Title: Pay the Piper
Author: Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Genre: Middle Grade/Young Adult
Date Published: 2005
Blurb: When fourteen-year-old Callie McCallan scores a backstage pass to interview the lead singer of the famous band Brass Rat, she’s thrilled. Peter Gringras is so cool. When he plays his flute, it’s as if he has some kind of hypnotic power. But there is something strange about him, something Callie can’t quite put her finger on. Then, on Halloween night, Callie’s little brother Nicky disappears, along with all the other children in town. It’s crazy, but Callie thinks she knows where the children have gone–and who took them. To prove it, and to rescue Nicky and the other children, Callie must journey to a mythical world filled with fantastical creatures. A world from which there may be no return….
Co-written by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, this retelling gives The Pied Piper a modern spin. Supposedly, it’s the first book in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fairy Tale series, but after checking on Amazon and Goodreads, I only found one other book in the series. It’s called Troll Bridge, and it’s a modern day retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff. On an interesting side note, Stemple is not only Yolen’s son, but a professional rock musician, which explains the musical element found in the stories.
So what’s the Pied Piper connection?
As the lead singer/flautist of the folk-rock band Brass Rat, Peter Gingras (or Peter Piper) is the modern day incarnation of the Pied Piper. It turns out that he is a minstrel prince of Faerie who was exiled to the mortal world after he murdered his brother. As the result of his father’s curse, Peter must return to Faerie every seven years to pay a “teind” (a tithe or tribute) of silver, gold, or human souls. During lean years, when he isn’t able to come up with the money, Peter uses his music to lure children to Faerie. This explains the famous Hamelin incident in 1284, and it also accounts for “missing” children throughout history, including those lost during the medieval Children’s Crusade and the “lost princes” in the Tower.
Just like in the original fairy tale, in this book, Peter lures the children away from Callie’s town because he hasn’t been paid. (Not for getting rid of rats, but for a Brass Rat concert, where the organizers refused to pay the band, saying all the money was earmarked for charity.) Although Peter is definitely a selfish character, I felt a little sympathy for him, given that he’s been dealing with the curse for hundreds of years. At one point he actually admits remorse for all the children he has abducted.On a scale of Pied Piper nastiness, he’s nowhere near as bad as Max (from Peter & Max).
How does this stack up as a retelling?
Unlike other retellings, this book does not recreate the Hamelin story, but gives it a modern twist. Having the Piper be an exiled faerie prince added another magical dimension to the legend, and Peter’s backstory was like a fairy tale in itself. I loved that Peter was not only a magical Piper, but also a rock musician. The fact that he lures the children away on Halloween night definitely adds to the spooky vibe.
The rock band, Brass Rat, reminded me a lot of the 1970s folk-rock band, Jethro Tull, whose lead singer, Ian Anderson, was also a flute player. The group was known for using folklore and fantasy images in their music, and they even have a song called The Pied Piper! As a added bonus, the back of Pay the Piper contains the lyrics to six of Brass Rat’s songs.
Overall, this is a quick, fun read, although I wish it had been longer. At only 166 pages, the story is over much too quickly, and I would have enjoyed spending more time with the characters in the Faerie world.