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The Nutcracker (1984)

The Nutcracker (1984)

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4.08 of 5 Votes: 4
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051755285X (ISBN13: 9780517552858)

About book The Nutcracker (1984)

Honestly, I’m not a big Christmas-lover. I don’t know whether it’s because of the fake homely feeling corporations force down upon us, those same twenty wretched songs played over and over again each year, or the fact that a one- (or two-) day-long celebration is stretched thin across more than a month’s time. While I do not downright detest Christmas, I wouldn’t exactly call it The Most Wonderful Time of the year either.One thing which does greatly please me during this time of year, though, is the string of classic Christmas-stories to pick from. They alone seem to capture a more honest version of the holidays with which I can agree; focusing on the joy of human interaction and love, spending time together and feeling appreciated, rather than stuffing one’s face with as much food as possible and drowning one’s house in electric lighting.In that original tradition, of course there’s your Dickens; but just as worthy of mentioning is E.T.A. Hoffmann’s wonderful story of “The Nutcracker”.So let’s put another log on the fire, refill our cups with hot chocolate and dive in, shall we?“The Nutcracker” introduces us to little Maria Stahlbaum, who discovers a small nutcracker underneath the family’s Christmas tree. Endeared by its proud stature and pleading twinkle in its green eyes, Maria cares more for the little wooden man than any of her presents.When the rest of the household retreats to bed, Maria stays behind with the nutcracker as darkness envelopes her. It’s only when the two are alone, that the magical attraction finally becomes apparent. While an army of mice, lead by their evil seven-headed Mouse King, appear from the shadows of the house and closes in on Maria, her beloved nutcracker comes alive and shows her his true nature.“The Nutcracker” has the same qualities as many of the fairytales of Grimm or Andersen in their original, raw, unpolished form. It can be delightfully mean or weird, yet also completely honest and tender. It can be interpreted as a delirious child’s nightmare or an actual alternate reality which only children, in their unspoiled and uncensored state, can enter. Set up in three distinct acts, each part of the tale features its own style and surprises, with a story (about a very hard nut) within the story and constant introductions to new, fantastical creatures. As a whole, it makes for a very entertaining novel which will surely be enjoyed by the entire family. Hoffmann’s work has since become linked with Tchaikovsky’s compositions, perhaps even overshadowed by it, and nowadays one can’t think of “The Nutcracker” without hearing the jolly overture or the delicate dance of the sugar plum fairy.Yet, it took well over half a century before Tchaikovsky’s symphony and accompanying ballet finally got the recognition it deserved. It’s now been 200 years since Hoffmann wrote the original story, so it’s high time it likewise becomes just as famous. It certainly deserves to be.

Marie Stahlbaum loves Christmas and all its magic and wonder (even with her older brother Fritz's teasing). When eccentric Godfather Drosselmeier presents his extraordinary and elaborate annual gift, Marie is much more taken with a simple Nutcracker doll she finds at the foot of the Christmas tree. But Fritz puts the little man to the test, leaving some of his wooden teeth broken. Marie is determined to nurse Nutcracker back to health, but finds herself caught up in the magical adventure of a lifetime when the vicious Mouse King appears and Nutcracker calls his troops to arms to defend the household.I've been reading through the source material for the Disney animated movies, and when it came to Fantasia, this was about as close as I could find (along with a retelling of The Sorcerer's Apprentice). It was good to read the original version of this story, and compare it to various retellings. Everyone's familiar with Tchaikovsky's ballet version, as well as of course Disney's interpretation featuring the magical passing of the seasons, but there's a little more to the original than can be told in most forms. I actually didn't find the story to be incredibly compelling after the first half. The battle was fairly interesting, and the interstitial story of The Hard Nut was a nice way to explain the origin of Nutcracker, but once Marie was whisked off to the most magical and also the stickiest and most random country ever it seemed to kind of drag. I just don't know if I need THAT much description of what every single cottage is made of. I was also surprised to discover just how closely an animated version I liked as a kid follows the story, even including the Hard Nut story of Pirlipat and the young man with an exceptionally tough jaw.Also, it must be noted that I chose this edition (over the one illustrated, oddly, by Maurice Sendak) because I was impressed by the illustrator's work in a recently perused edition of Pinocchio, but I was NOT similarly impressed by his work in this. The perspective and level of detail and general artistry are fine, but there's something really off about his rendering of human characters, especially Marie. I don't know why, but almost every single time she appeared she looked high or vacant or just (sadly) kind of hideous.This is a magical and festive classic, but I think I prefer the story in ballet form or as told by Disney's nature sprites. The plot kind of meanders and drags toward the end, but it still has its twists and turns and excitement. It's a shame Marie looked drugged in almost every illustration of her, but otherwise the artwork in this edition is mostly pretty enjoyable.

