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The Pied Piper of Hamelin


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Robert Browning (1812-1889) was born in Camberwell, London, the son of a clerk in the Bank of England. The strongest influence on his education were the books in his father's extensive library, particularly the writings of Byron and Shelley. His dramatic poem Paracelsus, published in 1835, established his reputation and brought him the friendship of the actor-manager William Macready. When Macready's eldest son Willie was ill in bed, Browning wrote for the boy's entertainment the poem of The Pied Piper, a story he remembered from his own childhood. After its appearance in print in 1842, it became a children's classic, attracting new illustrators in every generation.

In 1846 Robert Browning married a fellow poet, Elizabeth Barrett, eloping with her to Italy where they lived until Elizabeth's death in 1861. He them returned to England to live with his only sister Sarianna, but later he went back to Italy, where he died at the Rezzonico Palace in Venice.


Gr 3 Up There is much to praise in this retelling of Browning's classic poem. The book is a small masterpiece of design, from the rat-interlaced vines on the endpapers to the fine quality of the paper. Verses are set off with calligraphy letters and delicate pen-and-ink designs which highlight the maroon of the cover. The detailed black-and-white illustrations evoke the despair and delight of the citizens of Hamelin more successfully than Kate Greenaway's classic illustrations, using touches of humor and action. Small has included a six-page introduction which provides some historical background for the legend and a brief rationale for his changes in the text (namely, that the poem is no longer understandable). The book jacket describes these as ``slight'' modifications; however in a number of places, including the first verse, changes are so major that Browning's words are completely lost. On a number of occasions words are altered when their meanings are understandable in the original text (``ever'' is changed to ``always'' or ``gowns lined with ermine'' is changed to ``fine gowns of ermine,'' for example). Small's retelling of the legend is clear; his verse is often sprightly and less cumbersome than Browning's. Those who prefer Browning's poem in the original should select the edition illustrated by Anatoly Ivanov (Lothrop, 1986). Because of the beautiful design of this book, librarians might offer it to young readers along with Ivanov's or Greenaway's versions so that they can do their own comparisons of the merits of illustrations and text. Barbara Chatton, College of Education, University of Wyoming, Laramie

Browning's poem, a classic, is based on a legend from medieval times. It tells of a brightly-clad stranger who offers to rid the town of Hamelin of rats, for an agreed-upon sum of money. When he plays a haunting tune on his pipe, the rats follow him to their deaths in the river, but the mayor won't pay the piper. In revenge, the piper lures the children out of town into a cave, forever separated from their parents, though in a Utopian land of beauty. The poem's language is rich and lyrical, although spots are difficult for children to grasp, which is why many of the versions for children are adaptations. Here is a new, unabridged edition, dramatically illustrated in glowing colors (sometimes verging on gaudy). It's full of motion and expression, capturing the spirit of the poem and the details of the medieval town, as well as the Eden-like land where the children are taken. (59)

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