The Pied Piper pipes the village free of rats, and when the villagers refuse to pay him for the service he exacts a terrible revenge.
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)