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Meet the Anton Fellows: In pursuit of the piper

Interview with Emily Darling
"In Transylvania there's a tribe
Of alien people who ascribe
The outlandish ways and dress
On which their neighbours lay such stress,
To their fathers and mothers having risen
Out of some subterraneous prison
Into which they were trepanned
Long time ago in a mighty band
Out of Hamelin town in Brunswick land,
But how or why, they don't understand."
--From the Pied Piper of Hamelin Town by Robert Browning
Unlike many Americans, Emily Darling '03 knows that Count Dracula's Transylvania is actually a real place, located in the country of Romania in eastern Europe. Emily also knows that the legend of Dracula is not the only popular folktale associated with that region. An Anton Fellowship allowed her to follow the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and the children he spirited away, to a cave in Transylvania. Below is a summary of a September 2003 interview in which she discussed her journey and her research.

Why did you want to go to Transylvania?

I wanted to go for two reasons, first, to research the Pied Piper tale's connection with Transylvania, and second, to look at building restoration projects in Romania.

How did you become interested in the Pied Piper story?

I've always been interested in storytelling and myth making, and how those processes are reflective of communities and individuals. Literature of the medieval period is my particular interest, and I had started researching nursery rhymes that originated during that time. In the process, I stumbled across the folktale about the Pied Piper of Hamelin Town. Although, the Grimm brothers were the first to transcribe the story, most people know of it from the 19th century poem by Robert Browning.

The story is set in the 12th century town of Hamelin, Germany, where a Pied Piper comes to rid the town of rats. Even though he accomplishes this task successfully, the townspeople refuse to pay him. In revenge he spirits all the children away, and they're never seen again. Many versions of the story refer to a cave located somewhere Transylvania, to which the children have supposedly been taken. I decided this would be a fascinating topic to explore, and am planning to continue working on it in part for my master's thesis.

Can you comment more on your interest in building restoration?

I minored in art history, and, during my junior and senior years, I worked for Preservation Worcester. Clark itself is also involved with the restoration and reuse of old property in its immediate neighborhood. Romania has a surprising number of restoration projects underway, and I wanted to find out how, in a country that's still recovering from communism, restoration is funded. While in Romania, I planned to visit the sites of sites of churches and other properties being restored, and talk to archaeologists and preservationists.

I understand that you stayed with a Count who assisted you with some of your literary and preservation-related interests. How did you connect with him?

Via the internet and some phone calls. I came across an article in a British magazine that mentioned a Count Kálnoky, and his interest in Romanian building restoration. I sent him an email and told him what I was doing. He offered to help me find my way around and to introduce me to preservationists and scholars.

What is his story?

His family had been forced to leave Romania in the 20th century when Romania became communist. When the Ceausescu regime ended, the Count returned to Romania and reclaimed one of his family's properties, a hunting lodge in a tiny village called Miclosoara. He's trying to restore his family's property, and provide some economic support for the village in the form of tourism. There are two guest houses, and I was able to stay there fairly inexpensively. The food served is locally grown, and the facilities are staffed by people from the village. But it can be difficult trying to build community morale, because people still are very suspicious since Ceausescu.

Romania is a country without a lot of paved roads and not much signage. At times, I rode about in a horse and cart because there weren't many cars. And it's often hard to find your way around. If it hadn't been for the Count, I wouldn't have been able to discover many of the things I did, including the cave attributed to the Pied Piper story.

How did you pursue the Pied Piper story?

I was able to speak to villagers about the oral tradition of folktales, the role that story-telling played, and if they had heard the Pied Piper tale. Almost everyone had. Sometimes people would refer to the cave, or mentioned that they had learned the story from a grandparent. One woman in the Moldavia region produced a letter from her great-grandfather, telling how he had visited the Pied Piper cave, and how it had recalled for him memories of his mother telling the story. That was really wonderful, to see how the story had a multi-generational presence. I used an excerpt from that letter in the introduction to my honor's thesis.

The cave itself, called Almas cave, is about 17 kilometers north of Miclosoara. It was a day-long trek to get there. There's no sign indicating its connection to the story.

