Remember that classic scene from The Office's season 2 episode "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" in which office weirdo Dwight Schrute tries to edify his coworkers' kids by reading them a terrifying 19th-century German picture book? No? Here's a refresher.
Like many of Dwight's bizarre-sounding family traditions (Belsnickel, anyone?), Struwwelpeter is a 100-percent genuine relic of German folk culture. The cautionary tales were written and published by psychiatrist (!!!) Heinrich Hoffman in 1848. In a great example of how senses of humor change over time, the book was advertised as "lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder," or "funny stories and comical pictures."
The title refers not to the terrifying "great tall tailor" of Dwight's version, but to "Slovenly Peter," one of the naughty children featured in the book's ten cautionary tales. Oddly enough, the collection's introductory poem frames Struwwelpeter as a "pretty" reward for good children, rather than the total horrorshow it is.
When the children have been good,
That is, be it understood,
Good at meal-times, good at play,
Good all night and good all day—
They shall have the pretty things
Merry Christmas always brings.
Naughty, romping girls and boys
Tear their clothes and make a noise,
Spoil their pinafores and frocks,
And deserve no Christmas-box.
Such as these shall never look
At this pretty Picture-book.
Here's the poem Dwight read the kids, from an 1848 translation now available for your reading pleasure (or displeasure) thanks to Project Gutenberg.
The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb
One day Mamma said "Conrad dear,
I must go out and leave you here.
But mind now, Conrad, what I say,
Don't suck your thumb while I'm away.
The great tall tailor always comes
To little boys who suck their thumbs;
And ere they dream what he's about,
He takes his great sharp scissors out,
And cuts their thumbs clean off—and then,
You know, they never grow again."
Mamma had scarcely turned her back,
The thumb was in, Alack! Alack!
The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissor-man.
Oh! children, see! the tailor's come
And caught out little Suck-a-Thumb.
Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out "Oh! Oh! Oh!"
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast,
That both his thumbs are off at last.
Mamma comes home: there Conrad stands,
And looks quite sad, and shows his hands;
"Ah!" said Mamma, "I knew he'd come
To naughty little Suck-a-Thumb."
To read more Struwwelpeter stories, including one about the little girl who burns to a crisp after playing with matches while her cats look on and another about a hare that steals a gun and goes on a shooting rampage, head on over to Project Gutenberg.