Nutcracker by E. T. A. Hoffmann, Roberto Innocenti
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.
E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776–1822) was one of the best known and most influential authors of his time. Phantasiestücke, his earliest collection of tales, appeared in 1814. This was followed three years later by Nachstücke and then in 1819–21 by Die Serapoins brüder. Among his longer works is his second and final novel, Die Lebensansichten des Katers Murr (The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr), which represents the highpoint of his art. He exploited the grotesque and the bizarre in a manner unmatched by any other Romantic writer.
Joachim Neugroschel (translator; 1938–2011) won three PEN translation awards and the French-American Foundation Translation Prize. He translated Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, among other works, for Penguin Classics.
Read an Excerpt
FOR THE ENTIRE TWENTY-FOURTH OF DECEMBER, the children of Medical Officer Stahlbaum were not permitted to step inside the intermediary room, much less the magnificent showcase next door. Fritz and Marie sat huddled together in a corner of the back room. The deep evening dusk had set in, and the children felt quite eerie because, as was usual on this day, no light had been brought in. Fritz quite secretly whispered to his younger sister (she had just turned seven) that he had heard a rustling and murmuring and soft throbbing in the locked rooms since early that morning. Also, not so long ago (Fritz went on), a short, dark man with a large casket under his arm had stolen across the vestibule. However, said Fritz, he knew quite well that it was none other than Godfather Drosselmeier.
Marie joyfully clapped her little hands and exclaimed: “Ah, I wonder what lovely presents he’s made for us!”
Supreme Court Justice Drosselmeier was anything but handsome. He was short and scrawny, his face was covered with wrinkles, and he wore a big, black patch instead of a right eye. He also had no hair on his head, which is why he sported a very lovely periwig made of spun glass and very artistic. Indeed, the godfather was altogether a very artistic man, who even knew a thing or two about clocks and could actually build them. So if any of the beautiful clocks in Stahlbaum’s home fell ill and couldn’t sing, Godfather Drosselmeier would come by, remove his glass periwig, take off his snug yellow vest, tie on a blue apron, and insert sharp instruments into the gears. It was very painful for little Marie, but it didn’t harm the clock at all. In fact, the clock even grew lively, and it started cheerfully humming, striking, and singing again, much to everyone’s delight.
Whenever Drosselmeier visited them, he would bring something nice for the children. His pocket might contain a manikin that could twist its eyes and bow—which was comical to see. Or Drosselmeier might have a box from which a little bird came hopping out, or he might have something utterly different. But for Christmas, Drosselmeier always completed a gorgeous artistic work, which cost him a great effort. That is why, after showing the gift, the parents very cautiously stored it away.
“Ah, I wonder what lovely presents he’s made for us,” Marie exclaimed.
Fritz decided that this year it could be nothing but a fortress, where all kinds of very handsome soldiers drilled and marched to and fro. Next, other soldiers would have to storm and invade the fortress. But now the inside soldiers boldly shot their cannons, making them boom and burst.
“No, no!” Marie interrupted Fritz. “Godfather Drosselmeier told me about a beautiful park with a huge lake and with marvelous swans gliding about and wearing gold neckbands and singing the loveliest songs. Then a little girl comes to the lake and entices the swans and feeds them sweet marzipan.”
“Swans don’t eat marzipan,” Fritz broke in quite roughly, “and Godfather Drosselmeier can’t make a whole park. Actually, we get little out of his toys. They’re promptly taken away from us. So I much prefer what Mama and Papa give us. We can keep their presents nicely and do whatever we like with them.”
Now the children debated what their parents would bring them. Marie felt that Fräulein Trutchen (her large doll) was changing deeply. For, clumsier than ever, she fell on the floor every moment. This didn’t happen without a nasty grin, and there was no further thought of the cleanliness of her garments. Nor did a thorough scolding help. Also, Mama, we are told, smiled with such delight at Gretchen’s small parasol. Fritz, by contrast, assured the others that his royal stable lacked a good sorrel, just as his troops fully lacked a cavalry—Papa was well aware of that.
So the children knew that their parents had bought them all kinds of beautiful presents, which they now displayed. But the children were also certain that the dear Holy Christ shone upon them with the pious and friendly eyes of children. And they were equally convinced that, as if touched by fruitful hands, every Christmas gift would bring marvelous pleasure like no other.
