anno Domini," or "in the year of the Lord"--Hamelin bases the dates in the town record according to the year 1384 when the children left. What's interesting--and may allude to what actually happened to the "children"--is the fact that it's written the children "left" rather than "went missing" or even "were kidnapped."
And now for something completely different (but not really)--If you remember, in the fairy tale, the Pied Piper lures the children away with the music from his pipe, and the children follow him dancing. A street in Hamelin is named Bungelosenstrasse ("street without drums" or the thing that you do before someone says "Bless you"), where both music and dancing are banned. When a public parade passes the street, all the musical revelry goes silent and resumes once the street has been passed.
In his article "The Evolution of the Pied Piper" (1978), Bernard Queenan mentions a manuscript called the Catena Aurea belonging to a person named Heinrich von Herford from 1370. Queenan writes, "Although the existence of this Luneburger Manuscript was noted in other textual references, the text itself was lost for centuries until located by Dr. Spanuth himself in 1936." I have found references to Decan Lude's chorus book as well as something called the Lueneberg manuscript. This description from Queenan seems to conflate the two while other sources see them as distinctly separate. Or, since I am wrong 99 times out of 100, I could very well just be misunderstanding what Queenan is talking about.
Whatever the case may be, the account from Herford's 1370 manuscript is translated as follows:
"To be noted is a marvelous and truly extraordinary event that occurred in the town of Hamelin in the diocese of Minden in the year of the Lord 1284, on the very feast-day of Saints John and Paul. A young man of 30 years, handsome and in all respects so finely dressed that all who saw him were awestruck by his person and clothing came in by way of the bridge and the Weser Gate. On a silver pipe which he had, of wonderful form, he began to play through the whole town, and all the children hearing him, to the number of 130, followed him beyond the eastern wall almost to the place of the Calvary or Gallows field, and vanished and disappeared so that nobody could find out where any one of them had gone. Indeed, the mothers of the children wandered from city to city and discovered nothing. A voice was heard in Rama and every mother bewailed her son. And as people count by the years of the Lord or by the first, second and third after a jubilee, so they have counted in Hamelin by the first, second and third year after the exodus and departure of the children. This I have found in an old book. And the mother of Herr Johann de Lude, the deacon, saw the children going out."
Deacon Lude, mentioned above, died in 1378, so would it be possible for his mother to have actually witnessed the event in question in 1284? Well, probably so. If Lude was born, say, between 1305-15 or so, and his mother was in her thirties when she had him, she could have been anything from a toddler to an adolescent in 1284. Other accounts I have read, however, say that the text refers to Lude's grandmother rather than his mother, which would be even more plausible. However, as you can see by the numbers, his mother could very well have witnessed the event--whatever "the event" was--as a young child.
The tale of the Pied Piper has been repeated over and over again since that earliest reference in the stained glass window of the church in Hamelin, and eventually it became a fairy tale made famous by the Brothers Grimm and Robert Browning.
So, in essence, we don't know who the Pied Piper was or what exactly happened although we can be certain that something happened in the town of Hamelin in summer of 1284, something so terrible that it was remembered for hundreds of years. So in essence, I have not answered the question in the title of this post: Who was the real pied piper of Hamelin? In fact, we don't even know if there was a pied piper of Hamelin. (And what the heck does "pied" mean anyway?) All we really know is that 130 "children" left Hamelin in the late 13th century.
But, luckily for you, the story doesn't end here. Even though nobody really knows what happened to those kids or if the piper actually existed, that doesn't stop people from coming up with all kinds of off the wall theories, and I'll be describing them in the next few posts. So stay tuned...
If you absolutely cannot wait until my next post to dig deeper into the legend of the pied piper, you can check out these websites for more information:
Ancient Origins: "The Disturbing True Story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin"
Dark-Stories: "The Pied Piper of Hamelin."
Reader's Digest: "The Real Pied Piper" (one page only)
Wikipedia: "Pied Piper of Hamelin"
Mental Floss: "The Enduring Legacy of the Pied Piper of Hamelin"
Project Gutenberg: "The Pied Piper of Hamelin"
How Stuff Works: "Was There Really a Pied Piper of Hamelin?"
Chapter the First,
In Which We Meet Our Courageous Heroine
Alice Carroll could think of a hundred places she’d rather be than staring at an old dead woman on a Sunday afternoon.
Not that she was actually staring. In fact, she was trying to keep her eyes away from the front of the room where the old woman lay in her coffin. She was looking at the bald head of the old man in front of her instead. Until then, she’d never realized that the back of someone’s neck could be so wrinkly.