The connection between Germany and Romania appears to date back to the 12th century, when people from the old Saxony region of Germany were invited to settle in Transylvania. That migration took place about the time the story supposedly occurred. Additionally, I spoke with a couple scholars from the University of Stuttgart in Germany. One of them has been tracing the evolution of place names as evidence for links between the two countries. There was also a children's crusade around that time and perhaps the legend reflects a merging of historical events.

I also visited the folklore center at the University of Bucharest and talked with some professors there. I'd like to go to Hamelin someday, and follow the German side of the story. I'm actually continuing my Pied Piper research with my master's degree. I'm going to look at the Lord of Misrule, a character who dates back to classical times. I think the Pied Piper can be viewed as an alternative "lord of misrule," someone who changes the conventions of a society by leading its children away.

And what did you find out about restoration funding?

A lot of the restoration appears to be funded by private individuals and governments outside Romania. For example, one of the churches I went to in a former Saxon village was being restored by a German foundation. A village was being restored by a group in England. Sadly, many of the properties under restoration have only been partially completed. Money tends to disappear as there's still a lot of corruption.

Traveling in a formerly communist country must have been an adventure.

I was very nervous when I went. I wasn't sure what the people would be like and how, as an American, I'd be received. But everyone was very friendly and very curious about the American view of eastern Europe. They were very inquisitive about American culture as well.

At one point I stayed with a 22-year old Romanian girl who was trying to decide what field she wanted to work in after finishing school. She said when she was a young girl under Ceausescu, she had always felt like the rest of the world was in color, while Romania was in black and white. Now that tourists are visiting Romania, she's beginning to realize that her country is very much in color. It was interesting to hear the perspective of Romanians.

Romanian students are required to take English in school, and I was very impressed with how well many younger people could speak it. And many middle-aged people try to teach themselves. In Transylvania, which was at one time part of Hungary, students must take both Hungarian and Romanian. But Romanian itself is a Romance language, and not too unfamiliar if you know another Romance language.

The Transylvania region is complicated. Some people think of themselves as Hungarian, some associate with Romania, and some want to be completely independent. Miclosoara is a Hungarian village, and it was interesting learning a bit of that language. But only an hour away people spoke Romanian. The gypsy population also adds to the cultural mix.

I understand that before starting the master's degree program, you completed a B.A. at Clark as an English major.

Right, although I didn't come to Clark until my junior year. I grew up in Worcester, but hadn't really thought about going to school here. After completing two years at American University in Washington, D.C., I studied for two semesters, in Italy and in England, and then worked for three years. When I finished my B.A. at Clark, I was able to enter the master's degree program, courtesy of a Resident Scholarship offered by the English department.

How did you find out about the Anton Fellowship?

I received a flyer in campus mail. Having completed two semesters abroad, I wanted to do more traveling and combine it with research, and the Fellowship sounded like a good opportunity. So I met with English professor SunHee Gertz, and she agreed to sponsor my application for the Fellowship.

Are there any other ways that receiving the fellowship has helped you?

Yes. I benefited in another way from my trip to Romania. It turned out that one of my colleagues at Preservation Worcester was involved with a small local organization called Romanian Children's Relief. I now work with them, and I'll be returning to Romania once a year. So it's really wonderful. If I hadn't received an Anton Fellowship, I wouldn't have had this professional advantage. And I get to dig into the Pied Piper story a little more every time I go back. The academic possibilities that Clark offers are much more in tune with life possibilities. I think that's one of the more important things about the Anton Fellowships.
* Transylvania means "across the forests."

 

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Emily Darling
 Academic possibilities, life possibilities QuickTime

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The Germany- Transylvania connection. Enlarge.








Saxon village in the hills of Transylvania.


St. Ana's Lake.


Looking out of the Pied Piper cave.


Rush hour in Miclosoara.


Horse and cart driver.


Count Kalnoky's Hunting Lodge.


An unrestored home.


After restoration in Viscri.

Photos of Romania above copyright 2003 by Emily Darling.


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