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Literature / Struwwelpeter

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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.
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  • "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 a tailor 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 fidgets too much at the dinner table and spills the food onto the floor.
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  • "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.

An episode of Van 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 episode of The Office (US) also featured the book. Dwight Schrute attempts to use it to entertain the children of his coworkers on Bring Your Daughter To Work Day, only for Michael to quickly intervene due to the disturbing nature of the stories, telling Dwight, "The kids don't want to hear some weirdo book that your Nazi war criminal grandmother gave you."

Even in the Based on a True Story war film Rescue Dawn, the German-born USN aviator Dietrich Dengler has Flying Robert and his umbrella painted on the side of his plane.

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.

Can be read online here or here.

Struwwelpeter provides examples of:

  • An Aesop: Playing with matches (especially Lucifer matches, which will ignite on almost anything) is downright dangerous, and can lead to severe burns - even death - and material damage.
  • Aesop Collateral Damage: The hare nicks the shotgun of the huntsman. And fires! Grand total damage: a) one wet huntsman who avoided the bullet by jumping into the well, b) one scared huntsman's wife, the bullet hitting her coffeecup instead, c) one hare's leveretnote  burned by hot coffee, d) one Aesop (YMMV).
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Here are some things this book discourages; racism, playing with dangerous objects, beating animals, starving yourself... and thumb-sucking.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Frederick terrorizes small animals and a woman named Mary, until he gets bit by a dog and is injured on his leg.
    • The three boys who bully the black boy.
  • Black Comedy: The hare seizing the shotgun and shooting at the huntsman and his wife.
  • Color Me Black: "The Story of the Inky Boys". This is a 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 tailor cuts a boy's thumbs off for thumbsucking.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Literally in this case. After Frederick whips a dog, the dog bites him back on the leg.
  • 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: The child who keeps thumb-sucking gets the thumbs cut off by a tailor with giant scissors.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Possibly the great, tall, red-legged tailor, 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.
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: A young man who goes out shooting takes a nap; and a hare sneaks up and takes his gun and spectacles, and tries to shoot him.
  • Jerkass:
    • Frederick from "The Story of Bad Frederick". He abuses animals for fun and hits a woman.
    • The three boys who bully the black kid.
  • Kick the Dog: Frederick kicks a dog before being bitten by it.
  • 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!
  • Made of Incendium: Pauline, who plays with matches. The fire catches her apron string, and then she burns all over, everywhere.
  • Oral Fixation: A boy who sucks his thumb is ambushed by a man cutting them off as punishment!
  • Parasol Parachute: How Robert flies away in the storm.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The three boys who bully the black boy. Nikolaus punishes them by dipping them in a gigantic inkwell.
  • Shear Menace: The tailor uses lawn shears to cut off the child's thumbs.
  • Space Whale Aesop: Don't be racist or you'll be dipped in ink.
  • 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.
  • Token Adult: Out of all the victims, only one of them is an adult.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): The Struwwelpeter, Der Struwwelpeter, Slovenly Peter, Shockheaded Peter


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