Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Children, listen to me...

Book: Der Struwwelpeter
Author: Dr. Heinrich Hoffman

title or description

Dr. Heinrich Hoffman’s Der Struwwelpeter was one of those deliciously ghastly German children books my father read to me as a child. ‘Twas not pleasant reading then, I much preferred Sleeping Beauty The Princess and the Pea. But I find it morbidly fascinating nowadays. Though it’s overflowing with blood compared to modern children’s lit, it’s not that unique for what used to be written. (Read the original version of Cinderella in Grimms’ Fairly Tales - it’s just as horrifying.) Overall, “gothic” may be an apt word to describe the mood of these stories, even though they’re illustrated in vivid colors. Being home, I pulled the dusty book down from the shelf last night and opened it once again.

Der Struwwelpeter translates into “Shock-Headed Peter” – smelly and nasty Peter, if you will. And he’s only one of the characters who appear in these cautionary tale. The Forward shows the awards that come to good children – those who play nicely, eat their bread, and walk nicely with Mommy get pretty picture books (like the one the author has written). But the following stories all illustrate the tragedy and horror that befall children who do not listen to their elders – children who are naughty, stubborn, and cruel to others.

There are biting dogs, girls burned alive, St. Nicholas dunking boys into inkstands, a hunter hounded by a hare with a shotgun (clearly, an ancestor of Bugs), and a boy who starves to death because he refuses to eat his soup. Wholesome, edifying stuff, to be sure.

But the story I’ve always remembered most was that about a boy who wouldn’t stop sucking his thumbs. Others must’ve found it just as haunting, because I came across a creepy animation of the tale that’s excellent in the most evil of ways. I think the creator is a little unfair to Hoffman, making the tale darker than it truly is and being completely wrong in linking it to the Third Reich, but it’s still pretty amazing. This can give you nightmares and is a good way to get into the Halloween spirit.

If interested, here’s the link to an English translation by Mark Twain, along with the original images. The first page is missing from his translation for some reason, but I’ve linked to it here. I don’t know why Twain left it out. Maybe he thought it was too “goody-goody” compared to the darkness that followed.

posted by Elizabeth at 8:52 PM


Blogger reyn said...

That looks like a Monty Python animation of Edward Gorey. Or Jeffrey Dahmer's scrapbooking project. It's a wonder you turned out as normal as you did, Elizabeth!

10/25/2006 7:57 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Whoever said anything about me turning out normal?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go alphabetize my collection of human ears.

10/25/2006 7:59 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

Elizabeth normal? You must be confused Reyn.

Elizabeth, I've always wondered about you, and now I finally know why you are the way you are... your dad made you read messed up books when you were little and very impressionable.


10/26/2006 7:26 AM  
Blogger reyn said...

ok, ok, fair enough...

I should have said "It's a wonder you haven't already been committed to an asylum for the criminally fucked up."

But for me, that's about as "normal" as it gets. Everything's relative.

(Do you sort the ears by set, or do all of the left ears come before the right ears?)

10/26/2006 7:31 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Oh no, I only preserve the left ears. They're always of a far superior quality. The right ones I feed to my flesh-eating goldfish, Razor.

10/26/2006 10:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi -

Thank you for linking to my animation, I'm happy you liked it. Just out of curiosity, though, why do you think I was being unfair to Hoffman? And why do you think it completely wrong to relate the book to the Third Reich?


7/28/2007 10:48 AM  

Post a Comment