As I rounded the corner to visit Scotland’s Brodie Castle, the last person I expected to meet was Struwwelpeter. Yet mixed among the fine art, antique furniture and centuries of history in this magnificent turreted castle, there he was. Staring at me from, appropriately enough, the shelf in the former nursery!
Truth is, until that very moment, I’d never even heard of Struwwelpeter. But, with a cover illustration equal parts bewitching and bewildering, I was desperate to learn more and made a mental note of the book’s title as interior photography was not allowed. Immediately upon my return to Edinburgh later that week, I scoured every secondhand bookstore in town until I finally unearthed this beautiful 1940 hardback edition.
Written and illustrated by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann in 1844, Struwwelpeter is a collection of cruel and frightening stories. Eager to buy his three-year son a book for Christmas yet dissatisfied with what was available, Hoffmann, a physician from Frankfurt, wrote his own book, which his friends then convinced him to publish. First appearing in 1845 under the title Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder (Merry Stories and Funny Pictures), Struwwelpeter was a smashing success! In fact, after Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Struwwelpeter is the most widely-published German children’s book EVER. Translated in excess of 35 languages, there have been over a thousand German editions published alone!
Unlike Aesop’s Fables in which talking animals steer the reader toward the path of moral righteousness, Struwwelpeter aims to teach children two lessons: One, there are plenty of ways for disobedient children to die painfully; and, two, their own stupidity and lack of 19th century Teutonic manners are almost always the cause. With gleeful abandon, the offending tykes are immolated, humiliated and mutilated by men with giant scissors!
Take Augustus for example. Augustus learned the hard way that, if you don’t eat, you will die IMMEDIATELY! Or Conrad. After sucking on it one too many times, Conrad’s thumb was promptly CUT OFF! And then there’s poor Harriett who was burned ALIVE because she refused to stop playing with matches! Struwwelpeter’s sin? BAD HYGIENE! His fate? A life spent unwanted and unloved.
Wickedly twisted, I STRONGLY recommend that you give this book a read. Late at night, with your children or your children’s children, just before bedtime. Sweet dreams, everyone!
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