Suvi's Reviews > Nutcracker

Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann
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really liked it
bookshelves: 1800s, children, _europe-western

Let's return to Christmas time for a moment with the last book I read in 2016 (while my dad was suffering from influenza, and I myself had a cold and was in bed throughout Christmas with chocolate pralines, so perfect time for something light), and the last book from that year I'm going to review. The story of the Nutcracker is best known as the Tchaikovsky ballet, which in turn is based on Alexandre Dumas père's adaptation of Hoffmann's story. The ballet's gorgeous music and the beautiful sets and costumes bring just the right kind of magic to Christmas, which I think is what many traditionally-inclined Christmas lovers need at that time of the year.

Hoffmann's story is magical as well. Even though the ballet is great in many ways and the Christmas magic is unrivalled, it kind of grows old really quickly if you watch a lot of similar productions. Sometimes it seems a bit stretched as well, and compared with the original story, almost too straightforward.

I read the newest English translation by Ralph Manheim, and I have no complaints there (I occasionally like to read aloud whenever I'm reading nonfiction or a children's book in English, so I often gravitate towards the English translation/edition even when there's a Finnish one available). The illustrations are by Maurice Sendak (who also created the sets and costumes for the 1983 Seattle production). At first glance Sendak's pictures are pretty and just the right kind of traditional I usually like, but they started to seem a bit flat at one point. I love Tove Jansson's black and white Moomin illustrations and Rudolf Koivu's atmospheric works, but at least in Nutcracker Sendak's illustrations seem a bit lifeless. Maybe I'm thinking this too much, but they're just not something I'd expect to see in a German children's classic.

You see, Hoffmann's Nutcracker also has darker tones. It's not a colorful marshmallowy story, but occasionally it crunches like brittle between your teeth. The joy of getting presents each more gorgeous than the other turns into a bloody battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Marie's dreamlike adventures draw you into a fairy tale land that isn't simplistically innocent, but has also cracks and faults. It's a world where mice threaten to bite a baby in half and a creepy dude with a sweet tooth comes to chew your marzipan house to pieces.

So, when next Christmas the roofs are (hopefully) covered in snow and silence descends, make a cup of hot cocoa and sink into the depths of your arm chair. The Nutcracker is waiting on the pages for the next Marie.

"The children must have been especially well behaved that year, for they had never before received so many splendid presents. The big Christmas tree in the middle of the room was decorated with any number of gold and silver apples, and sugared almonds, bright-colored candles, and goodies of all kinds shaped like buds and blossoms hung from every branch. But the most startling thing about this wonderful tree was that hundred of tapers glittered like stars in its dark branches, and the tree itself, shining with an inner light, invited the children to pick its blossoms and fruits."
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Reading Progress

December 24, 2016 – Started Reading
December 27, 2016 – Shelved
December 27, 2016 – Shelved as: 1800s
December 27, 2016 – Shelved as: children
December 27, 2016 – Shelved as: _europe-western
December 29, 2016 – Finished Reading

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