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Der Struwwelpeter
H Hoffmann Struwwel 03.jpg
Struwwelpeter in a 1917 edition.
Author Heinrich Hoffmann
Working title Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder mit 15 schön kolorierten Tafeln für Kinder von 3–6 Jahren
Illustrator Heinrich Hoffmann
Country Germany
Language German
Subject Cautionary tales
Genre Children's book
Publication date
Followed by König Nussknacker und der arme Reinhold 

Der Struwwelpeter ("shock-headed Peter" or "Shaggy Peter") is an 1845 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. Der Struwwelpeter is one of the earliest books for children that combines visual and verbal narratives in a book format, and is considered a precursor to comic books.

Der Struwwelpeter is known for introducing the character of the Tailor (or Scissorman) to Western literature. Some researchers now see the stories in the book as illustrations of many child mental disorders that we know about today.

The Stories

H Hoffmann Struwwel 10
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. Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich ("The Story of Wicked Frederick"): A violent boy terrorizes animals and people. Eventually he is bitten by a dog, who goes on to eat the boy's food while Frederick is bedridden.
  3. Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug ("The Very Sad Tale with the Matches"): A girl plays with matches, accidentally ignites herself and burns to death.
  4. Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben ("The Story of the Inky Boys"): Nikolas (or "Agrippa" in some translations) catches three boys teasing a dark-skinned boy. To teach them a lesson, he dips them 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. Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher ("The Story of the Thumb-Sucker"): A mother warns her son Konrad 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 Soup-Kaspar") begins as Kaspar (or "Augustus" in some translations), a healthy, strong boy, proclaims that he will no longer eat his soup. Over the next five days, he wastes away and dies.
  8. Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp ("The Story of 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 Look-In-The-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. Die Geschichte vom fliegenden Robert ("The Story of 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.

Music, film and stage adaptations

Struwwelpeter 2
"Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp". Illustration from the 1845 edition.

A British production of Shockheaded Peter, with Kate Bishop, Lawrence Grossmith, George Grossmith Jr., Beatrice Terry, and the 11-year-old Marie Lohr, was produced in London at the Garrick Theatre in 1900.

Geoffrey Shaw's Struwelpeter, produced in 1914, featured the song "Conrad Suck-a-Thumb" by Martin Shaw.

A ballet of Der Struwwelpeter with music composed by Norbert Schultze was produced in Germany before World War II.

A live action film based on the book was released in Germany in 1955. Directed by Fritz Genschow, in this adaptation there is a "happy" ending where the characters' bad deeds are reversed.

Little Suck-a-Thumb (1992) is a psychosexual interpretation of the infamous cautionary tale. The short film by writer/director David Kaplan stars Cork Hubbert and Evelyn Solann, with Jim Hilbert as the Great Tall Scissorman.

"The Misadventures of Stuwwelpeter" for tenor and piano (also orchestrated for chamber ensemble) was composed by Michael Schelle in 1991. Five of the stories are included in the original version with piano. "Inky Boys" is included only in the chamber version.

Struwwelpeterlieder (1996) is a setting of three of the stories for soprano, viola and piano by American composer Lowell Liebermann.

German composer Kurt Hessenberg (a descendant of Hoffmann's) arranged Der Struwwelpeter for children's choir (op. 49) later in his life.

Shockheaded Peter (1998) is a British musical opera by The Tiger Lillies. that combines elements of pantomime and puppetry with musical versions of the poems with the songs generally following the text. It won a number of British theatre awards in the years following its release.

Composer Kenneth Hesketh's 2000–1 work, Netsuke (from the Japanese miniature sculptures called netsuke) comprises five short movements inspired variously by Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince, Struwwelpeter, and a poem by Walter de la Mare.

"Hilf Mir" is a song by Rammstein released in 2005; it is based on Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug.

Comics adaptations

German comics artist David Füleki has created a number of manga-style adaptions of Struwwelpeter.:

  • Struwwelpeter: Die Rückkehr (2009, Tokyopop)
  • Struwwelpeter: Das große Buch der Störenfriede (2009, Tokyopop)
  • Struwwelpeter in Japan (Free Comic Book Day comic; 2012, Delfinium Prints)

The Scissorman story is adapted into comics form by Sanya Glisic in The Graphic Canon, Volume 2, published in 2012.

Media influences

Warmhalteteller Suppenkaspar Berlin SlgKiJu
Struwwelpeter Soup rim bowl featuring the story of fidgety Phillip and on the edge the story of the Soup-Kaspar


One of the stories in the 1896 edition of Max Beerbohm's A Christmas Garland ("A Vain Child") centres around the story of "Johnny Look-in-the-Air"; the narrator summarises the story, goes to Germany to look for his scarlet book, and ends with the story being taken from the allegorical point of view concerning the narrator's eventual downfall from journalism.

English author Edward Harold Begbie's first published book, The Political Struwwelpeter (1898), is of British politics, with the British Lion is as Struwwelpeter, "bedraggled, with long, uncut claws."

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

Josephine Tey, in The Man in the Queue (Macmillan, 1953), describes a scene in which a character's hair is "spread round it by the force of gravity into a Struwwelpeter effect."

