Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann – Translated by Ralph Manheim

By Grace Heine

“I hope,” said the child’s mother, “I do hope, dear Judge that this story won’t be as gruesome as your stories usually are.”
“Oh no, dear lady,” said Drosselmeier. “On the contrary, this is a fairy story.”
“Oh, tell it, tell it, dear Godfather,” the children cried. And the Judge began.” (Page 40)

Title: Nutcracker
Written by: E.T.A. Hoffmann, translated by Ralph Manheim
Illustrated by: Maurice Sendak
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Publication Date: 1984
Paperback: 102 pages

On Christmas Eve, Merie Stahlbaum finds a wonderful gift beneath the Christmas tree: a Nutcracker. Later that night, as she is putting the doll to bed, he comes to life and a battle takes place at Merie’s feet. What follows is a series of strange events tangled up in a story of mice, toys, candy, and a curse of ugliness. But is there a way to break the spell?

What do you get when you combine candy, a gluttonous mouse, and blood?

Charlotte’s Web.

Just kidding.

The original Nutcracker story!

E.T.A. Hoffmann’s book is the perfect example of a forgotten classic. Everyone and their second cousin knows about The Nutcracker yet very few know about the long short-story the infamous ballet is based on.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was originally published in 1816 in Germany and is the creepiest Christmas book I have ever read.

The descriptions aren’t gory or gruesome but the things which take place are disturbing.

In the battle between the Nutcracker’s doll army and the forces of the Mouse King, there are descriptions of how the toy soldiers are killed.

There really shouldn’t be anything gory about dolls being “killed” but somehow there is.

Another disturbing thing was that the Mouse King kept creeping into Merie’s room at night and whispering into her ear that he wanted her candy.

And things get weirder.

I won’t ruin the plot but just know that the story also includes a King infatuated with sausage fat, a hideous (nut-cracking) princess, and lots of broken teeth.

Oh yeah, and there’s this weird couple of scenes where the Nutcracker takes Merrie to “Candy Land.”

There is also a proclamation of love given to a doll (which, when you think about it isn’t really a doll at all) and then a marriage.

Not to the doll – that would be really weird.

I will say: I did enjoy the ending. It satisfied my desire for a conclusional ending (of course conclusional is a word – why do you ask) yet the ending brought up several questions I will never get the answer to unless I go read Nutcracker fanfiction.

But who has time for that?

I want to recommend Nutcracker for anyone who wants to know the true story behind the beloved classic. However, due to the disturbing parts (think The Brothers Grimm type of disturbing) I can only recommend it to older/mature readers.

For More Information About the Book and Author: Click HERE

Range: 12 – adult

Cautions– *Contains slight spoilers – but come on, you know how the story ends anyway.*

Violence: Battles between Nutcracker/his army and the Seven-Headed Mouse King/his army. Description of how dolls are killed. A giant eats part of a candy city. Princes break their teeth/jaw/face trying to crack a nut. Creep of a Mouse King whispers into Merie’s ear that he will kill the Nutcracker if she doesn’t give up her candy. Mice are beheaded. A baby is bit by a mouse.

Sensuality: Two people are said to have gotten married. A princess is pledged to whoever breaks her curse.

Profanity: none.

Other: Fritz is rude to his parents and Godfather. The king throws a temper-tantrum (yes, the king). Judge Dosselmeier is creepy. Actually the book in general is creepy.

Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Cleanness Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

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Grace Heine is a sixteen-year-old wanna be writer who spends most of her time reading, writing, playing piano, or finding clever ways to be unproductive. You can visit her book review blog here.

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