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The Pied Piper of Hamelin: legend, story or poem for kids?

The Wolf and Seven Kids can be used an example of a relationship between legends and first fairy tales.

Kate Greenaway's illustration of Pied Piper of Hamelin

Kate Greenaway's illustration of Pied Piper of Hamelin

The truth behind the Pied Piper

In the 13th century, something terrible happened in the German town Hameln (Hamelin). Nobody knows what. We may only guess. It was probably connected with rats, plague, broken promises and great losses.

How was that connected with a man in colorful clothes, the man called Pied Piper? How much truth lies behind the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin? With a help of pictures, we'll check its summary, make simple analysis and try to separate the wheat from the chaff.

(Image by Kate Greenaway, all images (except for Amazon's) on this page are in public domain and royalty free)

Pied Piper of Hamelin's Story

Town was infested with rats...

Town was infested with rats...

Pied piper saved the town from rats

Pied piper saved the town from rats

A short summary is pretty simple.

The town of Hamelin was infested with rats. Citizens were desperate and when a stranger in colorful clothes offered his help, they promised him good payment.

He started to play his pipe and soon rats started to come out from everywhere. Pied piper walked through the Hamelin and all rats followed him in sort of trance. They walked out to the river and rats, one by one entered the water.

They drowned and the city was saved!

But ...

The Pied Piper Demanded His Payment

They will not pay!

They will not pay!

The major refused to pay the piper. Why should he keep his word anyway? The rats were already gone and they will not come back, right?

Kids will leave forever

Kids will leave forever

So the piper leaves the Hamelin in anger.

Not for long. He soon got back, this time with a different tune of his pipe. This time, its melody didn't charm the rats. Instead, kids followed him. All kids, older than four, including major's daughter.

Their parents couldn't stop them. Nothing could stop the kids going after the piped piper. Out of the city. Nobody heard about them again.

But what they will remember forever ... Something all of as will remember ...

For all the visual types... - (and free for premium users)

The legend about the events in Hamelin inspired many works.

Piper took the children for good

Parents were devastated

Parents were devastated

The summary of The Pied Piper of Hamelin above is not just a retelling of something that might or might not happen many years ago. It is telling us how important is to keep one's promise.

This is not a classic fairy tale about an importance of a given word like a story of frog king. It is more a cautionary tale like a story of red riding hood.

Major against piper (Oskar Herrfurth)

Major against piper (Oskar Herrfurth)

It's a legend, not a fairy tale

Although the Piper of Hamelin was included in earlier editions of fairy tales by brothers Grimm (illustrations are from the poem by Robert Browning, written about half century later), it is really not a fairy tale. It is more appropriate to be classified as a legend.

Legends are in general based on true people and true events. It doesn't matter they can be exaggerated beyond recognition. It doesn't matter if there are some magical objects (like the flute in this case) included. We can only compare the elements, typical for the genre and here we go:

* We know the place (Hamelin, Germany)

* We know time (13th century)

* We know people (not exactly, but somebody, probably a stanger arrived and had agreement and likely a disagreement with a major and/or some influential people in town)

* We know something bad happened to children in town (maybe not all of them and maybe they were not real children).

What is your opinion?

What really happened in Hamelin?

What really happened in Hamelin?

Let's take a step back.

History can only rely on proofs.

This is what we know:

* In the 13th century, many cities in Europe had problems with rats and diseases related to these rodents. Bubonic plague was one of them. A rat catcher was a common profession.

* Many diseases were related to lesions and these lesions stayed visible at many survivors of diseases.

* Children were most vulnerable and they made the majority of victims.

* Diseases were not the only problem in those times. Famine, wars and other dangers were part of everyday's lives.

* Buying and selling children was a common practice.

And this is what we can speculate:

His clothes can represent lesions

His clothes can represent lesions

* A stranger came into the town of Hamelin in times of plague. Visible lesions (in the story presented as a colorful cloth) proved he survived the disease and is now immune. So he was able to offer some sort of help but didn't receive the payment he expected.

Maybe his price was too high, maybe he demanded more than they agreed, at first, maybe the major decided to deceive him, maybe something else happened, but we can pretty safely assume some kind of dirty game was involved.

Why kids left the town of Hamelin?

Why kids left the town of Hamelin?

* No matter what happened, it was closely connected with children and water. But the word children was maybe used metaphorically. Citizens were sometimes called 'the children of the town', so the victims (if any) could be adults too. There is a theory that children (real or adult or both) left the town for some reason.

And water can be used only as a medium for transmission of disease or as a path through kids left.

