344. Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman

Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman. Pictures by Maurice Sendak. Translated by Ralph Maheim (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 102
Ages: 7+
Finished: Dec. 29, 2012
First Published: Original 1816; This Edition  1984 (Reprint: Oct. 30, 2012)
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Genre: Picture Book, Fairy Tale
Rating: 4/5

First sentence: "On the twenty-fourth of December Dr. Stahlbaum'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."

Publisher's Summary:  "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 created even more magnificent pictures especially for this book. He 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 tantalizing treasure."

Acquired: Received a review copy from Crown Publishers.

Reason for Reading:  I have never read this classic Christmas story and thought it would be a wonderful addition to my Christmas reading this year.  I am also a huge fan of Maurice Sendak.

I have not ever read the Nutcracker before, nor have I ever seen the ballet.  I am not a ballet-type person.  Neither have I seen a movie version of the story.  I *have* seen some Christmas movies which featured a girl who was in the ballet and have a very basic knowledge of the story from that, so I was very interested to finally read the original story.  But I cannot compare it to the abridged version everyone is more familiar with.  Sendak starts the book off with a very informative Introduction that explains how Hoffman's story got mixed up with a tale by Alexandre Dumas to become the popular tale told in the ballet we know today.  He then goes on to recount how he became involved in both a new ballet production of the original in the early '80s and the illustration of this first true-to-the-original English translation.  Excellent piece of writing.

The tale itself is a product of the Regency Era, albeit from the German counterpart.  This is a tiny bit earlier than the period I most prefer in my reading (post-1830) so I found the style not quite my thing but the story is a fantastical tale.  What is usually referred to as a tale within a tale, the best part, I thought, of the whole story was the little girl's fantasy into the story of the hard nut.  From what I gathered in the Introduction, this is the part left out of the ballet.  By far the best part of the whole story!  Indeed a fairy tale; this is a good translation which reads with the authenticity of its time period and yet is not stilted, taking the modern reader into account with the flow of the language.  An enjoyable story, full of wonder, which would make a very good read aloud to a variety of ages.  The story itself is not scary and Sendak's illustrations are wonderful.  He does not make much use of his "monster" style here except in a few instances, especially in the Nutcracker himself, whom I found quite hideous and his illustration may frighten small children.

I can't understand why this is referred to a Christmas story though.  Yes, the book starts on Christmas Eve, but time passes and Christmas is not a theme here.  I was especially delighted that the children expected their gifts to be delivered to them by the mystery of the "Christ Child"; What a wonderful way to have celebrated Christmas!  Overall, I am glad to have finally experienced this classic children's tale and did enjoy it but would not put it on an equal footing with say "The Christmas Carol" or "The Bird's Christmas Carol".


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