Saved from the Music
A review of Jay Asher and Jessica Freeburg’s Piper (Penguin Random House, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Fairy tales have frequently invoked disability, often using the disabled body as a motivating point for stories of change and transformation. Jay Asher and Jessica Freeburg’s graphic novel Piper explores the question of what would happen if the Pied Piper of Hamelin encountered a young woman who is Deaf and therefore couldn’t hear the allure of his magical pipe. Maggie, a young Deaf woman who has been ostracised by her village, becomes a foil for the Pied Piper, a person who has a strength that counters that of the Pied Piper. She has the ability to resist control because of being Deaf.
Maggie became Deaf when children put her in a barrel when she was a child and throughout her life she experienced ostracism and violence from the rest of her community. When the Piper arrives in her town, the first thing he notices is the prevalence of violence and oppression in the community and the power that those in positions of authority or wealth exert over the rest of the community. He notices that the town has a rat infestation, which is has the ability to counter with his ability to summon rats with his pipe, but he also reads the imbalance of power in the town and wants vengeance for those who are attacked by the community. His own father died as a result of violence from a community that ostracized him and this has left the Piper aware of the violence that ostracism can visit on those who don’t conform.
Asher and Freeburg give us a modified version of the tale, giving further context to why the Piper eventually lures all of the children away from the village beyond the fact that the town doesn’t pay him for removing all of the rats.
The tale evokes disability again when the kidnapping of the village’s children is discovered after a disabled child is unable to keep up with the rest of the children and therefore escapes the Piper’s abduction, therefore situating this tale as one that uses disability and Deafness as symbolic media within the context of the tale, associating bodily difference as a way to demonstrate the town of Hamelin’s abuse toward disempowered groups.
This is also a fairy tale within a fairy tale since Maggie creates stories about those who have been violent toward her. She shifts the narratives that are imposed on her and remakes herself into a position of power by retelling her experiences as fairy tales. Ultimately, she shifts the tale of the Piper of Hamelin, her own tale, in order to modify it, remaking the story into the one that is familiar from legend and obscuring the reality of the tale.
To find out more about Piper, visit https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/539282/piper-by-jay-asher-and-jessica-freeburg-illustrated-by-jeff-stokely/9780448493664/