* In the 13th century, The Children's Crusade happened (although several decades before the event in Hamelin). This is not well documented and is often mixed with different wars and selling people (not necessary kids) into slavery.

* In those times many people from some areas in today's Germany (including Hamelin) moved to Eastern and Central Europe where Mongol invasions devastated huge areas and suddenly a huge amount of free land was available.

Only handicapped were spared of military obligations

According to the poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin only two handicapped kids stayed in town

According to the poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin only two handicapped kids stayed in town

* Of course, wealthy people didn't risk with such voyages, but poor ones, orphans and others could be somehow forced to try their luck. This theory is supported by a study of surnames in some areas in Eastern Europe which are surprisingly similar to surnames in Germany. Surname Hamel (from Hamelin?) is surprisingly often in Polish phone books!

Exodus?

Check the position of Hamelin (Germany) and Poland as one of the possible destinations!

If you liked the story... - ...you can continue the voyage!

I collaborate at several on-line projects dedicated to fairy tales and vintage picture books. Feel free to explore following addresses.

Do you believe stories as The Pied Piper of Hamelin should be included in collections of books for children? - (Or they are just too dark and pessimistic?)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on December 27, 2014:

Yes, peachpurple, it is a legend with historical background. We'll never know what really happened, but this should not stop us from learning a lesson. Thanks for stopping by!

peachy from Home Sweet Home on December 26, 2014:

So this is a legend story not just a fairytale, tq

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on September 15, 2014:

Thanks, C.V.:)

Disillusioned from Kerala, India on September 14, 2014:

Good extrapolation!

C.V.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on December 13, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: Thanks for stopping by.

WriterJanis2 on December 11, 2013:

I see you updated this so I am back for another look.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on July 20, 2013:

@Melissa Miotke: Agreed!

Melissa Miotke from Arizona on July 18, 2013:

I think it's a little too dark personally but then many stories for children are...

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on June 01, 2013:

@anonymous: ;)

anonymous on May 31, 2013:

I had only ever heard the part about the rats and when I read about the children, I swear I heard my heart drop with a thump. A worker is worthy of his hire, which just means pay what is due. There are repercussions in life for not honoring your word and this is a stark example. The way you've told it would have impact for sure and would cause children to think. Masterfully done once again! :)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 30, 2013:

@Cynthia Haltom: It's a great story, isn't it?

Cynthia Haltom from Diamondhead on May 30, 2013:

I always read this story to my class.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 26, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: :)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 26, 2013:

@renewedfaith2day: We'll never know for sure, but we can still learn something, right?

renewedfaith2day on May 26, 2013:

Actually, I believe that there is an element of truth. There is an important moral here but something did happen in that region regarding the children of the municipality.

WriterJanis2 on May 26, 2013:

Pinning this.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 19, 2013:

@OhMe: The pleasure was all mine!

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on May 19, 2013:

I enjoyed reading about the Pied Piper and seeing the beautiful illustrations by Kate Greenaway. Thank you.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 17, 2013:

@siobhanryan: I appreciate it!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 17, 2013:

@DoctorMo1: Maybe, but on the other hand Harry Potter brought some old school romantic magic back, right?

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 17, 2013:

@dakadare: I'm glad you liked it!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 17, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: Thank you very much!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 17, 2013:

@aesta1: Good to hear that!

siobhanryan on May 17, 2013:

Blessed-no other words needed

DoctorMo1 on May 17, 2013:

Nice lens. In modern times, we are more knowledgeable than in centuries past. I believe kids today would prefer a more realistic story compared to a fairy tale.

dakadare on May 17, 2013:

Nice to hear a different take on an old story. Good work!

WriterJanis2 on May 16, 2013:

Back to bless this.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 16, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: Yes, we probably have to adapt it to suit the age of the listener.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on May 16, 2013:

I like your way of telling this legend and connect it to other interesting things. You make me feel like a child again.

WriterJanis2 on May 15, 2013:

I think the story should be included in it's fairy tell version for younger children, but not the rest of the story you filled in. However, I think older kids might find the realistic account quite interesting..

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 14, 2013:

@Arod17: Great to hear that!

Arod17 on May 14, 2013:

Great lens I really enjoyed it!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 14, 2013:

@genusvenus: I agree, younger students are great audience for this legend!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 14, 2013:

@anonymous: I suppose explanation could really come handy in this case:)

genusvenus on May 13, 2013:

Yes...I got it in my eighth standard syllabus and I recommend this to be included in collections of the younger students...It's moral...Great Lens!!!

anonymous on May 13, 2013:

I think it would be alright to include them, along with some explanation. Great lens!