The footprints of Struwwelpeter
Half a year after discovering Westeros, l found an attention-grabbing little booklet in a foreign-language bookshop in Bergen, Norway. The Germanophone storybook had the striking title (translated) Struwwelpeter, or Funny Stories and Droll Pictures. It had been first penned by one Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann (physician, author, and illustrator) in the nineteenth century.
The cover is striking. There’s STRUWWELPETER written in bold red letters, and below, a picture of a boy in red, with a tangle of blond locks that looks like a hybrid of afro and lion’s mane, and ostensibly Wolverine claws on his fingers (In short, like Joffrey Baratheon-Lannister wearing scissor hands, after having dried his hair in a tumble dryer). Pretty shocking.
Struwwelpeter, the lion-boy, is standing on a pedestal with the following verses (my translation from the German, as those of all the other Struwwelpeter verses featured):
See, here stands this creature.
Eww! It’s Struwwelpeter.
On both of his hands,
his nails, as he stands,
haven’t been cut for a year.
Neither has he combed his hair.
Eww! What a creature!
So this boy hasn’t had his nails cut or his hair dressed for a year. A warning against the neglect of personal hygiene. Fittingly enough for a book of Victorian cautionary tales. Wicked Frederick, the animal bully, is infected with rabies. Pauline, who plays with a lighter “like Mum has done so often before”, though her mother has forbidden it, catches fire and is reduced to ashes. The Wild Huntsman is attacked by a bunny, who has stolen his gun (another animal rights story, but this one with an adult). The bullet does not hit his body, but it causes him to fall into a well and drown, as the bullet shatters the Huntswife’s cup of afternoon coffee (she’s been widowed, but she seems to care more about her java!).
“The Story of the Black Lads” is a parable against racism:
There came a-walking through a park
a Moor whose skin was raven dark.
The sun shone hot on our Othello,
so up went his nice green umbrella.
Ludwig came, with the speed of light,
waving Prussia’s flag at the sight.
Kaspar came to the spot as well,
carrying a pretzel, you can tell.
And Willi did they not outsing:
he brought with him his stick and ring.
And all three laughed at line of sight,
“because his skin is black as night!”
Then came the Mighty Nicholas
with his great inkstand. Lord! Alas!
“You children won’t listen to me!
Why not calm down and leave him be?
Such racist jokes are all unfair!
It’s not his fault his skin’s not fair!”
But they laughed louder than before
at the poor raven pitch black Moor.
Then Great Nick turned wicked with rage,
just see the picture on this page!
He caught the fair-haired children three,
their coats, their arms, they were not free.
Kaspar fought back, cried “Open fire!”,
but Nick dismissed him as a liar.
Into his inkstand (Lord! Alas!)
dunked them the Mighty Nicholas.
Look at them now! What a sore sight!
All three are really “black as night”.
Had they shown tolerance and care,
I bet their skin would have stayed fair.
“The Story of Konrad the Thumbsucker” is one of the most striking. The young hero doesn’t die, neither is he left unpunished. Though the retaliation is rather disproportionate considering the offense behind it:
Mrs. Mum said: “Konrad, son,
right now shopping I’ll be gone.
You’re a big boy. Thus, no quips,
and keep your thumbs from your lips!
Or the Schneider will arrive
before you can count to five,
cut your thumbs off with scissors hard,
as if they were made of card”.
As soon as Mum was out of sight,
he tucked in his right thumb aright.
Thud! Someone opens the door,
and then, without warning before,
the Schneider springs (this looks so bad!)
towards Konrad, the sucker lad.
Scissors flash at lightning speed,
blood flows on the floor indeed,
With sharp scissors! Cold, hard steel!
And such a pain Konrad does feel!
When Mum has come home again,
her child bleeds like a fountain pen.
Without thumbs, frozen, there he stands:
both have been severed from his hands.
In “The Story of Soupy Kaspar” (the first Struwwelpeter story I ever read in my life, translated into Swedish, in an anthology storybook), the titular character refuses to eat for five days, with devastating consequences:
On the fourth day (poor little thing!)
Kaspar was slender as a string.
He weighed like one sole crumb of bread…
and, on the fifth day, he was dead.
The success of Struwwelpeter generated more than a clone in Germany and abroad. In the UK, Hilaire Belloc wrote more than one cautionary tale in verse, considering especially the following ones:
In the Victorian Era, the cautionary tale emerged as a genre to teach children the difference between right and wrong, usually in a gruesome way: such stories featured naughty children whose faux pas were punished with either death, disability, or ostracism.