English illustrator Charles Folkard's imaginative study "A Nonsense Miscellany," published in 1956 in Roger Lancelyn Green's anthology The Book of Nonsense, by Many Authors, is a seaside scene that incorporated Baron Munchausen, Struwwelpeter, and a variety of characters from the works of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.

Agatha Christie references Struwwelpeter in her novel Curtain (Collins Crime Club, 1975). The story's narrator, Arthur Hastings, describes another character, Stephen Norton: "He had a habit of running his hands through his short grey hair until it stuck up on end like Struwwelpeter."

In Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus (1984), a hermit living by a frozen river in Siberia is described as having fingernails "as long as those of Struwwelpeter in the picture book".

Jamie Rix said that the book inspired him to create Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids when his publisher asked him to write more short stories about rude children. His mother had given him the book as a child and the stories gave him nightmares. Rix wanted to create a similar series of books for his children's generation.

Der Fall Struwwelpeter ("The Struwwelpeter Case"), 1989, by Jörg M. Günther is a satirical treatment in which the various misdeeds in the story - both by the protagonists and their surroundings - are analyzed via the regulations of the German Strafgesetzbuch.

The Jasper Fforde fantasy/mystery novel The Fourth Bear (Hodder & Stoughton, 2006) opens with a police sting operation by the Nursery Crime Division to arrest the Scissorman.


DPAG 2009 Heinrich Hoffmann
Stamp with two Struwwelpeter characters - Hans Guck-in-die Luft and Ludwig from "Die Geschichte mit den schwarzen Buben" - issued on Hoffmann's 200th birthday

German cartoonist F. K. Waechter's Anti-Struwwwelpeter (1970) is a parody of Der Struwwelpeter.

Comic book writer Grant Morrison references "Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher" in the first story arc of his Doom Patrol run with the recurring line, "The door flew open, in he ran / The great, long, red-legged scissorman." Doom Patrol member Dorothy Spinner, who has the ability to bring imaginary beings to life, considers among her imaginary friends the characters Flying Robert (a ghost baby balloon thing) and The Inky Boys.

The 2000 AD strip London Falling (June–July 2006), by Simon Spurrier and Lee Garbett, explores bogeymen from English folklore and mythology wreaking havoc in a modern-day setting. Two of the characters, Peter Struwwel and The Tailor, are taken from Der Struwwelpeter.

In the Wildstorm Comics series Top 10, one of the officers in the precinct is called Shock-Headed Pete, ostensibly in reference to his electrical powers.

Film and TV

In a 1991 edition of the Thames Television detective series Van der Valk, entitled "Doctor Hoffman's Children," the detective, played by Barry Foster, solves a series of murders after finding the book in the bedroom of his house, when his wife relates the tale of the scissorman to their granddaughter. The murders were all done in the style of events in the book.

Brief references are made to the book in the film Woman in Gold (2015), when the central character reminisces about her youth in Vienna during the Anschluss.

The Office references the book in Season 2, Episode 18: "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" (2006). Dwight Schrute reads The story of Johnny head-in-the-air and The story of the thumb sucker to the children, but is interrupted by a horrified Michael Scott.

Family Guy references the "Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb" in a cutaway gag in "Business Guy," the ninth episode in the eighth season, produced in 2009.

In Doctor Who Season 10 Episode 3 "Thin Ice" (2017), The Doctor reads part of "The Story of the Thumb-Sucker" to the children of 1814 London.


The German Group Ost+Front have on their album Adrenalin (2018) the song "Hans guck in die Luft". It is about a person's outlook on his past life and death. The song starts with a similar line as the poem.

The German Group Rammstein have on their album Rosenrot (2005) the song "Hilf Mir" "(Help Me)" . It is about a child whose parents are not at home. She discovers matches and sets herself on fire and burns completely. In the story, the girl's name is Pauline.

XTC took influence from the book for their song "Scissor Man". from 1979's Drums and Wires.

The British post-punk band Shock Headed Peters, formed in 1982, took their name from the story.

The author, Heinrich Hoffmann, worked as a physician and later on as psychiatrist. Some of his stories describe habits of children, which can be in extreme forms signs of mental disorders. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is called Zappel-Philip-Syndrom (Fidgety-Philip syndrome) colloquially in Germany. The story of the Suppen-Kaspar (Soup-Kaspar) is a case example of anorexia nervosa. Uncombable hair syndrome is also called Struwwelpeter syndrome, after the book title.

  • Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard. (1984). The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Thomann Inge. Russische Kritik an Stjopka-Rastrjopka: pro et contra // Struwwelpost. Herausgegeben vom Freundeskreis des Heinrich-Hoffmann-Museums. Frankfurt-am-Main. 2003 (№9)
  • Thomann Inge. Russische Űbersetzungen des Struwwelpeter // Struwwelpost. Herausgegeben vom Freundeskreis des Heinrich-Hoffmann-Museums. Frankfurt-am-Main. 2007 (№13)

Struwwelpeter: Merry Tales and Funny Pictures at Project Gutenberg

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