Kindertransport by Diane Samuels

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15 ‘Happy Hamlyn’ – Faith’s interjection in ‘real time’ seems to cover a few minutes of Helga’s reading as the rats have already, it appears, disappeared into the Weser.

16 ‘FAITH (looking at a picture). Counting their blessings for being so lucky…’ – Possibly Faith is translating the title of an illustration; her words strangely echo those of Helga, who has just said ‘the good people counted their blessings’.

16 ‘one very wicked soul who was ungrateful and did not count’ – This is not part of the original Ratcatcher story: instead it resembles several moral tales which focus on a single wicked individual who is punished for his or her bad behaviour. The idea is a staple of folklore, perhaps most familiar in the story of Peeping Tom, the little boy who looked at Lady Godiva riding naked through the streets of Coventry and who was struck blind for his wickedness. The moral of the version of Der Rattenfänger that Helga is reading is that if children don’t count their blessings they will be taken away from their parents by the Ratcatcher bogeyman.

16 ‘Mr Ingratitude. Jesus.’ – Faith is presumably shocked by the over-simple and harsh moral message of the tale.

16 ‘RATCATCHER. I will find you./ HELGA. It spat./ RATCATCHER. I will search you out whoever wherever you are.’ – This aspect of the Ratcatcher is similar to Robert Helpmann’s character of the Child Catcher in the popular Hollywood musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang . One of the character’s most famous lines is: ‘I smell children!’

16 ‘FAITH (turning onto another page). My God, and the shadow growing legs…/ HELGA. “…and strong arms and sharp spiky nails…”/ EVA. And eyes like razors.’ – This characterisation is a long way from the traditional Pied Piper, but it draws on a long fascination in folklore with real ratcatchers who, of course, provided a vital service to society, particularly during periods of bubonic plague. Such individuals were often humorously given the characteristics of the creatures they hunted: a famous – and recent – example may be found in Roald Dahl’s story ‘The Ratcatcher’:

The man was lean and brown with a sharp face and two long sulphur-coloured teeth that protruded from the upper jaw, overlapping the lower lip, pressing it inwards. The ears were thin and pointed and set far back on the head, near the nape of the neck. The eyes were almost black, but when they looked at you there was a flash of yellow somewhere inside them.

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Diane Samuels