She shifted her eyes and looked around. Bad idea. Viewing the living at a funeral was almost worse than viewing the dead. The church was full of old people, with their wrinkles and their age spots and their loose skin. They were like skeletons shuffling around. She grimaced as she caught the eye of an old man with whiskers coming out of his nose. He smiled at her with his stained teeth, and Alice shifted closer to her mother.
Her mother gave her a sad smile and patted her hand. Alice glared at her and crossed her arms, covering the bleeding apple on the front of her black t-shirt.
She didn’t know why her mother had dragged her to this stupid funeral to begin with. It’s not like she even knew the dead lady. Nellie Stephens or Simpson or “S” something or other. Alice had only seen the woman a couple of times in her entire life, and her mother hadn’t worked with her for years.
She’d tried to get out of coming. She’d even asked the neighbors if she could babysit their two little blobs that afternoon, but they’d given her a funny look and said they thought she was too young or maybe they were going to be home all weekend. They couldn’t decide which.
Thirteen years old was not too young to babysit; Alice knew for a fact that they’d had sixth graders babysit for them before. The real reason was that they thought she was a bad kid. Just because she wore black clothes and dark eyeshadow didn’t mean she was a juvenile delinquent. It’s not like she did drugs or punched babies; actually, she got straight A’s and had never even had detention. She just happened to like things that were slightly macabre. Except funerals, of course.
She pulled up her black knee socks and admired the pattern of skulls sewn into them.
“We’re going to a funeral, not a Halloween party,” her mother had said when she’d seen them.
Alice thought they went pretty well with the black and blue streaks she’d put in her hair the day before. Plus, she had been hoping the outfit paired with her crazy hair would make her mother so angry she would let Alice stay home. That hadn’t worked either.
She twisted a strand of hair around her finger and noticed that the people in front of them were standing and leaving their seats.
“What’s going on?” she asked her mother.
“It’s time for the viewing,” her mother whispered back.
“The what?” Alice asked.
“Shh. Come on.” Her mother stood, and before Alice could say anything, her mother had pulled her into the line of people moving down the aisle.
Alice looked around, but she had already figured out where they were going. One by one, each person walked by the casket and paid his or her final respects to the dead woman. She noticed a few who actually leaned over the body itself, and although she couldn’t see exactly what they were doing, she had a sneaking suspicion they were kissing the dead woman’s face.
She felt a gag forming in her throat. She clutched her mother’s arm as the line edged closer to the casket.
“Mom,” she hissed. “I don’t want to go up there. I think I’m going to throw up.”
Her mother shook her arm loose and shushed her. “Stop it, Alice. Don’t make a scene.”
“I’m serious, Mom,” Alice insisted. She was beginning to panic. “I want to go home. I don’t feel well.”
Her mother turned impatiently and looked her squarely in the eye. “Stop. It. Right. Now.” She hissed.
Suddenly they were standing right next to the casket, and Alice felt her eyes being drawn to the corpse, like an insect drawn to light. The old woman’s face was peaceful, as if she was asleep. A strand of white pearls lay across her neck, and someone had brushed her eyelids with violet eye shadow. As Alice stared at the corpse’s face, her vision began to waver. She blinked to clear her eyes, but the image continued to flicker. The skin on the woman’s face began to wobble and smooth out, the wrinkles disappearing one by one. A healthy pink glow crept into her skin, a blush entering her cheeks. The woman opened her eyes, which were clear and blue, and then she smiled, revealing shiny white teeth. Suddenly, Alice was looking into the face of a little girl. Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, the color seeped out, the eyes closed, and the youthful image was gone. Once again, Alice was looking at the pale, sunken face of a dead woman.
The vision could not have lasted more than a second, but it was long enough for both Alice and her mother to pass by the coffin. Alice felt her heart skittering in her chest.
“Mom,” she gasped. “I saw…I saw…”
“I know,” her mother cooed and put an arm around her shoulders. “I know it’s hard.”
“No!” Alice exclaimed and shook off her mother’s arm. “Listen, Mom. I saw—“
“What?” Her mother asked testily and grabbed Alice’s arm to steer her out of the church. “What exactly did you see, Alice?”
Alice crossed her arms and kicked a pebble. “Nothing,” she muttered.
“Then, let’s go,” her mother said. She stopped and with a smile pasted on her face, said hello to a woman in a long black dress wearing strappy black heels.
