October 22, 2013

German folktales

By: Casey Davidson

Growing up, my mom used to read to my sister and me every night before we went to bed. To be fair, she would let us each pick a book or story that we wanted to have her read, and afterwards she would tuck us in, turn off the lights and expect us to fall fast asleep. Since my sister and I didn’t get along very well as kids, she made it her personal mission to constantly torture me, so every night she would intentionally pick a book that she knew would scare me. The one in particular that to this day still haunts my dreams was a book of German folktales.

When people think of German folktales, they usually think of the Grimm Brother’s stories such as; “Cinderella,” “Snow White” and “The Frog Prince.” For those of you who haven’t read the Grimm versions of these fairy tales you wouldn’t know that unlike their vibrant depictions made by Disney, these stories are actually full of gore, revenge and terror, much like the horror movies you see on television today.

Unfortunately for me, our book of German folktales was much worse than the Grimm Brothers’; containing almost every childhood nightmare you could think of, from burning to death to drowning. This magical book is entitled, “Der Struwwelpeter.” Basically it’s a compilation of 10 rhyming stories written in 1845, which were created solely to scare the living crap out of German children in attempt to teach them to use simple manners.

Within this book is “The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb.” In this story, a little boy is told by his mother to not suck his thumb while she is away. Before she leaves she warns him that if he sucks his thumb a tailor will enter their household and take his thumbs from him. Of course once she leaves the boy decides to suck his thumb, and shortly after, just as his mom had said, a man with a large pair of scissors breaks into their home and proceeds to cut off the child’s thumbs. As if the story wasn’t terrifying enough, there are colorful illustrations, just in case if you couldn’t imagine the poor child bleeding to death with two nubs for thumbs. I still vividly remember the drawing of the tailor leaping through the doorway sporting bright red spandex and a horrible smirk on his face as he chopped the child’s thumbs off with a large pair of sharp scissors. Needless to say, after hearing this story I stopped sucking my thumbs. I also started to make sure the doors were locked.

Another story that is possibly more terrifying than the first is, “The Dreadful Story About Harriet and the Matches.” A young girl named Harriet is left alone with her cats as her mother went out elsewhere, but before she leaves, Harriet’s mother kindly makes sure to warn her to not play with the matches while she’s gone. Like all the other children in this book, Harriet ignores her mother’s advice and decides to play with the matches anyways. Oddly enough, as she starts to grab for the matches, Harriet’s cats suddenly gain the power to speak and begin to hiss and claw at her telling her, “You’ll burn to death if you do so.” The miracle that her cats have learned to speak does not phase Harriet as she strikes a match and watches the flame dance about. Only seconds after lighting her first match Harriet’s apron string catches fire and quickly spreads till she becomes engulfed in flames. Her cats try to help, but they can only scream as they watch Harriet burn to death. In the end, you are left with a pile of ashes and a pair of scarlet shoes where Harriet used to be. Of course, by her side are her two cats crying a pond around what’s left of her. Morbid right? Although Harriet was warned by her mother not to play with matches I think after sustaining a minor burn on the arm or hand would have taught her the lesson that her mother was trying to get across.

As you can see, this book that is meant for children is quite disturbing, especially including all the delicate illustrations of each story as each child progresses through their manner learning process. As an adult, I blame a majority of my fears on this book and it’s contents. Weirdly enough I cannot get the image of the tailor out of my head. It will forever be engrained in my mind as possibly one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen. So, for those of you who have or know some naughty children needing to be taught a lesson or two, pick up the English version of “Der Struwwelpeter,” and read it to them as a wholesome Halloween bedtime story. See if they misbehave again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *