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Struwwelpeter in a children's book from 1917.

Der Struwwelpeter (1845) is a popular German children's book by Heinrich Hoffmann. It comprises ten illustrated and rhymed stories, mostly about children. Each has a clear moral that demonstrates the disastrous consequences of misbehavior in an exaggerated way. The title of the first story provides the title of the whole book. Literally translated, Struwwel-Peter means Shaggy-Peter.



Hoffmann, a German psychiatrist, wanted to buy a picture book for his son for Christmas in 1844. Not impressed by what the stores had to offer, he instead bought a notebook and wrote his own stories and pictures.[1] Hoffmann was persuaded by friends to publish the book anonymously as Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder mit 15 schön kolorierten Tafeln für Kinder von 3-6 Jahren (Funny Stories and Whimsical Pictures with 15 Beautifully Coloured Panels for Children Aged 3 to 6) in 1845. It was not until the third edition in 1858 that the book was published under the title Struwwelpeter. The book became very popular among children throughout Europe, and, writes author and researcher Penni Cotton, the pictures and characters showed a great deal of originality and directness.[1]

Struwwelpeter has been translated into several languages. The first English translation appeared in 1848. Mark Twain's English translation of the book is called "Slovenly Peter." A link to an english translation of the entire book is here. [1]

In 2006, Fantagraphics Books published the first completely digital version of Struwwelpeter, reinterpreted and illustrated by Bob Staake.


Nikolas, as he is about to dunk three boys in his inkstand. Illustration from a 1917 edition.

Struwwelpeter describes a boy who does not groom himself properly and is consequently unpopular.

In "Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich" (The Story of Cruel Frederick - lit. The Story of Bad Frederick), a violent boy terrorizes animals and people. Eventually he is bitten by a dog, who goes on to eat the boy's sausages while he is bedridden.

In "Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug" (The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches - lit. The Very Sad Story of the Matches), a girl plays with matches and burns to death.

In "Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben" (The Story of the Inky Boys - lit. The Story of the Black Boys), Nikolas (that is, Saint Nicholas[2]) catches three boys teasing a dark-skinned boy. To teach them a lesson, he dips the three boys in black ink, to make them even darker-skinned than the boy they'd teased.

"Die Geschichte von dem wilden Jäger" (The Story of the Wild Huntsman) is the only story not primarily focused on children. In it, a hare steals a hunter's rifle and eyeglasses and begins to hunt the hunter. In the ensuing chaos the hare's child is burned by hot coffee.

In "Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher" (The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb - lit. The Story of Thumb-Sucker), a mother warns her son not to suck his thumbs. However, when she goes out of the house he resumes his thumb sucking, until a roving tailor appears and cuts off his thumbs with giant scissors.

"Die Geschichte vom Suppen-Kaspar" (The Story of Kaspar who did not have any Soup - lit. The Story of Soup-Kaspar) begins as Kaspar, a healthy, strong boy, proclaims that he will no longer eat his soup. Over the next five days he wastes away and dies.

In "Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp" (The Story of Fidgety Philip), a boy who won't sit still at dinner accidentally knocks all of the food onto the floor, to his parents' great displeasure.

"Die Geschichte von Hans Guck-in-die-Luft" (The Story of Johnny Head-in-Air) concerns a boy who habitually fails to watch where he's walking. One day he walks into a river; he is soon rescued, but his portfolio drifts away.

In "Die Geschichte vom fliegenden Robert" (The Story of Flying Robert), a boy goes outside during a storm. The wind catches his umbrella and sends him to places unknown, and presumably to his doom.

Zappel-Philipp. Illustration from the 1845 edition.

Stage adaptations

Shockheaded Peter (1998) is a musical created by Julian Bleach, Anthony Cairns, Julian Crouch, Graeme Gilmour, Tamzin Griffin, Jo Pocock, Phelim McDermott, Michael Morris and The Tiger Lillies (Martyn Jacques, Adrian Huge and Adrian Stout). The production combines elements of pantomime and puppetry with musical versions of the poems with the songs generally following the text but with a somewhat darker tone. Whereas the children in the poems only sometimes die, in the musical they all do. Commissioned by the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds and the Lyric Hammersmith in West London, the show debuted in 1998 in Leeds before moving to London and subsequently to world tours.[3]

Struwwelpeter (2004), is a work for narrator and orchestra was staged in the Athens Concert Hall as the main Christmas program of Kamerata Orchestra of Friends of Music. The music was written by Alexandros Mouzas and was commissioned by the Athens Concert Hall. The production ran for 8 sold-out performances.[4]

Struwwelpeter - In English! (2006) was taken to the 60th Edinburgh Festival in August. The production used a variety of magic, mime, physical theatre, and black-comedy to recreate the tales. The show had a sell-out run and returned in 2007 for a second run of the sell out show. The show was directed and performed by Owen Daniel, Susie Ashfield, Isobelle Miller, Alexandra Gillam and Perran Crosley.

