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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

French Illustrator Puts Eerie Spin on Traditional Tale

The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Adapted by Marine Tasso, illustrated by Thomas Baas. and translated from French by Noelia Hobeika
Little Gestalten, Berlin, 2016

“The Pied Piper of Hamelin” is a beautifully illustrated, deliciously eerie version of the traditional cautionary tale popularized by the Brothers Grimm.

French illustrator Thomas Baas uses bright reds and dark blues to create a sinister mood as a small German town is suddenly invaded by rats on Christmas Eve.

The story is set in 1283 though the characters are curiously clothed in 20th century fashions. The townspeople enjoy a carefree life of lavish parties, but they regard their children as bothersome.

A rat sneaks in through the town gates, followed by a second rat, and a third rat. After a few minutes, there are a few hundred rats, and after a few hours, a few thousand. It isn’t long before the town is overrun by rats.

Panicked townspeople go to the mayor, who orders the most powerful poison be used in mousetraps. But, alas, the rats are so clever and hearty they avoid the mousetraps and feast on the poison as if it were candy.

Desperately, the mayor announces he will give a thousand gold coins to anyone who can rid the town of its rats.

A stranger comes to town and says he knows how to free the town from its infestation. The mayor promises him the reward if he succeeds.

The Pied Piper plays a small pipe in the town square. The rats stop to listen. Then suddenly the square is full of entranced rats.

The rats follow as the stranger continues to play his pipe, walking toward the town gates. The Pied Piper stops on a bridge, but the rats keep moving and throw themselves into the river to drown.

The townspeople celebrate as the Pied Piper goes to the mayor to claim his reward. The mayor says all he will give him is one hundred gold coins. The Pied Piper tells him he will regret that decision.

The adults return to their lavish ways, and the mayor congratulates himself for tricking the stranger.

But one day, the Pied Piper returns playing his pipe. All the children of Hamelin come and follow him. Their parents try to hold them back, but to no avail. The children skip across the bridge, over the river, and disappear into the mountains, never to be seen again.

Ever since that day, the wind from the mountains brings the echo of happy children laughing.

The story is about fairness and the importance of keeping promises. This version of the traditional tale is less bleak than other accounts where the children are drowned or imprisoned in a cave.

Nevertheless, it would be disturbing for very young children. It is probably best for grammar school youngsters.

About the Illustrator

Thomas Baas is a French illustrator of many children’s books. He attended the School of Applied Arts in Strasbourg, France.  He describes his style as old school and in the tradition of Alsatian illustrators. 

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