Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Struwwelpeter: A classic German cautionary tale

Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffman is a famous German children’s book. It is a classic example of cautionary children’s tales with a clear, most of which share a rather gruesome moral. Such stories include:

The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb: A boy sucks his thumb, so a tailor comes and cuts off his thumbs with giant scissors.

The Story of Augustus who would not have any Soup: A healthy boy does not eat his soup and dies in five days.

The Story of Pauline and the Matches: A little girl plays with matches and burns to death.

Some stories end in death or serious harm to the children, while others are slightly more trivial, such as being dipped in ink. What makes German cautionary tales unique is that such terrible consequences happen to children. For instance, Greek myths almost always involve adults. Prometheus in greek mythology was chained to a rock where a eagle ate his liver out of him every day because he stole fire from the gods, which is indeed gruesome, but not the punishment of a child. Aesop’s fables, which are similar, are also focused at children and have a clear moral. However, they don’t use children as the protagonists, substituting animals instead.

http://www.fln.vcu.edu/struwwel/struwwel.html

http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/grecoromanmyth1/a/prometheus.htm

http://www.holyebooks.org/authors/aesops/fables_rev/aesop_fables_rev.html

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