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Literature: Struwwelpeter
aka: Der Struwwelpeter
The nightmare of thumb-suckers everywhere.
Der Struwwelpeter (Shaggy-Peter or Shockheaded Peter), written and illustrated by Heinrich Hoffmann, is an 1845 German children's book filled with cautionary tales. These cautionary tales are more grim than others, however — they often end in death or dismemberment for the child. They are a source of plenty of Nightmare Fuel, too.

There are ten stories, each of them rhyming and illustrated. They are:

  • "Shockheaded Peter" ("Struwwelpeter"): Peter doesn't groom himself, until he is universally detested.
  • "The Story of Bad Frederick" ("Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich"): A mean kid terrorizes adults and animals, until a dog bites him, causing him to lie through a bitter medicine treatment.
  • "The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches" ("Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug"): Pauline plays with matches and burns to death.
  • "The Story of the Inky Boys" ("Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben"): Three kids who tease a black boy get their just desserts when Nikolaus (or "Agrippa" in at least one translation) dips them into ink.
  • "The Story of the Wild Huntsman" ("Die Geschichte von dem wilden Jäger"): A hare steals a hunter's rifle and eyeglasses and hunts him.
  • "The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb" ("Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher"): Little Suck-a-Thumb's mother warns him not to suck his thumbs, but he does anyway. So the Scissorman snips them off.
  • "The Story of Kaspar who did not have any Soup" ("Die Geschichte vom Suppen-Kaspar"): Kaspar (or Augustus, depending on the translation) refuses to eat his soup, so over five days, he slowly wastes away and dies.
  • "The Story of Fidgety Philip" ("Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp"): Philip fidgits too much at the dinner table and spills the food onto the floor.
  • "The Story of Johnny Head-in-Air" ("Die Geschichte von Hans Guck-in-die-Luft"): Johnny doesn't pay attention to where he's walking, so he falls into a river. (He lives, though, unlike some of the other stories.)
  • "The Story of Flying Robert" ("Die Geschichte vom fliegenden Robert"): Robert goes outside during a storm and the wind picks up his umbrella, carrying him off never to be seen again.

Needless to say, please don't read these stories to your children if you don't want them to have nightmares.

An episode ofVan der Valk, a long-running British crime drama, features a Serial Killer who takes revenge on his victims by subjecting them to the same fates as in the stories. Interestingly enough, the "Johnny Head-in-Air" victim, although intended to drown, does in fact live.

An English translation was done by Mark Twain under the title Slovenly Peter (though that translation was not published before 1935).

Struwwelpeter was adapted into the opera Shockheaded Peter (premiered in 1998), with music by The Tiger Lillies.

Struwwelpeter provides examples of:

  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Here are some things this book discourages; racism, playing with dangerous objects, beating animals, starving yourself... and thumb-sucking.
  • Black Comedy
  • Color Me Black: "The Story of the Inky Boys". This is slight variant of the trope as the three boys are not turned into "blackamoors" themselves by the ink, but instead are transformed into solid black silhouettes that hardly look human.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The thumb-sucker.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Literally in this case.
  • Enfante Terrible:
    Here is cruel Frederick, see!
    A horrid wicked boy was he;
    He caught the flies, poor little things,
    And then tore off their tiny wings,
    He killed the birds, and broke the chairs,
    And threw the kitten down the stairs;
    And oh! far worse than all beside,
    He whipped his Mary, till she cried.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Pauline, who played with matches.
    And see! oh, what dreadful thing!
    The fire has caught her apron-string;
    Her apron burns, her arms, her hair?
    She burns all over everywhere.
    • As well as Kaspar, who didn't eat his soup.
    Look at him, now the fourth day's come!
    He scarcely weighs a sugar-plum;
    He's like a little bit of thread,
    And, on the fifth day, he was — dead!
  • Fingore
  • Humanoid Abomination: Possibly the great, tall, red-legged Scissorman, who arrives (with the speed of teleportation) at the house of a thumb-sucker for the express purpose of mutilating the kid's hands and disappearing again.
  • Jerkass: Frederick from "The Story of Bad Frederick".
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Nikolaus dips the racist kids into a gigantic inkwell for harassing a black boy.
    • The hare turning the tables on the Huntsman.
  • Never Found the Body:
    Soon they got to such a height,
    They were nearly out of sight.
    And the hat went up so high,
    That it nearly touched the sky.
    No one ever yet could tell
    Where they stopped, or where they fell:
    Only this one thing is plain,
    Bob was never seen again!
  • Oral Fixation: A boy who sucks his thumb is ambushed by a man cutting them off as punishment!
  • Scare 'Em Straight
  • Space Whale Aesop
  • Talking Animal:
    The pussy-cats heard this,
    And they began to hiss,
    And stretch their claws,
    And raise their paws;
    "Me-ow," they said, "me-ow, me-o,
    You'll burn to death, if you do so."
  • Too Dumb to Live: Most of the children in the stories.
    • In the 1998 stage musical adaptation, plotlines were altered slightly so everyone dies.
  • Truth in Television: Playing with Lucifer matches really could burn you to death that quickly, though not as cartoonishly. Also, if you stop eating, you'll die, eventually.
  • Wild Hair:
    Just look at him! there he stands,
    With his nasty hair and hands.
    See! his nails are never cut;
    They are grimed as black as soot;
    And the sloven, I declare,
    Never once has combed his hair;
    Anything to me is sweeter
    Than to see Shock-headed Peter.

The Sorrows of Young WertherGerman LiteratureSuleyken
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 19 th Century LiteratureThe Swiss Family Robinson
The StupidsPicture BooksThe Tailor of Gloucester
The StupidsChildren's LiteratureStuart Little

alternative title(s): Shockheaded Peter; Der Struwwelpeter; The Struwwelpeter; Der Struwwelpeter; Slovenly Peter; Shockheaded Peter; Shockheaded Peter; Struwwelpeter
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