Tales of walking, eating, watching and playing. Vintage treasures and simple pleasures ... the things that make her happy.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The English Struwwelpeter

VJ was never one for girly fairy tales.  Her favourite bedtime story was 'The Boy Who Drew Cats', a Japanese fairy tale first published 1898.  It was in her most cherished book, a large dark blue, cloth covered volume of alternative children's fairy tales.  From about the age of 7 to10 years old her poor father read it to her just about every night and she wouldn't let him miss out a single word!  

The story goes like this ... 

Once upon a time there lived a farmer and his wife who have many children.  The youngest son is small and weak and spends all his time drawing cats instead of doing his chores.  So, the couple take the boy to a temple to train as a priest.  He learns quickly, but insists on drawing cats everywhere.  The priest in charge finally tells him that he will never make it as a priest but thinks he may succeed as an artist and sends him away with the sage advice “avoid large places at night, keep to small”.  The young boy, afraid to go home a failure, decides to go to a large temple nearby and ask them to take him on.

However, he finds the temple deserted because a huge goblin rat has driven the priests away, along with all warriors who had tried to tackle it.  As it is late when the boy arrives, he decides to go in anyway.  A light burns at the temple at night and so in the dim light the boy paints cats all over the white temple walls.  Feeling sleepy, he heeds the priests’ advice and finds a small cabinet to sleep in.
In the middle of the night he is woken suddenly by the sounds of fighting and screaming.  Peering through the slats in the cabinet he witnesses the cats he had painted, now alive and fighting the goblin rat.  In the morning, when he emerges from the little cabinet he finds the goblin rat dead in the middle of the temple, and the paintings of cats all have mouths wet and red from blood.

 When the priests find out, he is hailed as a hero and goes on to become a famous artist who, of course, paints only cats!

Several weeks ago VJ spotted this tattered old book and snapped it up immediately.  Another  favourite on her childhood bookcase it is a little collection of grim and scary tales, each with a clear moral.  The title, ‘Struwwelpeter or Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures for Little Children’, is a bit of a misnomer - it’s not a book for an easily traumatised or sensitive child!
It was written in 1845 by a German psychiatrist(!), Heinrich Hoffmann.  After despairing at the lack of good children’s books he decided to write one as a Christmas present for his 3 year old son.  Friends persuaded him to publish the book and it went on to become a huge hit, translated into several languages and still available today.   

You can read a few extracts here, 
starting off tamely with Shock Headed Peter, 
an unkempt boy, who resembles Edward Scissorhands ...
Just  look at him!  There he stands, with his nasty hair and hands
See!  His nails are never cut; they are grim’d as black as soot;
And the sloven, I declare, never once has comb’d his hair;
Anything to me is sweeter, than to see shock-headed Peter.

Then we meet cruel Frederick - 
a violent little boy who terrorises both animals and people ...
Here is cruel Frederick, see!  A horrid, wicked boy was he;
He caught the flies, poor little things, and then tore off their tiny wings,
He kill’d the birds, and broke the chairs, and threw the kitten down the stairs;
And Oh!  Far worse than all beside, he whipp’d his Mary, till she cried.
The trough was full, and faithful Tray, came out to drink one sultry day;
He wagg’d his tail, and wet his lip, when cruel Fred snatch’d up a whip,
And whipp’d poor Tray till he was sore, and kick’d and whipp’d him more and more:
At this, good Tray grew very red, and growl’d and bit him till he bled;
Then you should only have been by, to see how Fred did scream and cry!
So Frederick had to go to bed; his leg was very sore and red!
The doctor came and shook his head, and made a very great to-do,
And gave him nasty physic too.
But good dog Tray is happy now; he has not time to say “bow-wow”!
He seats himself in Frederick’s chair, and laughs to see the nice things there:
The soup he swallows sup by sup, and eats the pies and puddings up.

You should never play with matches ...
It almost makes me cry to tell what foolish Harriet befell.
Mama and Nurse went out one day and left her all alone at play;
Now on the table close at hand, a box of matches chanc’d to stand;
And kind mama and Nurse had told her, that if she touch’d them, they should scold her.
But Harriet said: “O, what a pity! For when they burn, it is so pretty;
They crackle so, and spit, and flame;  Mama too, often does the same”.

The pussy cats heard this, and they began to hiss, 
And stretch their claws, and raise their paws
“Me-ow” they said, “me-ow, me-o, you’ll burn to death, if you do so”.
But Harriet would not take advice, she lit a match, it was so nice!
It crackl’d so, it burn’d so clear, exactly like the picture here.
She jumped for joy, and ran about, and was too pleas’d to put it out.

The pussy cats saw this, and said “Oh, naughty, naughty miss”!
And stretch’d their claws, and rais’d their paws:
Tis very, very wrong you know, “me-ow, me-o, me-ow, me-o,
You will be burnt, if you do so”.
And see!  Oh!  What dreadful thing!  The fire has caught her apron-string;
Her apron burns, her arms, her hair;  She burns all over, everywhere.
Then how the pussy-cats did mew.  What else, poor pussies, could they do
They scream’d for help, ‘twas all in vain!  So then, they said “we’ll scream again;
Make haste, make haste, me-ow, me-o, she’ll burn to death, we told her so”.

