Friday, January 28, 2022

The Nutcracker.

To my dearest friends and followers,

Have you ever read a book by the name of The Story of a Nutcracker or The Nutcracker of Nuremberg or simply, The Nutcracker? I am talking about the book written not by the original author, E.T.A. Hoffman, but by Alexandre Dumas, the French writer known for his other works, The Count Of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

I became infatuated with the story as a small child when I watched, for the first time, Barbie in the Nutcracker. I then began to collect my own Nutcracker dolls, as I wanted to have one just like the character in the story. And then one turned into twenty-one. As a teenager, I saw the Nutcracker ballet performed, and only one year after that, I saw it performed by the Moscow Ballet. To date, I have seen it twice by the Moscow Ballet and I still love the story every bit as much as I did when I was a kid.

Alexandre Dumas wrote a retelling of Hoffman's story in 1844. Why? I have no idea. Supposedly, it was Dumas' version that inspired Tchaikovsky to compose the now world-famous Nutcracker suite.

So, before I get started talking about Alexandre Dumas' The Nutcracker, I should point out that I've actually never read the original by Hoffman. I know, how can I even consider myself a fan, but hey, I have every intention to read it  - one day...
I don't know how much Dumas' version differs from the original, but I must say, it's quite a bit different from the version I'm sure most of us are familiar with, thanks to the ballet. In a word, it's dark. Much darker than I ever knew the story to be.
And it often makes the reader question, what is real and what is not? I was very confused throughout most of the story. 

The author spends the preface explaining his whereabouts and why he is to retell the story - basically, he's being held captive by the children of the party he has attended and they demand he tell them a story. So he does of course. 
He tells them of young Mary and her brother, Fritz. Now, mind you, it never really says the age of the children, but I imagine Mary is about 6 years old. I'm not sure about Fritz, sometimes I think he's older than Mary, and sometimes I think he's younger (the story might have said whether he was older or not, but I can't remember).
It's Christmas day and Godfather Drosselmayer brings the children gifts, including a Nutcracker doll for Mary.

At night, when the children are supposed to go to bed, Mary asks her mama if she can stay up just a little bit longer to finish putting her toys away, to which her mama agrees. Suddenly, the clock doesn't chime the hour and Mary thinks she sees Godfather Drosselmayer sitting on top of it, preventing it from striking. The absence of the chime doesn't scare away the mice as it seems it usually does, and the mice enter the room and a great battle breaks out between the mice and the toys. The Mouse King has seven heads and is quite terrifying. Just when he is about to kill the Nutcracker, Mary throws her shoe at him and he leaves, but threatens that he will be back to finish the Nutcracker.

Mary then wakes up the next day in bed and everyone thinks her delirious from an injury she had gotten the day before. However, while she is in bed, Drosselmayer tells her a story.

It is about a pretty princess who is only a baby, and one day, Dame Mousey (the not-so-friendly castle mouse) crawls into the crib of the baby and bites her nose. However, this leaves the princess with an ugly head, much too large for her body, a thick beard, and a smile that stretches from ear to ear. I suppose Dame Mousey is an enchantress of sorts? But the narrator never tells us.
Dame Mousey distorts the princess's beauty out of revenge when the king had her seven sons killed.

Drosselmayer, the mechanician in this story, gets together with the astrologist to come up with what to do about the princess.
At one point, the mechanician takes apart the infant princess, removing her head, her arms and her legs, in an attempt to see if he can repair her. When he finds that he cannot, he puts her back together - like she's a doll...
Mechanician Drosselmayer and the astrologist discover that they need a crackatook nut and it can only be cracked by the Nutcracker, a boy who has never shaven and who has always worn boots. This will cure the princess of her current state when she then eats said nut. Basically, the king gives them until the princess is of age to be married. Years later, the two men return empty handed with only a few months to spare. The king is angry, but allows them to return to Nuremberg, their hometown, until their execution day. When they return home, they go to Drosselmayer's brother's house, where he had the crackatook nut the entire time, AND his son, Nathaniel Drosselmayer, who is sometimes called the Nutcracker, has never shaved, and has always worn boots. They attach a wooden plank to the young man, as if he is a nutcracker doll, and return to the kingdom.
The young man is able to crack the nut when they pull on the wooden plank, and he gives it to the princess. When she eats it, she returns to her former beauty. Being now 15 years of age, and Nathaniel Drosselmayer 17 years of age, they were promised to marry, but when Nathaniel steps backward, he steps on Dame Mousey, who curses him. He then becomes exactly like a Nutcracker doll,  and the princess finds him repulsive.
In Dame Mousey's dying words, she says to the Nutcracker, that he will have to win a great battle and defeat the seven-headed mouse - descended from her seven sons, and that a girl will have to fall in love with him, despite his uglyness.

Mary recovers and firmly believes that her Nutcracker is the one from the story. She is determined to help him and does everything she can to protect him from the mouse king who keeps returning. Eventually, the Nutcracker defeats his opponent and takes Mary to the Kingdom of toys. I still couldn't tell if she was dreaming or if this is her imagination or if it's real or if something else is going on? Basically, the next day, Nathaniel Drosselmayer shows up at the house, only he isn't a teenager, he is a child. He and Mary get married one year later (so I'm guessing she's like, 7 now?) and rule the Kingdom of toys together.

The book was very creative and full of interesting characters and silly occurrences, but what the heck did I just read?! I finished the book feeling very confused. Maybe it's just about a child's imagination? I think that's the only thing that makes sense, because otherwise it doesn't make sense and I don't know what actually happened and what Mary dreamt happened and my head started to hurt.

In the book, there is a doll named Clair who belongs to Mary. This doll seems to have some (possibly romantic?) interest in the Nutcracker, though it is never really explored or even mentioned again. I wonder if this was the inspiration for the ballet, where we see the main character shrink down to the size of the nutcracker? Or possibly I'm missing something having not read the original.

Really interesting story though. At the very least, it's cool to see the roots of the Nutcracker ballet that I love so much and I'd say it's definitely worth a read just for that sake.

I would like to note that the version I read was published in 2018 by Fall River Press. While the book is beautiful on the outside, it was very poorly put together with several typos and errors. Also, the illustrations do not match the story, but instead, the part that is illustrated happens several pages later. If you want a copy, maybe try the Penguin classic or something else..?

Thank you for reading!!

Yours truly,

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and The Tale of the Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman and Alexandre Dumas (2-in-1 Penguin Classic)

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