The story concerns a girl named Marie, who is given a nutcracker which looks like a soldier on Christmas Eve. That night, Marie witnesses a battle between her dolls, under the leadership of the Nutcracker, and mice whose king has seven heads. The following day, Marie finds out that the Nutcracker was once a young man who was cursed by the Mouse Queen. Further battles between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King take place before the rodents are defeated and the curse is finally broken.
In 1844, the novel was adapted by the French author Alexandre Dumas, best known in the English-speaking world as the writer of The Three Musketeers. It was Dumas' adaptation which formed the basis for the 1892 Russian ballet The Nutcracker with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Many subsequent adaptations of the story have been based more closely on the ballet than on Hoffmann's original novel.
The novel begins on Christmas Eve in the home of Marie Stahlbaum and her younger brother Fritz. Drosselmeyer, a friend of the family who is a clockmaker and inventor, arrives and gives the children a mechanical castle as a present. However, since the figures inside the castle keep repeating the same actions over and over again, the two children soon tire of it. Marie then notices a nutcracker in the form of a soldier. Her father says that the nutcracker belongs to the whole family but, since Marie is so fond of him, she can be his special keeper. Marie and Fritz both enjoy opening nuts with the Nutcracker, until Fritz places a nut whch is too large and too hard for the Nutcracker to open into the toy's mouth and breaks his jaw. Marie uses a ribbon from her dress to bandage the Nutcracker's jaw and tells him that Drosselmeyer will fix him the next day.
That night, Marie sees several mice emerge from behind the wall, including the seven-headed Mouse King. Marie's dolls come to life and start to fight the mice. The Nutcracker leads the dolls, proudly displaying the ribbon which Marie gave him. The mice are about to win the battle and the Nutcracker is about to be taken prisoner but Marie then throws a shoe at the Mouse King. As she does so, she faints and falls against a cabinet, cutting her arm on its glass door. In the morning, Marie tells her parents about the battle between the mice and the dolls but they think that it was just a feverish dream caused by the girl's injury.
Having repaired the Nutcracker, Drosselmeyer comes back to Marie's home. Marie tells him about the battle which she witnessed and Drosselmeyer tells her the origin of the Nutcracker.
According to Drosselmeyer's story, a princess named Pirlipat is tricked by the Mouse Queen into letting her and her mouse children eat some lard which was intended to be used to make sausages for the king's supper. The angry king orders the court inventor, a man named Drosselmeyer, to create traps to kill the mice. After her children are killed, the furious Mouse Queen puts a curse on Princess Pirlipat, magically transforming her into a nutcracker. Drosselmeyer and the court astrologer find out that there is only one way to cure the princess. a young man who has never shaved nor worn boots has to use his teeth to crack open the nut Krakatuk, hand the nut to the princess to eat and take seven steps backwards without stumbling. The king declares that whoever cures Princess Pirlipat can marry her.Many men try to crack open the nut, all of them breaking their teeth in the process, but Drosselmeyer's nephew succeeds. However, on the seventh step backwards, he treads on the Mouse Queen's tail. The curse passes to Drosselmeyer's nephew, who is transformed into a nutcracker. Pirlipat refuses to marry the young man because he has suddenly become very ugly.
At night, Marie hears the Mouse King order her to give him candy and all of her dolls, otherwise, he will bite the Nutcracker to pieces. Marie does what the rodent says but the Mouse King soon demands more. The Nutcracker tells her that he just needs a sword. Marie gives him the sword of one of Fritz's toy soldiers. The Nutcracker returns, carrying seven crowns as proof that he has killed the seven-headed Mouse King. He takes Marie away to the doll kingdom, where she sees many amazing sights. However, after she falls asleep in a palace in the doll kingdom, Marie wakes up in her own bed at home. Even though Marie is able to show her parents the Mouse King's seven crowns, they still insist that her visit to the doll kingdom was just a dream and forbid her to talk about it anymore.
Some time later, Marie is standing on a chair, looking at the Nutcracker in the toy cabinet and remembering the remarkable things which happened to her. She tells the Nutcracker that she would not be like Pirlipat and would love him no matter what he looked like. There is a loud bang and Marie falls off her chair. Her mother then tells her that Drosselmeyer and his nephew have arrived. Drosselmeyer's nephew tells Marie that he was the Nutcracker and that she broke the curse by saying that she woud love him regardless of his appearance. Marie and the young man later return to the kingdom of dolls and are eventually married.
