Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher
'Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher', from 'Der Struwwelpeter' (1845). 

Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann was a 19th-century German psychiatrist who published poems and novels in his spare time. Today he is best remembered for what is perhaps the most infamous educational children's poetry collection of all time: 'Der Struwwelpeter' (1845). 'Struwwelpeter' is a series of illustrated cautionary tales set to rhyme. It has become a classic in children's literature, frequently reprinted, translated, bootlegged and parodied. It's even the second most widely translated German-language book of all time, only surpassed by Grimm's fairy tales. Yet 'Struwwelpeter' owes its lasting fame particularly to the gruesome and morbid stories and Hoffmann's chilling drawings. On one hand, the book is generally considered too disturbing for modern-day young readers. On the other hand, its horror reputation also explains why it outlasted many other 19th-century children's books. 'Struwwelpeter' is also an important work in comic history. It's one of the earliest German-language comic books, along with the works of Rodolphe Töpffer and Wilhelm Busch.

Early life and career
Heinrich Hoffmann was born in 1819 in Frankfurt on Main as son of an architect and building inspector. Hoffmann's mother passed away when he still a child. His father remarried with his late wife's sister. Hoffmann's childhood wasn't a happy one. While he got along fine with his stepmother, his father was a strict disciplinarian. He expected his son to behave well and do his very best in school. Hoffmann had to work hard to reach and maintain his father's expectancy levels. In 1829 Hoffmann started studying medicine, again motivated by his father. Between 1835 and 1846, the young man worked in a pauper's clinic. From 1844 on, Hoffmann lectured students in anatomy at the Dr. Senckenbergischen Institute. In 1851 he graduated as a doctor and opened his own practice in Frankfurt. To his luck, a doctor from a local mental asylum happened to retire. Hoffmann succeeded him as the new psychiatrist, despite lacking experience with mental patients. But the job was far better paid and he gained an extraordinary reputation for curing many of his patients. Well respected in his city, Hoffmann published various essays about psychiatrical topics and was an active member of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, the Mozart Foundation and the freemasons' lodge.

Der Struwwelpeter
'Der Struwwelpeter'. 

Der Struwwelpeter
Apart from psychiatry, Hoffmann also enjoyed writing stories, poems and drawing cartoons. He often made drawings for young patients to calm them down whenever they were frightened or crying. In 1842 he published his first poetry collection, simply titled 'Gedichte' ('Poems', 1842). A satirical comedy followed one year later, named 'Die Mondzügler. Eine Komödie der Gegenwart' (1843). Two years later, Hoffmann searched for a decent children's book for his own offspring, but found nothing suitable. Convinced that he could better do it himself, he penned down ten narrative poems. To liven up the stories, he added his own illustrations. The text was a Christmas gift to his son, Carl. 

In 1845, Hoffmann made his children's book public, albeit under a pseudonym: "Reimerich Kinderlieb". The original title was quite a mouthful: 'Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder mit 15 schön kolorierten Tafeln für Kinder von 3-6 Jahren' (1845), but nevertheless a bestseller. By the third edition, the title was shortened to 'Der Struwwelpeter', named after a character who appears in the first chapter. Around this time, Hoffmann also published it under his real name. 

Die Geschichte vom bösen FriederichDie Geschichte vm Suppen-Kaspar
'Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich' and 'Die Geschichte vom Suppen-Kaspar', both from 'Der Struwwelpeter'. 

'Der Struwwelpeter' tells 10 highly moralistic tales, all set to rhyme. Most are about naughty or foolish children who are punished for their misbehaviour. Some stories are not unlike a typical cautionary tale. When little Zappel-Philipp ('Fidgety Philip') cannot sit still at the table, he predictably tips over, knocking down all food, plates and cutlery. Hans Guck-in-die-Luft never watches where he is going and thus falls into a river. Other stories, however, have a more gruesome and disturbing conclusion. Little Friederich terrorizes animals and people until he is bitten by a dog and forced to remain in bed for several weeks. If that weren't enough, he has to drink a disgusting medicine too. Some children even die! Suppen-Kaspar refuses to eat his soup until he starves away. Little Pauline plays with matches and accidentally sets herself to fire, burning to death.

