The Pied Piper of Hamlin is a tale that goes back to the Middle Ages. There’s been a lot of speculation as to whether it was real and if so what the piper’s reason was for taking the children. Although he’s often made out as a villain or worse, the real reason such a person would have for taking the children could be a lot more benign.
As to whether such a person could have driven out the rats is speculative. It has been proven that the sound produced by a pipe does affect rats and mice, so it is theoretically possible that a pipe could be used as part of the process of catching rats. And it is known that musicians of the time travelled and may have even had to do odd jobs to make ends meet. “Pied” simply means colorful, which would be perfectly in keeping with the musician’s trade.
So it’s perfectly acceptable that such a person could exist. Whether such a person did exist is debatable. Every expert has their own opinion. But let’s assume that such a person existed and events unfolded as they did in the story as we know it today. That leaves the cliffhanger question of what use would the piper have for the children and what did he do with them?
In order to understand what interest he would have in the children, it must be understood that at the time it was acceptable to sell children. Children were considered property, although maybe not to the extent as blacks were during the slavery of early America. This is not a fact commonly talked about or well known, but it was a way to allow poor families to make some money while assuring that their children would not die of starvation. It was essentially an early form of adoption which compensated the parents. Child labor laws and other laws that we currently have to protect children didn’t exist back then. Even slavery was practiced.
But it wasn’t as bad for the children as it might sound. Many of those who “bought” the children would be merchants who could afford them. And those children would then be taught the “family” trade so that they could then take over the business. In many cases it was a step up for those children. And it wasn’t that commonplace. After all, healthy children were not only an asset for their strength and their ability to contribute to the family, but also part of the family. Giving up a child wouldn’t have been any easier then as it is now.
If we consider this fact it gives cause as to what the Pied Piper’s motivations were. Having been stiffed by the city council for his payment, he took the children as compensation. He would then in turn sell those children to make back the money he was due. This action in his mind, and likely the minds of most of the people of the time, would be no different than a landlord who might seize a tenant’s property for overdue rent. It also explains why the lame child in the story was turned away; being lame he would have had little value and could easily be more trouble than he was worth.
Of course whether the Pied Piper really did exist, as well as all other aspects of the story, are speculative. There’s just isn’t enough, if any, evidence left today to determine the truth behind the story. There does seem to be some evidence to show that people from Hamlin may have emigrated to other places, but there’s no way to know how or when that happened. Some think the children came to harm, but there’s not really any evidence to back that up, and it’s more likely that if the piper was that mean he would have brought harm to the adults or the town itself, not the children. Some interpretations of the story show the children going to some sort of magical playland, which is obviously false. But it is possible that the children if sold and adopted would have found themselves better lives than they had in Hamlin.
As to what lives they did live is lost to history, as are the facts of the story. All one can do is speculate. But if one considers that the children were taken as compensation then it helps to make the story more believable and the piper’s actions, though not acceptable at least understandable. It also reinterprets the saying “time to pay the piper” because it means if you don’t give what you said you were going to then you could loose something you value most.