Alice felt like punching somebody, but instead, she just followed her mother to the parking lot and bit a strand of black and blue hair that had fallen across her face.
She refused to talk to her mother during the car ride; she couldn’t get the weird picture of the little girl’s face out of her mind. She was so distracted, she didn’t even notice when her mother passed by the street that led to their house and kept on driving. In fact, she didn’t even know what was going on until her mother put the car in park, and she looked up to find herself in the middle of a cemetery.
“Um, this isn’t our house,” she said.
“I want to go to the graveside service,” her mother answered. “It’s the proper thing to do. After all, I owe my complete livelihood to Nellie, and believe me that you wouldn’t be enjoying the life you have now without her help. The least we can do is see her off to her final resting place.”
“Why?” Alice asked. “It’s not like she’s going to know we’re there. I don’t think she’s sitting up in heaven keeping tabs on who came to her funeral.”
Her mother held up her hand abruptly and hushed her. “All right, Alice, that’s enough. If you don’t want to show your respect and gratitude, then you can just stay in the car.”
“Fine,” Alice shrugged as her mother got out of the car. She didn’t like the idea of sitting by herself in a graveyard, but it was better than standing around a hole in the ground while a bunch of old people blew their noses and cried. Besides, she was still peeved at her mother.
As her mother walked away, Alice cracked the car windows, turned up the radio, and started playing with her phone.
Even with the radio on, she was bored. It was also kind of hot, and her feet hurt. She took off her leather jacket and removed her boots, replacing them with a pair of her mother’s boring brown sandals laying in the back seat.
She watched as elderly people shuffled past the car and stared disapprovingly in at her. She squinted at them and gave them a closed mouth smile, wishing they would mind their own business. She reached over to turn the volume up on the radio and heard a tap at the window. She looked up to see a little girl with curly blonde hair smiling in at her. She was the exact image Alice had seen in the coffin.
“Hey,” Alice said. She fumbled with the car door to roll the window down, and when she looked up again, the little girl was gone.
That was strange, she thought. She wondered if the fumes from the hair dye were making her see things. She scanned the parking lot and saw an old man hobbling along with a cane, but there was no sign of the little girl.
Suddenly, the little girl’s blonde head popped up from behind a blue sedan.
“Hey,” Alice shouted through the open window. “Wait a second.”
The little girl grinned and covered her mouth with her hands. Then, she turned and darted into the graveyard. She stopped and looked back at Alice, motioning for her to follow.
Alice wasn’t keen on chasing a little kid around a graveyard, especially a little kid who looked just like the vision she’d seen in the casket earlier. But, she was pretty sure the little girl was flesh and blood; ghosts didn’t generally knock on windows. Weren’t they more into rattling chains or something? Besides, Alice figured she should probably grab the little brat before she tripped over a headstone or tree root and broke her leg.
She groaned and popped the door open. The little girl was standing on a hill looking at her, and when she spotted Alice climbing out of the car, she turned abruptly and raced down the other side.
“Wait,” Alice yelled after her. “Stop. You’re going to get hurt.”
She slammed the car door in irritation and reluctantly began to jog after the little girl. After a few seconds, she reached the top of the hill, stopped, and looked around. Miles of headstones and trees stretched in every direction. She couldn’t see the little girl anywhere. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of white, and turning her head, she spotted a white ruffled dress disappearing behind a tree.
“Hey,” she yelled. “Stop running. I’m not playing with you.”
She was starting to get angry at the little girl. Little kids could be so annoying.
She was panting a bit by the time she reached the tree where the little girl had disappeared. But when she looked behind the trunk, the child was gone again. That was odd. She’d had a complete view of the tree and the field surrounding it as she’d been running. There was no way the little girl could have snuck away without Alice seeing her.
She heard a giggle a few yards away. It sounded like it was coming from behind a headstone rimmed with weeds. She crept down to the grave marker, and when she reached it, she leaped around it.
“Ha! I’ve got you now, kid,” she said.
But the little girl wasn’t there. Instead, there was a large rectangular hole. Alice was moving too fast to catch herself, and she fell head first into the open grave.
Are you getting ready for college or maybe you're getting ready to get ready for college? Either way, you can learn from someone who's been in the trenches, like my friend and colleague Ali O'Leary, a recent college graduate and aspiring author, who I interviewed for this post. You can read her blog at https://alioleary.wordpress.com/.
Me: Your introduction to college was a bit atypical. Can you tell me about how you decided which college to go to and when you started your college planning?