The most renowned Anglophone author of such cautionary tales about middle-class and upper-class children hoist by their own petards is the nowadays hardly known Hilaire Belloc.
His most horrible stories for misbehaving children include:
- The story of Jim, who ran away from his nanny at the zoo and was eaten alive by a lion.
Self-explanatory. This one teaches that well-behaved children never leave their governesses in a crowd: even worse things than Jim's fate may happen to those who run away from their nannies.
- The story of Matilda, the girl who cried fire. This one is a modern update of an age-old fable. The risk of fire makes up for the lack of wild wolves in Victorian London, where our orphaned anti-heroine lives with her aunt. Matilda can't find any better pastime than calling the Fire Brigade every night her aunt goes to the theatre. Of course, she perishes in a real fire.
- The story of Rebecca Offendort, who slammed doors for fun and perished miserably. Poor Becky died an untimely death when one of her door slams knocked a marble bust from a nearby shelf. The sculpture fell, in less than a second, on the little girl's head.
As you can see, the stories deal with either physical or social death as punishment for rebel protagonists. In The Naughty Sack (Der Mummelsack), Envious Klärchen (“Neid-Klärchen”) wants a green gown like Lieschen’s birthday present. She develops a sickly obsession with the dress of her dreams, gradually turning literally green with envy!
Traditionally, all of these cautionary tales start with the title “The Story of... (character’s name and/or flaw)”, ever since Struwwelpeter itself (“Die Geschichte von…”). The stories typically follow a specific formula:
- The titular character and his/her flaws are introduced.
- The character is punished by either an accident due to his/her flaw (most examples given here), or an adult authority figure (sometimes a magical being, like the Schneider or the Mighty Nicholas).
- The titular character dies, or is branded an outcast.
In fact, the stories in “Alice of Human Sacrifice” can be read as cautionary tales. This interpretation is the one played with, for irony, in “Alice of Westeros Sacrifice”. The leading characters are treated as victims of their own flaws, with their opponents and/or allies (Loras in I, Stannis in II, Cersei in III, Drogo in IV) taking on the role of punishing authority figures. To show that the cautionary tales’ morals are ironic, the stories are told in prose. Otherwise we might get something in this fashion:
The Story of Renly Baratheon, who Made the Wrong Kind of Love
A young lad soft as a ripe peach
came from the Stormlands to the Reach.
If not for darker hair to tell,
you’d swear Renly was a Tyrell.
Years later, he’s stubbled, well fed,
to Margaery Tyrell just wed,
but the one who does his heart flaw
is one of his brothers-in-law!
With Loras he’d rather caress.
To the Tyrells, that’s no distress.
They’ve come to love him as their own,
and even offered him a throne.
Yet he’d seek Loras and entwine
their limbs in an arbor of vine.
Now, riding comes a lady fair,
and asks “Is young King Renly there?”
The tidings leave no one unharmed,
there’s a reason to be alarmed.
For Stannis has left Dragonstone,
and seized the Stormlands as his own.
“The flames of war are fanned awake,
the Seven Gods burned at the stake,
the godswood too… Come, Renly, lead,
for those strange zealots to recede!”
They leave the Reach, those gallant ranks,
with rainbow cloaks, each breastplate clanks.
Soon, they encamp before Storm’s End:
“I was born here, Loras, good friend!”
“You were born here, and so is the foe.
He’s older than you, as you know.”
“Sure jealous, as older brothers are.
Not a chance he stands, he won’t go far.”
The campfire’s lit, the flagon’s passed,
Renly and Loras lie, caressed.
Within Storm’s End, by faint moonlight,
Stannis Baratheon views this sight.
“There you are, loving a gentleman!
Now you’re as sinful as you can!
This ain’t forgiven, little bro!
Your sweet, short life will end in woe!”
Renly Baratheon, young Tyrell,
stand kissing before the farewell:
cold steel is thrust in Renly’s back,
and everything for him turns black.
The blade’s tip rises from his chest,
he falls, now everyone’s impressed.
To Storm’s End the slayer returns:
no one in camp his features learns.
The next day, on the battlefield,
Loras’s ranks to Stannis yield.
Soon young Tyrell is on his own:
his sweetheart’s lost life, love, and throne.
And to the Reach Loras has fled,
with lifeless form of Renly dead.
Golden rose trees watch now with grace
his last eternal resting place.
Every twilight, and every morn,
the Tyrells gather there to mourn.
Had Renly loved his darling wife,
he would have lived a longer life.
But the story is an ironic subversion, a critique of homophobia on religious grounds, as well as a eulogy for the late Renly Baratheon. Thus, it isn’t written in verse, and it employs a different style.