So she was burnt, with all her clothes, and arms, and hands, and eyes, and nose;
Till she had nothing more to lose, except her little scarlet shoes:
And nothing else but these was found, among her ashes on the ground.
And when the good cats sat beside the smoking ashes, how they cried!
“Me-ow, me-oo, me-ow, me-oo, what will mama and Nursy do?”
The tears ran down their cheeks so fast; they made a little pond at last.

And never suck your thumb ...
One day mamma said:  “Conrad dear,
I must go out and leave you here.
But mind now Conrad, what I say,
Don’t suck your thumb while I’m away.
The great tall tailor always comes,
To little boys that suck their thumbs;
And ere they dream what he’s about,
He takes his great sharp scissors out,
And cuts their thumbs clean off, - and then,
You know, they never grow again”.
Mamma had scarcely turn’d her back,
The thumb was in, Alack! Alack!
The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long red legg’d scissor man.
Oh!  Children, see! The tailor’s come
And caught out little Suck-a-Thumb.
Snip! Snap! Snip! The scissors go;
And Conrad cries out – Oh! Oh! Oh!
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast,
That both his thumbs are off at last.
Mamma comes home; there Conrad stands,
And looks quite sad, and shows his hands;
“Ah!” said Mamma “I knew he’d come
To naughty little Suck-a-Thumb.”

Then, there's Augustus, who wouldn't eat his soup ...
Augustus was a chubby lad;
Fat ruddy cheeks Augustus had;
And everybody saw with joy
The plump and hearty healthy boy.
He ate and drank as he was told,
And never let his soup get cold.
But one day, one cold winter’s day,
He screm’d out – “take the soup away!
O take the nasty soup away!
I won’t have any soup today.”
Next day, now look, the picture shows,
How lank and lean Augustus grows!
Yet, though he feels so weak and ill
The naughty fellow cries out still –
“Not any soup for me, I say:
O take the nasty soup away!
I won’t have any soup today.”

The third comes; Oh what a sin!
To make himself so pale and thin.
Yet, when the soup  is put on table,
He screams, as loud as he is able, -
“Not any soup for me, I say:
O take the nasty soup away!
I won’t have any soup today.”
Look at him, now the fourth day’s  come!
He scarcely weighs a sugar plum;
He’s like a little bit of thread,
And on the fifth day, he was – dead!

Other tales include ‘The Story of Fidgety Philip’, a boy who won’t sit still at the dinner table, much to his parents displeasure, and ‘The Story of the Black Boys’, whereby St Nicholas catches three white boys teasing a black boy.  To teach them a lesson, he dips the three boys in black ink, making them even darker than the boy they teased.


Rose H (UK) said...

Oh my goodness, I feel traumatised!
However I too would have snapped up this book. It is after all a treasure, and to think that as a child I was never allowed to read Grimms Fairy Tales!
Rose H

Melanie said...

That's a fantastic book! And I like Japanese stories with spooky shrines. The illustrations are beautiful, and I have particular fondness for the cats crying so much that they form a pond.

Vix said...

I grew up with my Great Grandmother's copy and loved it to bits! xxx

Aunt Jane's Attic said...

Gosh would this be allowed today, what a fabulous find and book,this is my daughters kind of book, I was more into Brer Rabbit when I was young Julie xxx

YeamieWaffles said...

This book looks and sounds awesome Jane, I've never heard of this before for reason but it seems like I've been missing out!

Flaming Nora said...

Love this book. We have been using it as the basis of one of our design projects at college for years now. It give the students so much scope to explore the weirdness of the world in the context of a period theme. Great find.
Though I find it quite disturbing that he wrote it for his 3 yr old. Poor child must of had a very heightened sense of the morbid!

Kristie Franklin said...

Oh my! I can't believe a psychiatrist wrote this! What in the world was he thinking? Or was he thinking? I can't imagine reading this to a child...he would be traumatized! HAH I would have been afraid to go to sleep at night had my parents read this to me. HAHAH

Tammy said...

Interesting that it is described as "Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures for Little Children" -- I wonder how many nightmares were induced upon hearing and seeing these stories before bedtime. I'm sure my oldest son who took a psychology course last year would love to share this book with his teacher. They did some odd research in that class. :) Have a great day. Tammy

Miss Simmonds Says said...

oooh an anti rascism story! I love these stories, the illustrations are bizarre, Struwwelpeter always looked a little like Roger Daltrey in Tommy. I love the way the cats are crying waterfall - so odd, but wonderful!

vintagerockchick said...

Lovely illustrations, but blimey the stories are a bit dark. Knew I'd made the right decision, steering clear of psychiatrists.
Oh, and if I have nightmares I'll blame you x

Foxglove Lane said...

Wonderful post and amazing images! Scary though!!! Most original blog and your header is fab too:~))

In My Wild Eden said...

I love finding books I had as a child. They are such treasures. I am glad you found one of your treasures!

Marina said...

Oh no, why did I read this? :) I am easily scared!

Husmannsplassen i Hidlesundet said...

A lovely book and lovely illustrations!!

Eleni said...

[shudders] we had a copy of Struwwelpeter when we were kids, and before I'd even scrolled down to the bottom of your post I was haunted by the perpetually terrifying image of the Great Long Red Legged Scissorman! Suffice to say I never sucked my thumb, played with matches, swung my chair at table, nor kicked a dog in my entire life.