Ali: Ok, that’s a funny story. I got to April of my senior year and thought, “Hmmm, I should go to college.” I hadn’t applied anywhere. I thought I would start out with a community college, but my parents wanted me to apply to other schools as well. My dad had been supporting this college, Patrick Henry College, for a couple of years and since it was more of a Government degree type school, he didn’t think it would interest me. But he saw that it had a Literature major and, since I’ve always been interested in writing, he thought it would be a good fit. So I applied with one week to spare before the deadline and got in.
If you’re not a math person, don’t do online math classes.
Me: That is a crazy, crazy story! I’ve never heard of anyone going about the college decision making process this way. (not to be insulting, I’m just really impressed.) So were you stressing out about college before you decided what to do?
Ali: Not really, I knew I should go to college, but I wasn’t in any particular rush. I figured if I didn’t get into the fall semester, I could work until it was time to apply for the spring semester.
Me: And did you have a pretty good idea what you wanted to major in before you applied? I mean, did you know it would be English/writing/literature related?
Ali: Yes, I’ve never really been interested in anything else, so it made sense to study something I loved.
Me: So it looks like your dad had a huge influence on your college decision.
Ali: Very much so. I am the quintessential “daddy’s girl” and he’s always been a key voice in most of my major decisions. He knows what I like and don’t like very well, so I can usually count on him being a reliable source of information.
Me: And what was it about Patrick Henry College that attracted you both?
Ali: We saw that it was a classic liberal arts school that focused on a very traditional way of learning: grammar, logic, rhetoric, all that jazz. It also didn’t just focus on the major you went into, but really wanted all of its students to have a well-rounded education so that they’re prepared for any sort of discussion in the real world. We would know at least the foundations of subjects like philosophy, physics, and biology. I’m also a Christian and it is a Christian school, so that appealed to us as well.
I had three months to have a mental breakdown at leaving my family for the first time and to get my stuff ready for dorm life. :)
Me: So what happened after you were accepted?
Ali: They had a distance learning program that I started out with, so I ended up taking 12 credits my first semester to sort of ease into the whole college/distance learning thing.
Me: So you basically did online classes for the first semester, is that right?
Ali: Yes, really for the first two years. We could get our basics pretty much done online. It was a good way to save on costs.
Me: What was online learning like for you as a student?
Ali: I am an introvert, so I really loved being able to have my own schedule and have online discussions, as opposed to a classroom discussion. I do much better when I can write out my thoughts rather than speak them, so I enjoyed that aspect of it. But it was challenging when I had questions, because I could ask the professors, but it was often hard to get across the particular problem I was having, if that makes sense.
Me: Yes, because there are nonverbal clues we give when speaking that don’t come across online. Also, when you’re speaking to someone, you can kind of tell if they’re getting it or not.
Me: Do you have any advice for college students taking online classes?
Ali: Definitely. You get out of it what you put into it. I made an effort to make friends and have “study groups” online and that really helped me learn. I still have some of those friends today. Also, it really helps to have a planner to write down all of the assignments, because oftentimes online classes have more work for you to do to make up for not having class discussions/assignments.
I was extremely homesick for pretty much the whole first semester on campus.
Me: College was the first time I ever used a planner, and I made GREAT use of it! I planned exactly what work I would do every night and divided up long sections of text (like 100 pages or more) so that I would read just a section each night. I actually ended up planning how many pages and what pages I would read in my planner ahead of time. I personally am not very good at being last minute--too stressful.
So anything else you want to add about taking online class? Did you feel like you were missing out on the “real” college experience?
Ali: Maybe sometimes. Especially once I made friends, I wished we could hang out together, but I never felt like I was gaining a lesser education by doing it online. But again, it depends on how much effort you put into it. And also, if you’re not a math person, don’t do online math classes.
Me: So you did two years of online classes, and then what happened?
Ali: I had three months to have a mental breakdown at leaving my family for the first time and to get my stuff ready for dorm life. :)
I ended up praying a lot and that really helped.
Me: How far away was the school from where your family lived?
Ali: I think it was about 1600 miles?
Me: Ouch!!! And it was your first time away from home?
Ali: Yep! Go big or go home.
Me: What thoughts were running through your mind as you made your preparations?
Ali: They weren’t all bad, I was excited about meeting new people, but mostly I was super concerned about how I was going to handle having classes as well as homework. Which sounds funny, but online learning is basically all homework. Throw in class time and it’s like, freak out!
Me: What was it like when you actually made it to campus?