A few of Hoffmann's stories go so far to tell downright lies. Fliegenden Robert goes outside during stormy weather and is taken away in the air by heavy wind, never to be seen again. Struwwelpeter never washes or cleans himself, which causes his hair and nails to grow to enormous lengths within a few days. He turns into a human abomination, hated by everyone. A boy who always sucks his thumbs is visited by a frightening man appearing out of nowhere with a pair of scissors. He then cuts off the boy's thumbs... 

Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug
'Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug', from 'Der Struwwelpeter'. 

Struwwelpeter - Modern interpretation and analysis
'Der Struwwelpeter' has entertained, but also disturbed generations of children with its nightmarish stories and imagery. Since World War II, the book has received more criticism. While some of the life lessons are valuable and timeless, others are very dated. Some of the "disobedient" behaviour is not uncommon or even abnormal for children with ADHD, anorexia nervosa or hyperactivity. Instead of punishing these specific children, they should be helped. Most of Hoffmann's educational methods in general basically boil down to grotesque "scare 'em straight" approaches. Several tales simply frighten young readers into obedience. Even by telling complete nonsense. Modern pedagogues feel that children should be educated in a caring and respectful manner. Traumatizing them isn't considered good parenting, nor teaching. Telling children lies about the consequences of their misbehaviour is also highly discouraged. It only breaks the trust children have in their parents and teachers.

All questionable educational value aside, 'Der Struwwelpeter' is nowadays no longer considered suitable children's entertainment either. Tutors feel the stories and images are far too haunting. 'Der Struwwelpeter' is a product of an era long gone. Since the dawn of man adults have told violent and scary stories to children through fairy tales, legends and myths. Up until the late 18th century, most people didn't see children as beings who were all that different from adults. Therefore they didn't mind that some subjects were too risqué or gruesome for their innocent ears. In the early 19th century, attitudes changed thanks to new pedagogical theories. Nevertheless, most tutors still considered frightening stories fine, as long as they taught children a valuable moral. 'Der Struwwelpeter' ought to be understood in this context. Compared with many other 19th-century moralistic children's stories, it's not even that different in tone, except for the far more violent imagery. 

Given Dr. Hoffmann's own rigid upbringing, it is possible that 'Der Struwwelpeter' reflects some of his own childhood traumas. In one of his books, he actually complained about the way his patients forced their offspring into behaving while visiting his practice. It bothered him that they often relied on scare tactics, like lying that "the doctor will give you a nasty medicine", or "a chimney sweep will carry you off." It's strange that Hoffmann never seems to have noticed that 'Der Struwwelpeter' uses the exact same methods. But in his defense, more modern research has suggested that 'Der Struwwelpeter' might've been intended as a parody of typical moralistic children's books. Hoffmann's stories are so over-the-top that perhaps it ought to be understood as sardonic comedy, rather than a serious educational book. Once the book became a bestseller, he presumably didn't reveal the joke, with all consequences ever since.

Still, despite its horrific reputation, 'Der Struwwelpeter' does contain more innocent and family friendly stories too. In the most humorous tale, 'Die Geschichte von dem wilden Jäger', features a far-sighted hunter who loses his gun to a rabbit, who then turns the tables by shooting at him. Another poem, 'Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben', also has a non-violent ending. When three white children laugh at a black kid, Saint Nicolas applies some poetic justice. He drops them into a bowl of black ink, whereupon the tarred children are now ridiculed themselves. Given the time period, it's a remarkable stance against racism. 

Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben
'Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben', from 'Der Struwwelpeter'. 

Struwwelpeter - Translations, bootlegs and reillustrated versions
'Der Struwwelpeter' has been reprinted and translated all across the globe. It inspired a remarkable amount of bootlegs or downright rip-offs. In 1850 Heinrich Kruspe published the very similar 'Die Struwwelsuse, oder Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder für Kinder von 3–7 Jahren'. In 1851 'Slovenly Peter Reformed. Showing How He Became A Neat Scholar' (1851) was published in which the gruesomeness of the original Struwwelpeter is even pushed further. When his mother tries to cut his overly long finger nails she uses a saw to get the job done. Mark Twain wrote his own translation, 'Slovenly Peter' (1891), but copyright issues prevented the work from being made available to the public until 1935. 

