You may think you know the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, but probably not the way Viktor Dyk tells it in this novella (originally serialised in 1911–12). The first chapter focuses primarily on a conversation between the Pied Piper and a young townswoman named Agnes – the matter of catching rats is almost incidental.
It is clear from their initial meeting that there’s a spark between Agnes and the Piper, and this only grows with time. When Agnes watches an angry Piper pacing around the room, she finds the sight magnetic:
‘He was so handsome in his rage. The fire burning in his eyes was so disconcerting and there was beauty in every movement he made’.
For the Piper’s part, Agnes may be the person to make him break the habit of a lifetime – and stay in one place:
‘He left cities and countries behind him and never felt any regret at departing; he never looked back, but only forwards. Suddenly he realised that he would not be leaving Hamelin like that.’
So, the Pied Piper has come to change Hamelin, but Hamelin is also changing him. Of course there are complications: Agnes already has a lover, then there’s the question of the townsfolk paying the Piper for his work. These conflicts animate the story: there’s a timeless storybook quality to Corner’s translation, but Dyk’s work also feels remarkably contemporary, even now. The Pied Piper is a work of fine balances, one that lives on in the mind after reading.
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
THE PIED PIPER
Written by Viktor Dyk
Translated from the Czech by Mark Corner
Published by Karolinum Press (2017)
David Hebblethwaite is a book blogger and reviewer. He has written about translated fiction for Shiny New Books, Strange Horizons, Words Without Borders, and We Love This Book. He blogs at David’s Book World.
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