Ali: The campus itself was beautiful - it’s out in Virginia - and everyone was really friendly. But it was a lot of people and I am really bad at meeting large groups of people. I also didn’t have a roommate because mine called me the day I was leaving and told me she wasn’t going anymore, so it was hard to not have someone to immediately connect with.
Me: Were you homesick, and if so, how did you deal with it?
The more I started talking to people and accepting invitations to hang out, the easier it got.
Ali: I was extremely homesick for pretty much the whole first semester on campus. It was my first time away from home and we had just finished going through some pretty difficult situations in my family, so it was hard to leave right when we were starting to patch things up. I ended up having a lot of panic attacks and I called my parents pretty much every other day. My dad even offered to come and get me, but I really felt like the Lord wanted me to stay there. So I ended up praying a lot and that really helped, plus I also started making friends with my suitemates and they made sure I saw the light of day every now and then. The more I started talking to people and accepting invitations to hang out, the easier it got.
Me: I think homesickness is something a lot of college students struggle with and something they don’t even anticipate. What is your advice to students who move away from home for college?
Ali: I think the first step is realizing that the time is going to pass faster than you think it is. Which is not super helpful at the start, but honestly, I wish I had spent less time wishing I was somewhere else and more time enjoying where I was at. It was hard, but it’s important to enjoy the season that you are in. And your family is an excellent support system, but sometimes the only way you learn more about yourself and who you are is by getting out from under their wings. So, I guess, don’t cut your family out of your life, but don’t panic if you’re suddenly discovering parts about yourself that you didn’t know existed before when they’re not around. It’s okay to do a little self-discovery.
Me: I had a similar experience. I stayed home for my undergraduate degree and commuted to a nearby college, and then I went 800 miles away for graduate school. It was okay at first because my sister moved with me, but then she left and I was all alone. It was scary at first, but I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was and that I had the capacity to become self sufficient. Do you have any other advice for college students?
Ali: Enjoy the college experience! I know that people say that all the time, but honestly, it is a great time of life to be able to dedicate time to learning what you love and hanging out with people your age all the time. It can be super crazy, but you’ll make some of the best memories during college. Also, it’s important to find balance between social life and academic life….I was one that was always erring on the side of too much academia and not enough fun, but I know it works both ways.
Me: Thanks for letting me interview you! I think the college years were the best years of my life, but it’s a sharp learning curve, and I think it’s good to go in kinda sorta having an idea of what to expect.
Ali: For sure. Thanks for having me!
Don't forget to check out Ali's blog at https://alioleary.wordpress.com/!
YA sci-fi/horror author of The End Games and Mr. Fahrenheit, T. Michael Martin, was kind enough to answer some of my annoying, fangirl questions, so I'm sharing the interview below. My questions are italicized, and his responses are other-than-italicized (haha--I mean, they're "normal" although some would argue there's no such thing as normal). You're welcome! :-)
Insofar as Mr. Fahrenheit is concerned--and my apologies if I get too spoiler-ish--why did you choose to go with the whole alien storyline? I haven't seen a whole lot of aliens in YA lit in recent years.
I don't feel that I chose aliens as much as aliens chose me, as strange as that may sound! After finishing THE END GAMES, which is a pretty intense novel with an abundance of zombies, I was feeling burnt out and wanted my next novel to reflect a "lighter" (though still suspenseful) perspective. If THE END GAMES is about my nightmares, MR. FAHRENHEIT is about my dreams, about that feeling when you're a kid and look at the night sky and life just feels so full of promise and infinite. For me, an alien plot seemed the best way to explore those feelings, which is how I wound up writing the book.
The main character in Mr. Fahrenheit is a young man named Benjamin "Benji" Lightman, who seems to be searching for...something...some unknown, perfect, "out of this world" moment. He's kind of a the-grass-is-greener-somewhere-else type of person. How much of Benji was influenced by your own personality? And if he's not, why did you paint him this way?
Well, as much as I love Benji, I don't think there's a ton of my current personality or outlook in him. That said, he definitely reflects my younger self. I admire a lot about Benji; for instance, he is a person who lives fervently by his values. But everything casts a shadow, and what Benji has to learn (and what I had to learn) is that idealism can be damaging and outright dangerous if not tempered with some semblance of realism. In fact, thanks to its dichotomous style of thinking, idealism can become a form of cynicism, and can lead to becoming a very bitter person when the world doesn't meet your idealized standards.
