Most English churches have bells. Ours doesn't - unless you count the one small bell which is rung 10 minures before the service begins "calling the faithful to prayer". Our neighbouring church in Colliers Wood has a tower full of bells which is the envy of our lot, and the reason why a couple of years ago we acquired the bells of an old Methodist chapel in Birmingham which was being demiolished.
There are three of them; all fine bells, cast at the great bell foundry in Loughborough. I love to look at them, but sadly all they do is sit on wooden palettes waiting to be hung in the tower, because bell-hanging costs more money than the church has.
Some local businesses have donated money towards the "bell fund" but there is still not nearly enough. A couple of people have started bring-and-buy stalls in the church to raise more cash, one of which is a book stall run by a lady called A.
I am drawn to second-hand books like a bee to honey.
Have you been stealing my books?
(looking up from a book) Nope.
Well someone has!
You're always looking at my books. Why do you never buy any?
Which usually guilts me into buying a few. Those unhung bells make me feel so sad!
Anyway, just before Christmas I gave my 8-year-old daughter K some money to buy herself some books from A's stall. One of the books she chose totally fascinated me: it's a new English edition of a very old German picture book called Struwwelpeter
("Shaggy Peter") by Dr. Heinrich Hoffman, originally published in 1845. I'd never seen it before and so I've done some research on the web: it seems that the earliest English translation was by Mark Twain in 1891, though this is not the one K found. You can read the whole thing in English (again not Twain's translation) here:
Project Gutenberg eBook of Struwwelpeter, Merry Stories and Funny Pictures, by Heinrich Hoffman
The book contains several illustrated rhyming stories, most of which have a very obvious moral. This for example is what happens to children who play with matches:
Thus the girl dies as a direct physical consequences of doing something dangerous (i.e. playing with fire). Other stories invoke a supernatural "bogeyman", the most disturbing of which concerns a little boy who sucks his thumb: his mother warns him that if he doesn't stop the "great tall tailor" will come with his scissors and cut off both his thumbs. Naturally the kid doesn't listen. As soon as his mom's back's turned he resumes his abominable habit and...
...well, you get the idea. When I showed this to my wife J she was totally grossed out:
You let K buy that
Well I didn't know what it would be like!
Well you should always check before allowing her to have any
So it was all my fault. As usual.
Bogeymen like the "great tall taylor" no longer have much place in children's literature, but one of the other stories (which also features a bogeyman of sorts) has a very modern moral. It starts with a black youth out for a walk. His umbrella makes him look rather like another black hero of children's literature, namely "Little Black Sambo" who turns the cruel tigers into pancakes. (Nowadays he's more often called "Little Kim" as the word "sambo" has become a racial slur. I'll have a rant about him some other day.) Anyway, the black boy meets three white youths who start teasing him for being black. Not very nice. But then this character appears:
In the modern English text he is called "tall Agrippa" and (as you can see) he owns a giant-sized ink pot. He shouts angrily at the white boys to stop teasing the black one, but of course they refuse to listen. In a rage he grabs them by the hair and dunks them on by one into his ink pot, after which they become black themselves. Moral: It's not good to tease people who are different from you.
Now one question, and one observation:
Who is "Tall Agrippa"? He only seems to be called Agrippa in this one translation. In the German he is called "Nikolas" and in Mark Twain's translation he is "Saint Nicholas", i.e. Santa Claus. This kind-of figures, as in the German tradition (so I'm told) "Santa" not only rewards good children but disciplines bad ones.
But if he is Saint Nicholas/Santa, why does this newer translation call him Agrippa? I've almost pulled a blank on this, except for a hint that there may be a connection with the German occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) - see Agrippa - Agrippa Von Nettesheim, Heinrich Cornelius - Occultopedia, the Occult and Unexplained Encyclopedia
According to Wikipedia Hoffman was (at least by the standards of his day) quite a multiculturalist, who believed in equal rights for all German citizens whatever their ethnicity. This comes out very clearly in the story of the black boy. It would be interesting to know what Hitler thought about him nearly a century later!