Posts Tagged ‘Struwwelpeter’

Cautionary tales

Friday, March 19th, 2010


Struwwelpeter is a classic example of the cautionary tale. It’s a collection of illustrated stories in verse showing misbehaving children and the dreadful consequences they suffer. First published in 1845, its original title was 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).

Maybe I was born in the wrong era. Although I find the book amusing now, as a child I found the pictures ghastly, especially the ones accompanying “Daumenlutscher” (Thumb-sucker) and “Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug,” a story of a girl who plays with matches and is burned to death. The final picture in this story shows the girl’s two cats beside her ashes, crying a great pool of tears.

It’s the illustrations that really stay in my mind, probably because I could not read German as a child. But I didn’t have to know German to understand the message of the stories: look what happens to misbehaving children!

I was prompted to read Struwwelpeter again, oddly enough, after reading Martyrs Mirror for the first time.

Martyrs Mirror is one of those books, I suspect, that many people know about but considerably fewer people actually read (so I was mildly surprised to find that the public library’s sole copy was checked out). It is a huge work, over a thousand pages, with 104 illustrations. The full title is The Bloody Theater, or, Martyrs’ Mirror of the Defenseless Christians Who Baptized Only Upon Confession of Faith, and Who Suffered and Died for the Testimony of Jesus, Their Saviour, From the Time of Christ to the Year A.D. 1660. It was compiled by Thieleman J. van Braght, a Dutch Mennonite pastor, in 1660.