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Recently my mom gave me The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann, beautifully illustrated by Roberto Innocenti.I'd always heard that the "real" nutcracker story was significantly darker than the Christmasy-fun ballet, and yep - it's true. I'm reading a chapter after dinner each night to the kids, and so far Marie (not Clara as in the ballet) has cut her arm on a cabinet and fallen to the floor unconscious. Godfather Drosselmeier appears to have morphed from the ballet's lovable eccentric to a good candidate for the mental hospital. Nutcracker uses phrases like "where the devil are you?" And we're just halfway through! Still, I enjoy seeing the original text for a Christmas tradition I enjoy so much.

As a little girl completely mesmerized by the Nutcracker ballet, I could not pass up the opportunity to read the actual story by E.T.A. Hoffman. Translated by Ralph Manheim into this beautifully illustrated edition, I didn't realize what a treat I was in store for. Delightful, delightful! I felt like a little girl again! All the magic of Christmas just pours out of the pages! The illustrator (who also illustrated Where the Wild Things Are) creates the most quaint and intricate scenes. What a legacy he has left behind.I would chunk the book into three sections-the first being the familiar Act I of the Nutcracker ballet, with all the characters and general storyline similar to the well-known tale, but with charming details that cannot be expressed without words.The second section is a new story that Drosselmeier tells, "The Story of the Hard Nut", which I thought was just delightful. I found myself chuckling through the whole thing! It tells the tale of how the Nutcracker began to be, and the background story behind the battle between him and the mice.The third portion picks up with the familiar storyline of Act II, just as mystical in word as the dances and costumes of the Nutcracker ballet.Because this book is somewhat lengthy for young children (it is, after all, more than 100 pages long), I would probably recommend it to be read over several nights to children with short attention spans under the age of seven. Children above eight years old will love this quick and humorous read, and adults will be so entertained reading this to their children or grandchildren. I think it appeals to little boys and girls alike, with Marie as the heroine, and her brother Fritze a leading man.The cheeky pictures are so coordinated with the quirky text, that this book is such a perfect package of wonder! A most perfect Christmas gift! I will absolutely be pulling this book out every Christmas!
—Camille Millar

E.T.A. Hoffman’s original novella turns out to be much more complex, multilayered, dark, and disturbing than the bowdlerized confection that served as a scenario for Tchaikovsky’s ballet score. There are stories within stories within stories, calling to mind the Russian doll structures of the tales of Isak Dinesen or the Thousand and One Nights.Drosselmeyer plays a much more prominent role in the story, manipulating everyone behind the scenes and behaving quite ambivalently towards the children, alternately showering them with incredibly generous gifts then lashing out with catty remarks and freakish nursery rhymes. The main character’s name is Marie here, and it is one of her dolls who is named Clara, although there is sometimes a surreal fluidity of identity between the Marie and her dolls and the characters she meets in her dreams, suggesting that the dolls and fantasy characters are all ultimately projections of a child’s secret, unexpressed fantasies and desires. Marie’s brother is a much more likeable, more multidimensional character than the incorrigible brat portrayed in the ballet.Except for a set of ilustrations created to accompany a lengthy story within the story that was not used in the ballet scenario, the pictures here are all set and costume designs created by Maurice Sendak for a new production of the ballet. They’re all stunningly beautiful works of art, but because they weren’t created to illustrate Hoffman’s original tale, they make an imperfect fit and sometimes even contradict the text they are shoehorned into. For instance, we’re told that the Nutcracker has a hat like a miner’s cap and a lavender hussar’s jacket with white frogging, then we turn the page and see a nutcracker with a wooden crown and a bright red jacket with yellow trim that doesn’t look like any hussar’s jacket I’ve ever seen. Drosselmeyer’s eye patch shifts from the right eye to the left eye and Fritz sometimes holds his sword in the left hand, suggesting that some of the illustrations have been reversed for compositional reasons. Still, Sendak’s drawings are gorgeous and well worth having, and appear to have been the impetus for publishing this edition of the story. The publishers are to be credited for commissioning a superb new translation of Hoffman’s tale from the great translator Ralph Manheim rather than settling for a brief synopsis of the ballet or merely reprinting one of the older, inadequate translations.

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