Various 19th and early 20th-century illustrators blatantly retraced Hoffmann's drawings and substituted them with their own, among them Arpad Schmidhammer. An interesting case is early 20th-century Dutch artist Henriëtte Willebeek Le Mair, who elevated Hoffmann's rudimentary drawings by turning them into more sophisticated, detailed and fully worked out illustrations. In the 1970s, Dutch novelist and collector of 18th and 19th-century memorabilia Leonard De Vries also included 'Der Struwwelpeter' in his storybook compilation 'Het Prentenboek van Tante Pau' (De Bezige Bij, 1974), which brought Hoffmann's work under attention to a new generation. 

In 1950 Janet and Anne Graham Johnstone also created a new graphic illustration of 'Der Struwwelpeter'. In 1993 Laura Scarpa and Giorgio Pellizzari founded a literary group they dubbed "The Struwwelpeter Group". In 1994 Renate Alf, Barbara Henniger, HOGLI, Ute Krause, Cleo-Petra Kurze and Marie Marcks reimagined the novel as 'Die Struwwelpaula – Struwwelige Geschichten und haarige Bilder' (1994). In 2006 Bob Staake drew his own graphic interpretation of 'Struwwelpeter', later adapted into an animated short. Erwin Grosche and Sara Balls created an animal version of Struwwelpeter named 'Der tierische Struwwelpeter' (2007). David Füleki reimagined 'Struwwelpeter' as a manga-inspired trilogy, consisting of the works 'Struwwelpeter: Das große Buch der Störenfriede' (2009) and 'Struwwelpeter in Japan' (2012). Philip Tägert (Fil) and illustrator ATAK created their reinterpretation of Hoffmann's novel in 2009. In 2012 Sanya Glisic adapted the story of the boy who sucked his thumbs into a comic strip, published in the second volume of 'The Graphic Canon'. 

Die Geschichte vom wilden Jäger
'Die Geschichte vom wilden Jäger', from 'Der Struwwelpeter'. 

Struwwelpeter parodies
'Struwwelpeter' also inspired numerous parody novels and comic books, several of a political-satirical kind. As early as 1848 Henry Ritter published 'Der politische Struwwelpeter. Ein Versuch zu Deutschands Einigung; dem deutschen Michel gewidmet' (1848), which satirized the various Communist revolutions which swept Europe that year. A man under the pseudonym of AH wrote a military pastiche named 'Militär-Struwwelpeter. Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder von und für Militärs von 10 bis 100 Jahren' (1877). Carl Heinrich Stratz created a gynaecological version named 'Kurzer gynaekologischer Struwelpeter' (1882), which depicted pictures of dead foetuses. Julius Lütje wrote a female version of Hoffmann's classic named 'Struwellies' (1890), with drawings by Franz Maddalena. The same decade, Austrian author Fritz Netolitzky spoofed Struwwelpeter as: 'Der Ägyptische Struwwelpeter' (1895). He made the book in collaboration with his siblings Richard and Magdalene as a birthday gift to a friend of their mother's. The book was written in a style which references Ancient Egypt, both in its content as in the drawings by Elfried Kuzamany's mother. While the book attracted a notable celebrity fan, novelist Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, the book was still forced to be taken from the market after accusations of plagiarism. Edward Harold Begbie's 'The Political Struwwelpeter' (1898) was a satire of late 19th-century British politics, depicting the British Lion as the uncombed and filthy Struwwelpeter.

In 1914 Fried Stern wrote an updated version of Hoffmann's book for adults named 'Der Struwwelpeter von heute. Ein Bilderbuch für die Großen' (1914). The same year an English satirical book came out by an anonymous author named 'Swollen-Headed William: Painful Stories and Funny Pictures After The German' (1914), which attacked German emperor Wilhelm II. In 1915 K.E Olszewski drew a German political parody, 'Bombenpeter' (1915), lampooning the Serbian crown prince Peter, who threatened the Austrian-Hungarian empire with the help of Russia. One world war further, Hitler was the predictable target for another vicious 'Struwwelpeter' satire, surprisingly enough no less than three different versions. As early as 1933, when the Führer has just taken power, a man named Oistros published 'Truffle Eater: Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures' (1933). During World War II the Britons Robert and Philip Spence published the work 'Struwwelhitler. A Nazi Story Book' (1941) under the pseudonym "Dr. Schrecklichkeit". The final anti-Hitler Struwwelpeter parody was 'Schicklgruber' (1943), written by Robert Collin-Pyper and drawn by Margaret Stavidri.

