Review by Georgina Tranter
Published by Random House International
10th December 2012
On the twenty-fourth of December Dr Stahlaum’s children were not allowed to set foot in the small family parlor, much less the adjoining company parlor – not at any time during the day. Fritz and Marie sat huddled together in a corner of the little back room. An eerie feeling came over them when dusk fell and, as usual on Christmas Eve, no light was brought in. In whispers Fritz told his younger sister (she had just turned seven) that since early morning he had heard murmuring and shuffling and muffled hammer blows in the locked rooms. And a short while before, he confided, a small, dark man had crept down the hallway with a big box under his arm, and he, Fritz, felt pretty sure that this could only be Godfather Drosselmeier. At that, Marie clapped her little hands for joy and cried out:
“Oh, what do you think Godfather Drosselmeir has made for us?”
The tale of Nutcracker, written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816, has fascinated and inspired artists, composers, and audiences for almost two hundred years. It has retained its freshness because it appeals to the sense of wonder we all share.
Maurice Sendak designed brilliant sets and costumes for the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Christmas production of Nutcracker and has created even more magnificent pictures especially for this book. He has joined with the eminent translator Ralph Manheim to produce this illustrated edition of Hoffmann’s wonderful tale, destined to become a classic for all ages.
The world of Nutcracker is a world of pleasures. Maurice Sendak’s art illuminates the delights of Hoffmann’s story in this rich and tantalising treasure.
I was delighted to receive a copy of Nutcracker to review, because despite its age, and being a ballet fan, I have never read the story. This is a beautifully illustrated edition by the late, great Maurice Sendak, author of Where The Wild Things Are. The illustrations are superbly done and bring this classic tale to life. Whilst the story itself is dated, I think that adding these illustrations adds to the beauty of the book and helps to modernise it somewhat for today’s audience.
The story of Nutcracker begins on Christmas Eve, when siblings Louise, Fritz and Marie are met by Godfather Drosselmeier to receive his gift to them. He is an eminent clockmaker and every year presents the children with a beautiful mechanical gift that they are never allowed to play with. This year he gives the children a castle where the inhabitants can be seen moving forward and backwards inside. Whilst beautiful, the children soon loose interest in his gift and search out their own entertainment. Fritz seeks solace in his toy soldiers but Marie’s attention is gripped by an ugly looking soldier
figure. He is, in fact a nutcracker, and Marie is soon enchanted by him. Unfortunately he isn’t the best at cracking nuts and is soon broken by Fritz, only for Marie to take him into her care to live amongst her dolls in their glass-fronted cabinet home. From here, Nutcracker comes to life amongst the soldiers and hussars of Fritz and what begins is a battle against the army of the one and only Mouse King.
The book is basically in three parts, the first section being Act I of the traditional ballet and the final section being Act II, and interspersed between these is The Story of the Hard Nut which tells the origins of the little nutcracker soldier and how he came into being. This is a long book being some 100 pages in length but with the beauty of the illustrations would make a wonderful tale to be read aloud for children of all ages. A magical Christmas read.