Genre of the Week: The Flying Robert by Heinrich Hoffmann


Many of us have heard of and/or watched the pretty British lady with a smile on her face, flying with an umbrella into someone’s home and into the hearts of many children and parents alike, turning a messy house and environment into one that that is orderly and bearable for all to enjoy. Mary Poppins was an early Disney cult that children have been watching for over 50 years. With songs and magic like it was written by Walt Disney, the book series, written by P.L. Travers and featured seven books, would not have been an American canon (under the setting of classic Children’s books in America converted into film) without the help of the main actress, Julie Andrews. 🙂

And while one person flew in with the umbrella, another flew away with his own. It is unknown whether P.L. Travers concocted his book based on another poem by German poet Heinrich Hoffmann, but it is one where if you don’t know about it and happen to come across a painting with a person flying away with an umbrelly, it’s a grave misunderstanding.


My daughter drew this scene of Robert flying away a while back and my first impression was Mary Poppins losing control of her umbrella. It was probably because of all the times I watched this scene from the Simpsons:

But in all reality, while Mary Poppins (or even in this episode, Shary Bobbins) stressed the importance of cleanliness, respect and love, in the poem by Hoffmann, written in 1845, looks at a disobedient boy, who when a storm appears, decides to go outside in the wind and rain, while the other children went inside.

In the end, the boy was in for a surprise…..

The poem can be found in German as well as English, by clicking here.  The poem shows the importance of risks when doing something a person should not do. This partially explains the reason behind having Santa Claus (or Father Christmas in English; Weihnachtsmann in German). In case your child is naughty, you might want to direct him to this piece.

And may God have mercy on that child’s soul. 😉


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About the Author: Heinrich Hoffmann was born in 1809 and died in 1894, both in Frankfurt/Main. He was a physician and a psychiatrist who also devoted some time to writing. While he wrote about satire, his primary works were based on his writings he did for his son for Christmas. This included Struwwelpeter (Slovenly Peter), which was part of a large collection of works published in 1854. As a psychiatrist, Hoffmann discovered the pychological disorder schizophrenia during his time in an asylum, where he observed the conditions of the patients and tried successfully to help them. Hoffmann had three children with his only wife, Teresa; only one of them preceded in death before his time. A museum devoted to Hoffmann’s work can be seen in Frankfurt/Main.