The Russian ballet The Nutcracker (Russian: Щелкунчик, Балет-феерия; Shchelkunchik, Balet-feyeriya; French: Casse-Noisette, ballet féerie), with music by Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, was first performed at the Imperial Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg on December 18, 1892. The ballet was not a great success when it was first performed. Some critics expressed disappointment that the ballet deviated too much from Hoffmann's original novel. Tchaikovsky's 20-minute The Nutcracker Suite, made up of a selection of music written for the ballet, did, however become a success during the composer's lifetime. Today, The Nutcracker is one of the most popular ballets, especially in North America where it is performed by numerous ballet companies around Christmastime each year. Approximately 40% of the annual ticket revenues of major American ballet companies can be generated by performances of The Nutcracker alone.
The libretto for the ballet was written by the French-born Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Marius Petipa. It is based on Histoire d'un casse-noisette ("Story of a Nutcracker"), an 1844 retelling of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by the French writer Alexandre Dumas, rather than being directly based on Hoffmann's novel. The biggest difference between the plot of Petipa's libretto and the plot of the novel is that the backstory explaining how a young man came to be cursed and transformed into a nutcracker has been cut from the libretto entirely, even though that backstory is included in Dumas' retelling.
According to Marius Petipa's libretto, the ballet opens on Christmas Eve in a house where a party attended by several children is soon to be held. The house is home to a girl, usually called Clara rather than Marie, and her brother Fritz. Drosselmeyer, who in addition to being a talented toymaker is also a magician, arrives with presents for the children. One of those presents is a wooden nutcracker doll. The other children ignore the Nutcracker but Clara takes an immediate liking to it. She is extremely upset when Fritz damages the Nutcracker.
After everyone else has gone to bed, Clara goes downstairs to check on the damaged Nutcracker. She sees Drosselmeyer sitting on top of the clock as it strikes midnight. Mice then fill the room. The Nutcracker grows to life size. He, along with an army of toy soldiers and gingerbread men, fights against the mice led by the Mouse King. The Mouse King advances menacingly towards the Nutcracker. Clara throws a slipper at the Mouse King. That distracts him long enough for the Nutcracker to stab him and kill him. Having killed the Mouse King, the Nutcracker transforms into a handsome prince.
The prince leads Clara through a moonlit snowy forest of pine trees to the Land of Sweets. The Land of Sweets is the prince's home country. In his absence it has been ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy. The prince tells the Sugar Plum Fairy about how Clara helped him defeat the Mouse King and return to normal. A celebration is held in honor of the brave Clara. The celebration includes performances of a Spanish dance, an Arabian dance, a Chinese dance and a Russian dance. At the end of the celebration, the Sugar Plum Fairy leads Clara and the prince to a reindeer-drawn sleigh in which they leave.
The plot of The Nutcracker as it is performed today tends to differ somewhat from one production of the ballet to another. Many modern performances end with Clara waking up on Christmas morning, finding the Nutcracker and realizing that her adventures of the previous night had all been only a dream.
Animated films inspired by The Nutcracker and the Mouse King include The Nutcracker (USSR 1973), Nutcracker Fantasy (Japan 1979), Care Bears Nutcracker Suite (USA 1988), The Nuttiest Nutcracker (Canada/USA 1989), The Nutcracker Prince (Canada 1990), Barbie in the Nutcracker (Canada/USA 2007) and Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale (USA 2007). Live-action films inspired by the novel include The Nutcracker (Poland 1967), Nutcracker: The Motion Picture (USA 1986), The Nutcracker in 3D (Hungary/UK 2009) and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (USA 2018). Many of those films make extensive use of music from Tchaikovsky's 1892 ballet or draw on other elements from it.
An hour-long German-language TV movie adaptation of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was first shown on the channel ARD in Germany on December 25, 2015.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was adapted for British radio as a four-part mini-series. It stars the actor and comedian Tony Robinson as the voice of the Nutcracker and the veteran character actor Edward de Souza as the voice of Drosselmeyer. It originally aired on BBC 7 (now known as BBC Radio 4 Extra) between December 27 and December 30, 2010.
Notes and references
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 In many recent adaptations, the girl is called Clara, the name which she is given in Tchaikovsky's ballet.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Decorative nutcrackers, which look like soldiers, kings or other people, have existed in Germany since the 17th century. Such nutcrackers have jaws into which nuts can be placed to be opened. The jaw is moved by a lever on the figure's back. In the 19th century, they were popular Christmas presents for children, who would play with them in the day and whose parents would use them as nutcrackers at night. They continue to be made but are now usually only used as decorations.
- ↑ Daniel J. Wakin, "Coming Next Year; 'Nutcracker" Competition", The New York Times, November 29, 2009
- ↑ The Nutcracker in 3D was released on DVD as The Nutcracker: The Untold Story.
- Original German text of E.T.A Hoffman's Nußknacker und Mausekönig from Project Gutenberg.
- Free public domain audiobooks of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King in German and English from LibriVox.
- The Nutcracker on Christmas Specials Wiki.
- Films based on The Nutcracker and the Mouse King on Moviepedia.