Film Adaptations

Little Suck-a-Thumb (1992), is a psychosexual interpretation of the infamous cautionary tale from Heinrich Hoffman's storybook. The short film by writer/director David Kaplan stars Cork Hubbert (The Ballad of the Sad Café), Evelyn Solann, and Jim Hilbert as the Great Tall Scissorman. LITTLE SUCK-A-THUMB won awards at the 1992 Chicago Film Festival, the 1992 Cork Film Festival, and the 1993 Grenoble Film Festival. It was also awarded 2nd place at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts annual film festival and was screened as an Official Selection at the 1992 Munich International Festival of Film Schools. It is collected with 2 other short films on the DVD Little Red Riding Hood and Other Stories.[5]

Influence and references

Struwwelpeter Soup rim bowl
  • There is a Struwwelpeter museum in Frankfurt, Germany.
  • The comic book writer Grant Morrison drew inspiration from Struwwelpeter during his tenure on the DC comic Doom Patrol when inventing several enemy monsters. The Tailor from The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb provided inspiration for the Scissormen in issues #19 to #22, where Struwwelpeter is quoted directly[citation needed], and apparitions named The Inky Boys and Flying Robert appear in #25, along with a special cameo appearance by a Scissorman.
  • W.H. Auden refers to the Scissor-Man in his 1930s poem "The Witnesses" (also known as "The Two") :

And now with sudden swift emergence
Come the women in dark glasses, the humpbacked surgeons
And the Scissor Man.

  • The UK cult musical trio The Tiger Lillies also draw heavily on Stuwwelpeter on their album "Shockheaded Peter." Especially in songs such as "The Dreadful Story of Harriet," and "Snip, Snip," Which is based on the "The Story Of Little Suck-A-Thumb."
  • Adolf Hitler was parodied as a Struwwelpeter caricature in 1941 in a book called Struwwelhitler published in Britain under the pseudonym Dr. Schrecklichkeit (Dr. Horrors).
  • Jasper Fforde's book The Fourth Bear features a town with terrified, but obedient children, who always eat their soup, don't play with matches, and don't suck their thumbs. Some folks in town are actually missing their thumbs, courtesy of a scissor wielding maniac in red pants.
  • In M. J. Trow's pastiche The Adventures of Inspector Lestrade, the Scotland Yard detective investigates a continuing series of murders patterned after the Struwwelpeter cautionary tales.
  • In Hellblazer # 204, Struwwelpeter (Shockheaded Peter) is summoned to fight childhood fears. About him it is said that 'He was the worst, the scariest, so I made him be on my side'.
  • In Rosetta Loy's La porta del acqua, 2000: Rizzoli; Milano, the infant persona's German governess Anne-Marie is continually reading blood-thirsty stories from Struwwelpeter
  • In Dice TV movie (2001), a girl is seen reading Struwwelpeter to her younger sisters. The allusion is ironic, as compared to what happens to the book’s main characters, Dice psychopathic hero comes out unscathed and free after committing considerably more evil deeds. Egon Schwimmer, the hero’s 'creature', can be seen as a reference to Struwwelpeter himself with his disheveled hair.
  • The song Hilf Mir by Rammstein is based on "Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug" (The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches)
  • In Cornelia Read's A Field of Darkness, 2006:, a series of grisly murders are loosely based interpretations of stories from Struwwelpeter
  • The Family Guy episode Business Guy features a cutaway joke that makes references to "Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher" (The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb - lit. The Story of Thumb-Sucker).


  1. ^ a b Cotton, Penni (2000). Picture Books Sans Frontières. Trentham Books. pp. 11. ISBN 1 85856 183 3. 
  2. ^ Martina Eberspächer 2002. Der Weihnachtsmann: Zur Entstehung einer Bildtradition in Aufklärung und Romantik, p. 74 ff., in German; also in Mark Twain's translation Slovenly Peter "Nikolas" is translated as "Saint Nicholas".
  3. ^ Elyse Sommer (2005). "Shockheaded Peter Makes a Comeback". CurtainUp. Retrieved 2009-02-19. 
  4. ^ "Struwwelpeter: A musical tale based upon the work of Eric Hoffman". Alexandros Mouzas. 2004. Retrieved 2009-02-19. 
  5. ^ "Little Suck-a-Thumb: A cautionary tale". Malaprop Productions. 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 

Further reading

  • Ashton, Susanna M.; Petersen, Amy Jean (Spring 1995). "'Fetching the Jingle Along' - Mark Twain's Slovenly Peter". The Children's Literature Association Quarterly 20 (1): 36–41. 

External links

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