The children, who kept whispering about the expected presents, were reminded of that pleasure by their older sister, Luise. And they added that it was now also the Holy Christ, who, through the hands of their dear parents, always gave them whatever real joy and pleasure He could bring them. Indeed, He knew that a lot better than did the children themselves, who didn’t have to nurture all sorts of hopes and wishes. Rather, they had to wait, still and pious, for their Christmas presents.
Little Marie grew pensive, while Fritz murmured to himself: “I’d love to have a sorrel and Hussars.”
By now it had grown completely dark. Fritz and Marie, thoroughly pressed together, did not dare say another word. It sounded as if rustling wings encircled them, and as if they could catch a very distant and very splendid music. A bright shine grazed the wall, and now the children knew that the Christ Child had flown away on radiant clouds, flown to other happy children.
At that moment, they heard a bright silvery chime: “Klingling, klingling!”
The doors burst open, and the radiance erupting into the large room was so deep that the children cried out: “Ah! Ah!” and they halted on the threshold, petrified.
But then Mama and Papa stepped in, took the children by the hand, and said: “Come on, come on, you dear children, and look what the Holy Christ has brought you.”
I TURN TO YOU, GENTLE READER OR LISTENER—Fritz, Theodor, Emst—or whatever your name may be, and I picture you vividly at your last Christmas table, which is richly adorned with gorgeous, multicolored presents. You will then envisage how the children halted, in silence and with shining eyes. You will then envision how, after a while, Marie cried out with a deep sigh: “Ah! How beautiful! Ah! How beautiful!” And Fritz tried out his caprioles, which were very successful. But the children had to have been devout and well behaved the entire year, for never had they had such splendid and such beautiful gifts as this time.
“For lit nerds and loved ones who are notoriously hard to shop for, you can’t go wrong with these festively bound classics. . . . Their size makes them perfectly stocking-stuffable.” —Entertainment Weekly, “The Must List”
“Leave it to the folks at Penguin—who gave us Gothed-out editions of horror classics for Halloween—to package these . . . slim Yuletide-themed volumes.” —Newsday, “Best Books to Give as Holiday Gifts”
“Remember how Christmas was celebrated before Black Friday with these 19th-century authors, in small uniform volumes wrapped in pretty jackets.” —USA Today, “Holiday Gift Books So Pretty, No Need to Wrap”
Nutcracker 4.7 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
To me, this is the best version of the Nutcracker story, because it was based on the sets that Sendak did for the Nutcracker ballet (for the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company, in 1984, I think).
The story is deftly told, and can keep the attention of even very young listeners, but, of course, the artwork is the star of this book (just as it was in the ballet).
Not everyone knows that Hoffman revered Mozart. Sendak did. Within the ballet, there is a vignette that feature Mozart's music, and within the book, there is a bust of Mozart prominently on a bookshelf. I also love the book because the story of the hard nut is told (how the nephew first turned into a nutcracker). And because, about two-thirds of the way through it, there are nine full pages of illustration without text. Nine full pages of Sendak illustrations!
More than 1 year ago
Read the full story of the gallant Nutcracker Prince, and revel in the magic of a delightful Christmas tradition.
More than 1 year ago
I was very blessed to win this wonderful book from Goodreads Give-away! It was the wonderful and original story written by E.T.A. Hoffmann with breath taking illustrations by Maurice Sendak. This was honestly the first time I read the full story in it's entirety and what a wonderful fairy tale for any person who loves fairy tale stories! Magical and also makes a great Christmas read! I will be buying some of these as gifts for sure. Make sure to pick up your copy today! Thanks again for choosing me as the winner of such a great prize. My family will treasure it for years to come!
More than 1 year ago
I recently had the opportunity to review a copy of The Nutcracker. This classic tale has been taken to new heights with the amazing and beautiful artwork of Maurice Sendak. While it's a bit long for my two year old to sit through, it lovingly adorns his shelf and we can read bit and pieces of this holiday classic nightly this season. The story is as beautifully translated as possible, but the it's the artwork that is the real star. I can't wait until our little lady joins our family and both little ones are old enough to enjoy this beautiful story and handcrafted artwork! If you're a fan of The Nutcracker, be sure to pick up a copy this season!
More than 1 year ago
I requested this book so that I could read it to my daughter. Since she is only two it was a slower process. I was unexpectedly intrigued by the story, so I ended up reading ahead on my own. I had seen the Nutcracker ballet, but the book provided many more details than the ballet. I am excited to watch the ballet again after having read the true story. The illustrations by Maurice Sendak are absolutely beautiful. I look forward to reading this book over and over to my children through the coming years. I highly recommend this book as a keepsake.
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
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