First up, The Pied Piper is not technically a fairytale. It is a legend. Hamelin was a real place, and it is believed that once, in this German town of Hamelin, all of the children really did disappear one day.
June 26, 1284, is when 130 children left Hamelin a town in Lower Saxony, Germany. This information comes from a stained glass window created for the church of Hamelin, which dates to around 1300 AD. The window no longer exists — it was destroyed in 1660. It’s been written down in chronicles (in Latin language) that June 26 is when the children ‘left’. (Left, not ‘died’ or ‘were taken’.) Nothing else was written down — was it too painful to write more? Even today no one is quite sure why the children of Hamelin disappeared. There are several theories.
The story itself suggests that the children were ‘taken’ away by the black death or similar, personified in the tale by a man in a pied (colourful) suit. The problem with this theory is that if the children were taken away by the Black Death or similar, surely it would have been recorded somewhere. Mass deaths due to Black Death were recorded elsewhere. People who were able to write generally wrote to other towns nearby to let them know what was happening and what they might expect.
Another popular theory is that they were taken away for The Children’s Crusades. This is a very dark story dating from The Middle Ages. Young charismatic cult leaders convinced children to take Holy vows with the aim of ridding the land of Muslims. They needed kids to do it because they had ‘not yet sinned’. There’s no evidence of any children ever reaching the Holy Land. We don’t know how much of this legend is true. They were almost certainly much smaller than we’ve been lead to believe. There’s no evidence that Nicholas the Crusader ever came to Hamelin to recruit. It is possible the children of Hamelin became part of a Pagan cult. Germanic Paganism was in its death throes in 1284, so they may have become victim to some cult leaders who were desperate to revive the pagan way of thinking. The summer solstice is celebrated around that time of year, though a bit earlier these days (around June 20-22).
Others have suggested it was a ‘dancing plague’. For more on that look up Choreomania. There are plenty of stories of dancing mania in Germany at this time. One group of people even managed to break a bridge after too many were dancing on it at the same time. There were injuries. Holland and France also has reports of choreomania.
But there may be another reason an entire generation of children disappeared at once — the town may have been ransacked, with the children taken away as indentured slaves or married off elsewhere. This is not unheard of in history, and the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria overnight in April 2014. The Pied Piper could be a based on a news story similar to that.
This snippet turned into a proper tale (similar to the fairytales we read to our children today) in the next few hundred years. It was even said that someone in particular (named) saw it with his own eyes. At first there is no mention of rats. (In the 1400s version.) Continue reading