Saturday

"Struwwelpeter"

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By popular demand, I'm addressing the timeless children's classic Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffman, author of the similarly-themed Slovenly Betsy.  I somehow was lucky enough to miss out on being subjected to these tales as a child, but it sounds like if you were, you never forgot them. 

The most infamous story in the collection has to be "Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher," or, in English, "The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb."  The story is presumably intended to dissuade children from sucking their thumbs.

There is a way to humorously cure children of nasty habits, but I don't think Hoffmann's story is it.  I remember whooping with laughter as a kid at Shel Silverstein's poem "Warning," which reads:

Inside everybody's nose
There lives a sharp-toothed snail.
So if you stick your finger in,
He may bite off your nail.
Stick it farther up inside,
And he may bite your ring off.
Stick it all the way, and he
May bite the whole darn thing off.

See?  Direct and to the point, but hilariously absurd.  Roald Dahl's The BFG teaches a fine lesson about burping in a similar fun fashion-- the BFG advises Sophie that burping is "flithsome," so "us giants is never doing it."  As a kid, the BFG seems completely awesome, so if he says burping is taboo, you believe him.  (Of course, whizzpopping is another matter entirely, a bodily function to be celebrated, even, so you should feel free to fire a whizzpop at will.)

But now we must get back to "Little Suck-a-Thumb" to see how Hoffmann's parable plays out.  Mother warns Conrad not to suck his thumb while she's gone because:

"The great tall tailor always comes
To little boys who 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."

Why a tailor should care about thumb-sucking I have no idea.  A manicurist I could understand, but a tailor?  Perhaps he specializes in constructing thumbless mittens.

Regardless, Conrad fails to heed his mother's warning and sure enough, the tailor barges into his house, and--"Snip! Snap! Snip!"--he cuts both of poor Conrad's thumbs off.  Thus are vanquished Conrad's future plans to effectively hitchhike, become a movie critic, or play Nintendo.

Lesson learned:
One must presume the tailor only punishes children with anatomical-oral fixations, since I imagine that with adults, the potential consequences might prove far more dire.


Hoffmann, Heinrich.  Struwwelpeter: Merry Tales and Funny Pictures.  1845.
Struwwelpeter: Or Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures

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