Nobody Frightens Children Quite Like the Russians. Except Maybe the Germans.

Over at the mental_floss blog they’ve posted some scans from a Russian book of bedtime stories for ill-behaved children with accompanying translation. It’s creepy as hell. For example:

russian spider tale

“If you play during your meal each time, then you should know that spider will come.”

See more here.

It reminded me of something else I came across recently. I was reading Reasons to Be Cheerful the latest Hellblazer graphic novel (which was pretty good, except it ended mid-stream) when I came across the character of Struwwelpeter, a crazy looking German kid with wild hair and impossibly long fingernails. In the story, a girl was being terrorized by demonic nightmares from her youth and she called on “Shockhead Peter” to defend her because he was the worst one and scarier than any of her other nightmares.


I consulted my resident expert in all things Germanic/Swiss and found out that the character was used as a morality tale to scare kids into proper grooming habits by showing them that they would be mercilessly mocked if they didn’t. Wikipedia reveals that the German children’s book had many other ghoulish life lessons to traumatize teach children, including:

“Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher” (The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb), where 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.

struwwelpeter thumbsucker

Which sounds pretty bad until you compare it with:

Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug (The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches), in which a girl plays with matches and burns to death.

Some have even more tragic endings:

In Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich (The Story of Cruel
Frederick), a violent boy terrorizes animals and people. Eventually he
is bitten by a dog, who goes on to eat the boy’s sausages while he is bedridden.

struwwelpeter dog eating

I would hate to have a dog eat my sausages while I am stuck in bed. Oh, the indignity! I hope the boy learned his lesson.

3 Comments on "Nobody Frightens Children Quite Like the Russians. Except Maybe the Germans."

  • When I was seven I wrote my first book (expertly illustrated of course). It was a cautionary tale about a prince who couldn’t keep his elbows off the table during dinner. Every day his father, the stately wise king with long flowing white beard, would warn our little reluctant hero that elbow planting was not only rude but dangerous as well. Who knows what terrors await those who cannot keep their elbows off the table? But our little prince was not swayed. One day, through such a convoluted series of accidents and mishaps that even Stephen Gaghan would be left with furrowed brow, the prince ended up breaking every bone in his body (including the three little ones in his ears) and wallowing in his own pain and regret, laid up in the medieval equivalent of traction (which meant some bruises and plaster casts and black eyes in my deft drawings). His mother and father, horrified but with noble pathos, pleaded with the little prince to learn a lesson from his pain. And learn a lesson he did. From that day forward he never forgot his manners at the table and grew up to be a wise and noble king just like his father before him.

    It’s not quite as terrifying as a dog gnawing on your “sausage,” but still pretty scary.

  • The link between proper table manners and the ability to manage the affairs of state are well-documented, going back at least as far as Charlemagne who not only reestablished the Holy Roman Empire but was never spotted with his elbows on the table. I’ve always wondered if the ossicles were capable of being broken, and what series of events would lead to it if they could.

  • One time I went to Germany and drank too much Jagr. Then I wet my pants.

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