Der StruwwelpeterHet prentenboek van Tante Pau
'Der Struwwelpeter', 1917 reprint and 'Het Prentenboek van tante Pau' (1977) by Leonard De Vries. 

Two decades later, Eckart Hackfeld and his son Rainer Hachfeld created a political parody named 'Der Struwwelpeter neu frisiert. Lästige Geschichten und dolle Bilder für Bürger bis 100 Jahre' (1969) which poked fun at East German head of state Walter Ulbricht. Meanwhile in the DDR itself, another 'Struwwelpeter' parody was published by Hansgeorg Stengel with artwork by Karl Schrader. Their version updated the original tale with moral lessons to warn children what would happen if they watch too much television, for instance. In 1970 F.K. Waechter created the 'Anti-Struwwelpeter' (1970), which reversed the morals of the original stories. In 1974 U.S President Richard Nixon was lampooned as Struwwelpeter with 'Tricky Dick and His Pals: comical stories by Dr. Joseph Wortis and funny pictures by David Arkin'. The story of Little Suck-a-Thumb was also referenced in a cut-a-way gag in the episode 'Business Guy' (2009) in Seth MacFarlane's TV series 'Family Guy', where the entire story is shown as an example of a "typical depressing German bedtime story". Jürgen Lehrich created a punk version named 'Der Punker Peter' (2011), while Klaus Günterberg made a cyber parody of the original tale named 'Der Cyber-Peter – und andere Geschichten aus der modernen Welt nicht nur für Kinder' (2013).

Final years and death
Heinrich Hoffmann continued his literary career both with non-fiction as well as fiction. Among the latter category were 'Handbuch für Wühler oder kurzgefaßte Anleitung in wenigen Tagen ein Volksmann zu werden' (1848) and 'Der Heulerspiegel' (1849), in which the staunch monarchist satirized republicanism. He also wrote fiction like 'Der wahreund ächte Hinkende Bote' (1850-1851), 'König Nußknacker und der arme Reinhold' (1851), 'Bastian der Faulpelz' (1854), 'Allerseelen- Büchlein. Eine humoristische Friedhofs-Anthologie' (1858), 'Prins Grünewald und Perlenfein mit ihrem lieben Eselein' (1871) and 'Auf heiteren Pfaden. Gesammelte Gedichte' (1873). Hoffmann passed away from a stroke in 1894. In 1977 a special museum dedicated to both the author and Der Struwwelpeter opened to the public in Frankfurt am Main.

Legacy and influence
'Struwwelpeter' has been adapted into various media, including theatrical plays, musicals, films and musical pieces by musicians as varied as Norbert Schultze, Lowell Liebermann, Kurt Hessenberg ('Struwwelpeter-Kantate', 1949), Cesar Bresgen ('Struwwelpeter-Kantage', 1953), Siegfried Köhler ('Der Struwwelpeter', opus 31, 1968), Kenneth Hesketh, XTC (their song 'Scissor Man', 1979), The Tiger Lillies (their opera 'Shockheaded Peter', 1998), Rammstein (their song 'Hilf Mir', 2005) and Knorkator (their 2014 song 'Konrad'). Fritz Genschow directed a 1955 live-action film based on the book, but gave it a more child friendly ending. David Kaplan turned the original book into a psycho-sexual interpretation with the short 'Little Suck-a-Thumb' (1992), while Richard Mansfield adapted 'Struwwelpeter' into a shadow puppet short film: 'Sucking Hell' (2015).

Heinrich Hoffmann's 'Struwwelpeter' influenced Edward Gorey, Roald Dahl, Maurice Sendak and Dick Bruna. Wilfrid von Bredow and Anja Kuhl's 'Lola rast und andee schreckliche Geschichten' (2009) is a homage to the book. Tim Burton combined the messy hair of the Struwwelpeter with the Scissorman who cuts off the thumb-sucking child's thumbs to create his more gentle and tragic title character in 'Edward Scissorhands' (1991).

Books about Heinrich Hoffmann
For those interested in Heinrich Hofffmann's life, Barbara Smith Chalou's book 'Struwwelpeter: Humor or Horror?: 160 Years Later' (Lexington Books, 2006) is highly recommended.

Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann
Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann.

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