“The Nutcracker”, written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816, has been an inspiration for artists and composers the world over and has entertained children and adults for over two hundred years.
The tale begins on Christmas Eve where Marie and her family are partaking in the Christmas festivities. Marie receives a present of a Nutcracker from her godfather, Drosselmeyer, who is a clockmaker and inventor. At the stroke of midnight, the grandfather clock chimes and the dolls in the toy cabinet come alive, along with mice from beneath the floorboards. A battle ensues between the toys, commanded by the Nutcracker, and the mice which is led by the seven-headed Mouse King.
Hoffmann’s original work was titled “Nutcracker and Mouse King”, but it never received broad acceptance and success until Alexander Dumas, one of the most financially successful authors of the time, (author of “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo”) created his version of it called “The Story of a Nutcracker”. This was a retelling of Hoffman’s tale translated from German into French which softened the darker and more grotesque elements of the original.
“The Nutcracker” is perhaps most notably popularised by the ballet composed by Tchaikovsky. The ballet was based on Dumas’ version and not Hoffman’s. The original ballet in 1892 was panned by critics, but from the ballet score, Tchaikovsky curated “The Nutcracker Suite” which was picked up by orchestras as part of their repertoire and went on to become more popular than the original ballet. It wasn’t until 1954 when the New York Ballet staged a reworking of “The Nutcracker” with new choreography, that the work was elevated from obscurity into the annual Christmas classic it is today.
Unfortunately, Hoffman’s “The Nutcracker” is rarely well translated or published in its entirety. The multiple abridged and modified versions of the original usually get oversimplified and lose the beauty and nuance of its rich plot and language. All abridged versions omit the “The Tale of the Hard Nut” – a ‘story within story’ told to young Marie by her Godfather Drosselmeier when the girl is sick in bed. The omitted part is one of the best-written fairy tales I’ve read, explaining how the Nutcracker came into being.
This volume, produced and published by Palazzo Editions, is part of the series of unabridged children’s classics superbly illustrated by Robert Ingpen (read more about the series at the end of this post). Not only is this is an unabridged original of “The Nutcracker”, but it has also been translated from German by the best award-winning English translator, Anthea Bell. Her work is known for remaining true to the spirit of the original whilst retaining its humour and carefully conveying its nuances. Check out a few captioned images below for a little taste of Hoffmann’s language in Anthea Bell’s respectful translation:
Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (commonly abbreviated as E. T. A. Hoffmann) was born in 1776 in Prussia, in a city that is now Kaliningrad in Russia. Hoffmann replaced his original name of Wilhelm with Amadeus in homage to the great genius Mozart.
He was educated in law and worked in the courts as a civil servant, but his passion was music. He wrote music, wrote music reviews, wrote fiction, drew and painted.
Hoffman famously wrote one of the most influential reviews of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in 1810, not long after it was first performed. Here is a very insightful podcast from NPR which tells the whole story. Young Hoffmann also held positions as an orchestral conductor for the theatres in Bamberg and Dresden and has composed an opera – Undine.
Hoffmann turned to writing in his thirties, as a way to supplement his income. Little did anyone know back then that he would become one of the most influential authors of his time. His writing is known for its strange and nightmarish qualities, but also its wit and beautiful rich language. He is indisputably a seminal figure in the field of fantasy writing for children.
Robert Ingpen was born in 1936 in Geelong, Australia where he still lives and works. In 1986 he became the only Australian awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for his contribution to children’s literature. He has been honoured with the Order of Australia membership for his contribution and has won many awards throughout his long and prolific career as an illustrator. He has been awarded the CBCA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016 and is rightfully regarded as Australia’s national treasure. His books are well-known all over the world, his name is certainly huge amongst the Russian readers (the community of my upbringing). Russian publishers are snatching any work illustrated by Ingpen as soon as it is out.
This volume of “The Nutcracker” is the 14th in a series of unabridged children’s classics published by Palazzo Editions and illustrated by Robert Ingpen between 2004 and 2016.
The other titles in the series include: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (L. Carroll), “Alice Through the Looking Glass” (L, Carroll), ” Around the World in Eighty Days” (J. Verne), “Just So Stories” (R. Kipling), “Peter Pan and Wendy” (J.M. Barrie), “The Adventures of Pinocchio” (C. Collodi), “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (M. Twain), “The Jungle Book” (R. Kipling), “The Secret Garden” (F. H. Burnett), “The Wind in the Willows” (K. Grahame), “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (L.F. Baum) and “Treasure Island” (R. L. Stevenson) and “A Christmas Carol” (C. Dickens). These series make up a stand-alone and wonderfully illustrated library of classics. To learn more about the other titles in the series of 14 illustrated by Robert Ingpen click here.
“Robert Ingpen is the keeper of the imagination. The dreamer in him is always present and the dreams feel compellingly real.” If your child could only read 14 books before they grow up – let them read these fourteen.
For other great Christmas and winter-themed books click here.
If you'd like to win this book, click here to find out how, then watch out for more great Christmas book reviews coming up in this Advent review series.