BBC News in the Travel Section has an article today about the Pied Piper: The Grim Truth Behind the Pied Piper by Raphael Kadushin.
The tale in fact has survived for a very long time. Originating as medieval folklore, the story inspired a Goethe verse, Der Rattenfänger; a Grimm Brothers’ legend, The Children of Hamelin; and one of Robert Browning’s best-known poems, The Pied Piper of Hamelin. And although each writer tinkered with the story, the basics remained the same: the Piper was hired by Hamelin to rid the town of its plague of rats. Trailing after the hypnotic notes of the rat-catcher’s magical flute, the rodents politely filed through the city gates to their presumed doom.
They weren’t the only ones lured by his music, though. When the town refused to pay the Piper for his service, the saviour turned into a more satanic seducer and came for Hamelin’s children. Entranced by the notes of his flute, the transfixed boys and girls followed the Piper out of town and simply vanished.
The article goes on to describe many ways Hamelin capitalizes on the tale, from rat shaped bread and other dishes to reenactments. Then it delves deepest into the possible sources of the tale which is a complex set of theories such as there is for many popular tales.
And it's always fun to read about folklore in the popular media. Even one--or especially one--with macabre elements.
Read D. L. Ashliman's Pied Piper of Hameln page, including the Grimms' version of the tale.
Read about the Pied Piper on Wikipedia.