Saturday, November 18, 2006

Der Struwwelblog

It’s time for another edition of “Children’s books unsuitable for children.” This one is brought to you by my brother Scott (a.k.a. “He of the amazing memory”). Scott reminded me of a collection of stories called "Der Struwwelpeter" that my father used to read to us in the original German. Remarkably warped, these are cautionary tales meant to scare children into obedience, proper behavior and good hygiene. Think Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle joins the Gestapo. They don’t need much commentary, so just sit back and let the experience of it wash over you like a wave. A very very twisted wave.

Highlights from "Der Struwwelpeter"

Messy-head-Peter demonstrates what happens to little boys who do not comb their hair or trim their nails.
In an act of curiosity reminiscent of our monkey friend George, Pauline plays with matches and burns herself to a crisp. (I love the touching detail of her weeping cats next to the pile of ashes and empty little shoes).

Augustus refuses to eat his soup and wastes away to nothing. Note to self: read this story to my picky eaters on a daily basis until appetites improve.

As evidence that A.D.D. existed in the 19th century, Johnny Head-in-Air isn’t paying attention to where he’s going and he winds up swimming with the fishes.

And the piece de resistance (or whatever is the German equivalent): Konrad is cured from his thumb-sucking habit through a most…um…effective method. Beware the tall tailor with giant scissors.

My brother claims we begged Dad to read us these stories. I do not remember this. But then again, I have (through years of extensive therapy no doubt) managed to block out the entire book. My sister Kathy (a.k.a. “She of the one-time thumb sucking habit”) however, was traumatized for life.

(To see the whole text, go here or here)


Bernita said...

Sounds quite Goreyesque!

Anonymous said...

I solemly swear not to play with matches, eat my dinner (and soup), and not get A.D.D. There does THAT make you happy????????????

elasticwaistbandlady said...

AHHHHHHHHH! My 10 year old sucks her thumb still, and I wouldn't show her this book. Peter looks like the inspiration behind "Edward Scissorhands", and Pauline shouldv'e "stop, dropped, and rolled." Wouldn't that have been a better message of fire safety to kids? These tales make the Brothers Grimm seem like Abbott And Costello.

Did you grow up in a dark, and dank gulag somewhere over by Moscow, by any chance?

Annie said...

Ah -- yet another good posting to email to my German-speaking college son! Thanks a million. It's nice for the younger generation to see some of the "stuff" we were fed when we were young! Scary stuff....

Julie said...

Gory indeed. And Goya-esque too now that I think of it.

Uh oh. I'm going to have to be more careful if my son is reading my blog! We'll have to have a talk about the soup thing Mr. Picky Eater.

I truly had a marvelous childhood. Just a father who liked to expose us to lots of "culture" from various sources. And the Brother's Grimm have a bit of explaining to do themselves -- like the sisters in Cinderella who get their toes chopped off and their eyes gauged out. Lovely stuff.

I'm happy to provide you with all sorts of email material. Make sure your son goes online to see the German stories. He'll appreciate the originals even more than my summary.

Moobs said...

Oo these are very famous. Tere is a theory that the thumb-sucking one is really about masturbation.

If you develop a taste for infant-corrective literature I can recommend Hilaire Belloc's cuationary Verses which do much teh same thing with more verve and wit and slighty less Grand Guignol

Anonymous said...

That is incredibly freaky. Amazing what people used to read to children.

Anonymous said...

Made. My. Day. Also my dearly beloved Radioactive Spouse's day. Ha! we still have our ever so warped senses of humor, thanks for delighting same.

Anonymous said...

Also I just noticed Goslyn's comment ahead of mine, where she said "used to."
Sorry. She's right I am sure.

meno said...

Where do you FIND these things? I remember reading some really unsavory stories as a child, but these make no pretense towards caring.

The Lazy Organizer said...

I was wondering what to do with my thumb sucker and by that I mean THUMB SUCKER. Now I know!

Julie said...

I suspect it's more familiar to you Europeaners than to us here on the Puritanical continent. Same goes for the Grand Guignol which you made me look up. Thanks. I learned something new today (not sure that this knowledge will ever come in handy, but you never can tell.)

Freaky indeed. I'm with Jams -- the used to" may be in doubt. And it looks like thanks to my blog I've already exposed at least one of my kids to the freaky stuff. But seriously could it be worse than watching Anakin burn into a screaming torso? I still regret (getting talked into) letting him watch THAT.

The question is where did my Dad find this. A question we never asked because apparently we were busy begging for more.

Let me know how that goes, eh?

Jenn said...

Children-no maybe not, but I know a bunch of grownups I would love to give this book to! I wonder if Amazon or Powells will have this?!!

Jenn said...

Done! Just orderd two used copies from Amazon. My brother will roar over these and we have a good friend who loves morbid stuff. Who knows what inspriration will come from a blog!

Julie said...

Happy to assist in your Christmas shopping. Don't I get some kind of kickback from Amazon now?

LaughingElk said...

The last time I saw Paris

Yes, Edward Scissorhands was intentionally patterned after "Slovenly Peter".

Wikipedia credits Struwwelpeter as being a direct influence on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I've always suspected Edward Gorey must have had a copy in his bookshelf.

Julie is absolutely right, we had (have) a wonderful father who tried to expose us to as many different cultural experiences as possible. I'm sure most fathers who had a job that allowed them to take their kids to Paris would take them to the Louvre as ours did, but how many fathers would have taken their kids on a tour of the Parisian sewer system?

scribbit said...

What a hoot. I guess the book's left over from the days when a good Family Home Evening was going to the local hanging. We lived such sanitized lives. Not that I'd prefer otherwise.

Julie said...

I didn't know about the Edward Scissorhands thing. But then I didn't know who Edward Gorey was either (thanks for giving me something fun to research today). I thought Bernita's comment about "Goreyesque" was just a creative new spelling for gory, which also applied. See, it's a good thing I have a blog to cure me of some major gaps in my cultural literacy.

Where was I when you got to tour the sewer? No fair. I was probably too young and stuck back in the hotel. Dad's awesome. I'm waiting for him to read this and tell me that it should be Das Struwwelblog instead of Der because blog is a foreign noun and therefore gender neutral. Right?

Julie said...

I think people get their share of hangings by going to movies now. I can't believe the gore and violence that some parents allow their children to watch. It makes a little finger snipping look pretty harmless.

The Daring One said...

That is amazing. I lof it.