Sunday, July 07, 2013

Horror Stories for Boys and Girls

I have just inherited  a copy of Boys' and Girls' book of the Year, 1935, published by Express Newspapers (full citation at the bottom of the post). It is a fascinating cultural document of the inter-war years. I will try to post a pdf of the entire book at some point. Anyway, flicking through the pages, I came across this gruesome cartoon.

The story is about a boy called Conrad who persistently sucks his thumb. His mother warns him if he continues to do this the scissor man will come and cut off his thumbs. It is part of a collection called 'StruwwelPeter' (Shock Headed Peter). According to the Wikipedia entry these were German children's stories by Heinrich Hoffmann. Each story contained a clear moral that demonstrated the disastrous consequences of misbehavior in an exaggerated way--I guess when they say exaggerated they mean as in a scene from Hostel.

Given that there is an ongoing moral panic about the potential damage of 'exposing children to violent media' i.e. videogames and the internet, I felt that it was salutary to remember that such a diet of horror is not a new development in relation to children. This observation (which has been made before) helps to counter the fear generated the the scholarly rhetoric of proponents of the media effects tradition. But what I find interesting is that these stories showed up in a British Children's annual, which demonstrates their diffusion outside of Germany.

Express Newspapers (1935) Boys' and Girls' book of the Year. London & Edinburgh: Morris And Gibb Ltd.

see more lurid images from StruwwelPeter here

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