Christmas Eve 1815: Little Marie Stahlbaum receives a special present, a Nutcracker whom she happens to love deeply from the first moment on. Later the celebration is over and everyone else already asleep, but the girl still tends to her new toy. Suddenly there are hundreds of mouses gathering terrinfyingly around her, lead by their horrible seven-headed king, when all the dolls in the house come alive and the Nutcracker leads them into battle against the intruders. After a period of success, the toy army is overwhelmed and the Nutcracker is about to be captured, but Marie throws her shoe at the evil Mouse King, allowing the doll to flee, and then faints.
This is just the beginning of E.T.A Hoffmann's fantastic story, a lot of other enchanting things happen, after the Nutcracker has defeated the Mouse King Marie is taken to the doll kingdom where she sees things like the Christmas Forest or the Candytown for example. The tale is quite long, almost ninety pages which is enormous considering that it is a fairy tale. Although it was written for children, the story is surprisingly demanding, a lot of things are only hinted and at times a fine touch of irony is noticeable. It was the first Hoffmann I've ever read, and I enjoyed his style of writing very much. It is clear that the story is supposed to appeal to older readers too.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is actually the first fairy tale since my childhood days that didn't bore me to death.
My ugly yellow copy
Reality shades into dream all the time and Hoffmann creates a wonderful, charming (Christmas-) world.
What surprised me the most was perhaps his characters's depth: of course there are good and evil ones, but the villains aren't born evil, they have their own stories and reasons for the things they do.
This is unusual in fairy tales.
Nussknacker und Mausekönig, as the German title is, is a light and fun read and a very inventive story. Trust me, it is enjoyable even if you aren't a child anymore, and that means a lot if it comes from me, a hater of children's books!