Myths That Every Child Should Know A Selection Of The Classic Myths Of All Times For Young People
Page: 3When the people found that the city was really free from rats they were ungrateful enough to say that the piper had used magic, which was believed to be the practice of the evil spirit, and refused to carry out their part of the contract. The stranger went off in a great rage and threatened to come back again and take payment in his own way. On St. John's Day, which was a time of great festivity, he suddenly reappeared, blew a new and beguiling air on his pipe, and immediately every child in the city felt as if a hand had seized him and ran pell-mell after the musician as he climbed the mountain, in which a door suddenly opened, and through that door all, save a lame boy, passed and were never seen again.
From this old story probably came the proverb about paying the piper; and it is one of many stories which turn on the magical power of a voice or a sound to draw men, women, and children to their doom. These very interesting stories are not like the stories which are made up just to please people and help them pass away the time; they are different forms of one story—the story of the wind, told by people who thought that the wind was not what we call a force but a person, and that when he called those who heard must follow if he chose; for "the piper is no other than the wind, and the ancients held that in the wind were the souls of the dead."
If every time we think of a force we should think of a person, we should see the world as the men and women who made the myths saw it. Everything that moved, or made a sound, or flashed out light, or gave out heat was a person to them; they could not think of the wind rushing through the trees or the storm devastating the fields without out imagining someone like themselves, only more powerful, behind the uproar and destruction, any more than we can see a lantern moving along the road at night without thinking instinctively that somebody is carrying it.
Our idea of the world is scientific because it is based on exact though by no means complete knowledge; the myth-makers' idea of the world was poetic because, with very incomplete knowledge, they could not imagine how anything could be done unless it was done as they did things. When the black clouds gather on a summer afternoon and roll up the sky in great, terrifying masses, and the lightning flashes from them and the crash of the thunder fills the air and the rain beats down the crops, we feel as if we were in the laboratory of nature seeing a wonderful experiment made; when our ancestors saw the same spectacle they were sure that a great dragon, breathing fire and roaring with anger, was ravaging the earth. As children to-day imagine that dolls are alive, that fairies dance in moonlit meadows on summer nights, or beasts or Indians make the sounds in the woods, so the people who made the myths filled the world with creatures unlike themselves, but with something of human intelligence, feeling and will.