Modern Lessons from a Medieval Musician in a Children’s Tale

I’ve been thinking about children’s tales lately. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the lessons of patterns for adult life that are built into these old stories.

Through a series of unusual topics and non-sequiturs in a conversation with my oldest daughter, we covered mice and the Black Plague and finally we talked about “The Pied Piper of Hamlin Town.”

A high-level summary:

Medieval town is plagued by mice. Everyone knows it’s a problem, but no one seems to know what to do or how to get started. A stranger in every sense of the word waltzes into town. He dresses funny because his clothes don’t match, he plays an unusual flute, and he has a touch of oddness about him. He tells the town council he can rid them of their problem without giving any details, and then he asks an exorbitant price. Everyone agrees. He plays a waltz that has the mice and other rodents hypnotically boogieing out of town and jumping gleefully to their deaths in the nearby river. He comes back and asks for his pay. Everyone is so boggled by the oddity and simplicity of the solution and their lack of funds that they refuse to pay him. He begs and pleads. Ignored and unanswered, he leaves a deadline with an air of threat in it. When the deadline passes without a peep, he appears and plays a different tune that causes all the children to follow him out of town. The parents are powerless to stop the children. He leads them into a cave, never to be seen again. The sole survivor of this incident is a handicapped (disabled in modern parlance) child.

As my daughter and I talked about the lessons in this story, I thought of the following:

Count the cost.

Before you begin a project or enter into an agreement, you need to look at your resources–time, talent, and treasure. You need to be sure those resources will suffice to carry you through the entire project or agreement physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Sometimes the simple solution suffices.

Admittedly, in the real world, playing music doesn’t make the rodents or bad things disappear (I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried). However, the song was simple. As analogy, sometimes the best solution isn’t the latest drug or the most promising software or the newest gadget; the best answer is time or solid work or rest.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

In the old days, a man was as good as his word. If his word was good, people trusted him. Be sure you can keep any vow, oath, or promise you make. Like a Great Teacher once said (in my own inimitable paraphrase), “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Anything else is a crock and attempt at deceit.”

Different doesn’t mean stupid.

People, especially bullies and people who feel lousy about themselves, have a tendency of targeting those who are different as stupid or easy marks for fraudulent games. The hero of this story dressed funny and had a slightly different skill. The people of Hamlin tried to take advantage of his oddness. It did not end well.

Sometimes a curse is really a blessing.

I’ll bet there were days when the parents of that disabled kid felt really awful. I will bet the neighbors made fun of them or clucked their tongues about secret sins and punishment. On that day, when all the kids disappeared, the town’s treatment of the parents probably did not change, but those parents still had their greatest blessing alive and well to be with them.


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