Book Review: After Hamelin, by Bill Richardson

Everyone knows the story of the Pied Piper. He charmed the rats out of the town of Hamelin, was not adequately rewarded for his after hamelinefforts, so he charmed the children out, too. But what happened after that? Did they recover the children? I don’t recall ever hearing the conclusion to the story. Does the Piper ever pay for his wickedness? After Hamelin, by Rill Richardson, is about the one girl left behind, and how her amazing gift helped to rescue the children of Hamelin. Richardson writes in the introduction, “Hamelin is a real town in the country we now call Germany, but this story is not tied to those particulars. It unfolds in a place that isn’t here and a time that isn’t now.”

The story is narrated by Penelope, the girl who was left behind. She is “re”telling the tale, as she is now 101 years old and writing her story to another little girl named Penelope. The elder Penelope confides, “I am Penelope. It is an easy name to remember. Even so, the people in this village seem to have entirely forgotten it. They call me ‘the funny old lady in the house with the harps’.” She is a bent and tattered woman, with a huge purple scar across her face. She is also deaf, but she can read the insults of the children on their lips. She wonders if they knew of her courage, of what they owe to her, would they mock her so? But she doesn’t bother to set those children straight, her story is meant for the young Penelope alone.

As Penelope writes it, the story “after Hamelin” is one full of adventure and intrigue. There’s nothing terribly new about the elements, and I can’t say my imagination was stretched beyond better, more original tales. Penelope is a true heroine, and the companions she picks up along the way are all gifted in their various ways. The Piper is never fully developed as a character, though we do learn a bit more about his past. His wickedness is simply explained as an evil seed that took root – a selfishness and pride that turned his powers to darkness. The only way to ultimately conquer him is likewise simplistic, but fits within the story.

There are a couple of themes I appreciated in the book; the power of music is examined to a degree, and the idea that everyone possesses a unique gift (bestowed on their “elevening,” or the day they turn 11 years old) is a given. I also have to confess, I like the talking cat. I’m always a sucker for things like that – it makes me look at my own two kitties and wonder what they’d say if they could (but maybe I’d rather not know!). I also found Penelope’s champion-level skipping skills to be a charming addition – in some cases, the skipping chants were better writing than the story itself.

I had some problems with the pacing of the book, as the author employs some devices that I find annoying in any book. It’s hard to explain, but I liken it to driving a car by gunning the engine, then screaching to a halt, gunning an engine, then screaching to a halt. There were a lot of times when foreshadowing was used, for example: “Had I known even a little of everything that was to happen, I would have prayed for time to stop, or to take me backwards instead. But time went on.” Then the storyline skips to another stage, and we don’t find out yet why she would have wanted time to stop. Then we read, “As it turned out, Cuthbert did have something surprising to tell me. But it was stranger than anything I could ever have imagined.” And again, we have to wait several pages to find out what Cuthbert said that was so extraordinary. Maybe it’s just me, but I get annoyed by this style. Just tell me the story, ok? And, in the case of this book, quit punctuating the story with “My name is Penelope. I am 101 years old.” I think the idea is to keep it authentic with the ramblings and rememberings of a very old woman, but I found it a bit unnecessary.

Still, I’m putting this in the “To be Swallowed” category, because I like when anyone attempts to take a well-known story and reincarnate it. It was an enjoyable story overall, and I do think it’s a great adventure story for 9-12 year olds (the suggested reading level) to cut their teeth on.

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