Bedtime Stories: The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann


Post by Mark T. Locker.

Bedtime Stories: The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

For most, the story of the Nutcracker is a beloved holiday tradition. Dress up fancy and go to the performing arts center or school to watch the popular ballet, whose music from Tchaikovsky is pretty much synonymous with the holidays. For many, hearing the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy will evoke images of Christmasy scenes.

But did you know that it was first a short story by 19thcentury author E.T.A. Hoffmann? Written in 1816, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” is the littleknown origin of the Nutcracker ballet. Hoffmann was a fan of the traditional German fairy tales, and their influence is obvious in the story.

On Christmas Eve, Marie and her brother are playing with their new nutcracker toy which becomes accidentally broken. She attempts to fix it and stays up late keeping it company. Suddenly, an army of mice appear. All the wooden toys then come to life and battle the mice. The next day Marie tells her godfather, Drosselmeyer, about the event and he tells her the story of the nutcracker and how he came to be. There are lots of unusual fairy tale goings-on, such as the need to have a princess eat a nut which must be cracked and handed to her by a man who had never been shaved nor worn boots since birth, and who must, without opening his eyes hand her the kernel and take seven steps backwards without stumbling.

In the Hoffmann story, none of this is a dream. The little girl sees it all with her own eyes and even though most adults don’t believe her, it’s a true story. My favorite version of this story is illustrated by Maurice Sendak, known best for his book Where the Wild Things Are. Richly illustrated, the story is both beautiful to look at and to read.


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