Ellie is Benji's love interest, and he envisions her as this almost super-human, angelic person. I love the scene where she puts him in his place and gives him that "get a grip" speech. What inspired you to create their relationship--and this scene--in such a way?
So glad you liked that scene! It was one I labored over a lot!
I was thinking a lot about gender roles in fiction while writing MR. FAHRENHEIT. Specifically, like a lot of people, I'm really troubled by the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope (though I do think the term has become overused a bit), which is ultimately a product of idealization and a kind of other-person-as-wish-fullfilment syndrome. Benji is basically a kindhearted guy, and he means well, but he begins the story with some problematic views of Ellie. It was important to me to have the main female character be both a tough and awesome person, and a naturally flawed human, and part of Benji's growth is learning to see all of Ellie, rather than merely the parts of her he takes out of context and is too enamored with.
My dad is the physical therapist for my hometown's high school football team. I spent every Friday autumn night of my childhood on the sidelines with him at every single game. I couldn't NOT make football CR's sport. :]
Did you have to do research on magic techniques for this novel, or were you already a magic aficionado?
Oh, I was definitely already a magic geek! It was so fun to finally put some of that nerdy knowledge to work in my fiction.
MR. FAHRENHEIT is really about nostalgia, about memory and how we misremember events in our past, and the profound impact those mistakes have on our present and future.
Many of the cultural references are influenced by bygone pop culture. I'm thinking Bedford Falls, doo-wop and jukeboxes, Charlie Brown, and this line in particular regarding Charlie Brown: "The kid still can't believe he got to touch the football." Do these references reflect a nostalgia on your part, and do you think young adult readers will catch these pop culture references?
Well, I think MR. FAHRENHEIT is really about nostalgia, about memory and how we misremember events in our past, and the profound impact those mistakes have on our present and future. So the choice to have those nostalgic references was part of a thematic purpose, as well as a bit of fun for me because I deeply love those things.
As for whether I think YA readers will catch the references, that's a great question! During the writing process, my agent and I actually discussed this--like, it's not at all certain that most teen readers will be super familiar with what doo-wop is, for instance. But ultimately I trust my readers, and also I hope that if there are things they aren't familiar with, they'll look them up and fall in love with them the same way I did. (There's something really magical about discovering something new, right?)
Regarding the other hats you wear, specifically your Internet persona, I've been watching your "How to Adult" videos, and I must say you are ridiculously charming and cute, so do you put a lot of effort into being nerdy or does it just come naturally *asked with total affection and respect*?
YOU ARE TOO NICE HOW DID YOU GET SO NICE!
Thank you, thank you. :] I have to say, I don't have to put any effort whatsoever into being nerdy. As Lady Gaga put it, I was born this way, baby.
How did you become associated with The Green Brothers?
Long story, shortened: John was a fan of my YouTube videos, and then became a fan of my books, and then my friend Emma and I pitched them the idea for How to Adult (our web series that they produce), and they agreed to produce it.
Finally, do you have advice for writers (or non-writers) on juggling multiple responsibilities at once--writing, doing vlogs, marketing, remaining employed, and possibly sleeping sometimes?
As Anne Lamott put it, just take things bird by bird. Small steps add up. Tolstoy said it best when he said, "The strongest of all warriors are these two - Time and Patience." I wrote my first novel, THE END GAMES, entirely while employed in various positions, including being a test subject in experimental drug studies! It took years, but it also enabled me to eventually become a full-time writer. In my darkest moments, I told myself that time was going to pass no matter what I did, so I might as well spend the time doing things that would build the life I wanted. Keep the faith, keep writing, and use your energy as wisely as you can. I believe in you.
My BIG THANKS to T. Michael Martin for graciously doing this interview with me (Thanks, Mike!)--oh, yeah, this is Cheryl again. If you'd like to read some of Mike's work yourself, then check out Mr. Fahrenheit and The End Games at your local library (Libraries rock!) or do something good for the world and buy them at biblio.com (They practice carbon offsetting for all book orders AND build libraries in Bolivia in addition to other do-gooder ventures.) or GoodBooks (They partner with Oxfam to, in their words, "provide clean water, sanitation, develop sustainable agriculture and create access to education" in impoverished communities.).
You can also follow Mike's How To Adult series on Youtube or connect with him on his website.
Below is my novel Glassbreaker Alice in images. Unfortunately, not all the pictures are showing up for some mysterious reason, but you can see the whole thing on Pinterest. If you prefer your stories in words rather than images, go to Wattpad to read the whole shebang.
Word and Book Lover.