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Struwwelpeter in a 1917 edition.

Der Struwwelpeter (1845) (or Shockheaded Peter) is a 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.

Background and publication history[edit]

Hoffmann wrote Struwwelpeter in reaction to the lack of good children's books. Intending to buy a picture book as a Christmas present for his three-year-old son, Hoffmann instead wrote and illustrated his own book.[1] In 1845 he 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). For third edition, published in 1858, the title changed to Struwwelpeter, the name of the character in the first story. The book became 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. In 1891, Mark Twain wrote his own translation of the book but because of copyright issues, Twain's "Slovenly Peter" was not published until 25 years after his death in 1935.[2]


Nikolas, as he is about to dunk three boys in his inkstand. Illustration from a 1917 edition.
  1. "Struwwelpeter" describes a boy who does not groom himself properly and is consequently unpopular.
  2. In "Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich" (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 sausage while he is bedridden.
  3. In "Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug" (The Dreadful Story of the Matches), a girl plays with matches and burns to death.
  4. In "Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben" (The Story of the Black Boys), Saint Nicholas catches three boys teasing a dark-skinned boy. To teach them a lesson, he dips the three boys in black ink.
  5. "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 musket and eyeglasses and begins to hunt the hunter. In the ensuing chaos, the hare's child is burned by hot coffee and the hunter falls into a well.
  6. In "Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher" (The Story of the 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.
  7. "Die Geschichte vom Suppen-Kaspar" (The Story of the 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.
  8. In "Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp" (The Story of the 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.
  9. "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 writing-book drifts away.
  10. In "Die Geschichte vom fliegenden Robert" (The Story of the Flying Robert), a boy goes outside during a storm. The wind catches his umbrella and lifts him high into the air. The story ends with the boy sailing into the distance.
Zappel-Philipp. Illustration from the 1845 edition.

Music, film and stage adaptations[edit]

The filming of a 1953 TV adaptation of the book

In 1955, a live action film based on the book was made directed by Fritz Genschow. In this adaptation there is a "happy" ending where the characters' bad deeds are reversed.

American composer Michael Schelle composed the song cycle Struwwelpeter in 1991. This highly dramatic / theatrical / operatic 28:00 cycle for voice and piano uses seven (7) tales from the original Struwwelpeter collection (Slovenly Peter, Flying Robert, Cry Baby, Fat Augustus, The Inky Boys, Cruel Frederick and Conrad Suck-a-Thumb). He orchestrated the piece for voice and small chamber ensemble in 2007 (that version was premiered at Symphony Space in New York City, featuring tenor Steve Stolen). He orchestrated the piece for larger chamber ensemble in 2013 (that version was premiered at the Schrott Center for the Performing Arts in Indianapolis, featuring tenor Steve Stolen).

Shockheaded Peter (1998) is a musical that combines elements of pantomime and puppetry with musical versions of the poems with the songs generally following the text.[3]

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. It 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.[4]

Influence and references[edit]

Struwwelpeter Soup rim bowl featuring the story of fidgety Phillip and on the edge the story of the Soup-Kaspar

The Struwwelpeter characters make another appearance in Heinrich Hoffmann's 1851 illustrated children's book König Nussknacker und der arme Reinhold. The characters are portrayed as living inhabitants of a fantasy world visited by the protagonist, Reinhold, and the Struwwelpeter book itself is depicted as one of the Christmas presents that appear beneath Reinhold's Christmas tree. Writing for the journal Neurotica in 1951, Dr. Rudolph Friedmann studied the stories so intensely for analytic psychosexual imagery that Dwight Macdonald was moved to include the essay in his 1960 anthology of parodies as a sincere but inadvertent example of the form.[5]

Stamp with two characters, issued on Hoffmann's 200th birthday

W. H. Auden refers to the Scissor-Man in his 1930's 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.

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).

The "Story of Soup-Kaspar" is parodied in Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking (1945), with a tall story about a Chinese boy named Peter who refuses to eat a swallow's nest served to him by his father, and dies of starvation five months later.

Jasper Fforde's novel The Fourth Bear features a town heavily influenced by "cautionary tales" based on stories from Struwwelpeter. M.J. Trow in "The Adventures of Inspector Lestrade" recreates each of the cautionary tales as the work of a serial killer.

Paulinchen, the young girl burned to death, was featured in campaign posters of the Christian Democratic Union Party in German elections in the 1990s. Playing up on her green dress and red bows and shoes, voters were warned "keine rot-grünen Experimente!" ("no red-green experiments!"), the implication being that a coalition of the SPD (Social Democrats, who traditionally use red in their campaign material) and Greens would entail a disastrous outcome for Germany.

In a 2005 episode of the American version of The Office ("Take Your Daughter to Work Day", Season 2), Dwight attempts to entertain the children of several employees by reading "Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher"

In an episode of Family Guy ("Business Guy" season 8), Peter remarks that Lois is more disheartening than a German bedtime story. The scene then cuts away to a depiction of "Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher".

Hilf mir, the eighth track from the 2005 album Rosenrot, by Neue Deutsche Härte band Rammstein was inspired by "Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug".

In 2009 German comic artist David Füleki released two modern versions of Struwwelpeter: a manga-style comic book featuring all original characters in a fight against a totalitarian dictatorship and a newly illustrated version of the original book.

Struwwelpeter was a major influence on comic writer Grant Morrison during his run on Doom Patrol.


  1. ^ a b Cotton, Penni (2000). Picture Books Sans Frontières. Trentham Books. p. 11. ISBN 1-85856-183-3. 
  2. ^ Ashton (1995). "Fetching the jingle along: Mark Twain's Slovenly Peter". Children's Literature Association Quarterly. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  3. ^ Elyse Sommer (2005). "Shockheaded Peter Makes a Comeback". CurtainUp. Retrieved 2009-02-19. 
  4. ^ "Little Suck-a-Thumb: A cautionary tale". Malaprop Productions. 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  5. ^ Macdonald, Dwight, Parodies, Random House, 1960, pgs. 493-501

Further reading[edit]

  • 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. 
  • Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard. (1984). The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-211582-0

External links[edit]