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Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet


Author: E.T.A. Hoffmann
Illustrator: Maurice Sendak
Translator: Ralph Manheim
Novella Written: 1816
This Translation Originally Published: 1984
Edition Courtney Read Published: 2012
Publisher: Crown Publishers, a division of Random House
Source: Received copy from publisher

The Story

From the cover flap:

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 has created even more magnificent pictures especially for this book. He has 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.

The Response

Everyone knows the story of the Nutcracker in one way or another – most of us know it through the ballet, which was based on Alexandre Dumas’ adaptation of Hoffmann’s novella. The thing with adaptations of adaptations is that something always gets lost along the way, whether intended or not. So while we are all familiar with the general story, there’s so much more than what most of us think the full story is about.

Aside from the ballet, my real introduction to Hoffmann’s Nutcracker was through an abridged version of his story when I was a child… so while I knew bits and pieces of the stuff that wasn’t in the ballet, I didn’t know it well. Even with that introduction, because it was an abridged version, I still missed out on some of the awesomeness that is Hoffmann’s original story. As far as I can recall, this version of the story is the first time I have read through the full novella… and I have to say that this book is going to become a much valued addition to my Christmas book collection.

Hoffmann’s novella tells the story of a young girl, Marie, who becomes enchanted with a Nutcracker doll that her godfather brings over for Christmas one year. Convinced that the Nutcracker is real, Marie’s affections for this ugly doll eventually turns him back into a real boy, reversing the enchantment that was placed on him years past.

While the whole book was utterly charming, the story about the origin of the Nutcracker doll was actually my favourite part of the novella itself. A fairy tale inside a fairy tale, this origin story was definitely on par with something that you might find in any collection of fairy tales – with romance and magic, good guys and bad guys, talking animals, and spoiled princesses.

The illustrations in this book are, in typical Maurice Sendak style, utterly amazing. Charming, sometimes a little scary, and completely beautiful. They completely suited the feeling of Hoffmann’s novella – sweet with a dash of darkness.

It seems completely appropriate that the publishers would republish this book in the year of Sendak’s death, to help readers and lovers of children’s literature take a moment and realize how much his gift enriched all of our lives. I haven’t read many other books that Sendak’s written or illustrated, but just from this and Where the Wild Things Are, you can really see how Sendak has a very distinctive style. A lot of the illustrations in these very much reminded me of the beasts from Where the Wild Thing Are, and it made reading this book that much more enjoyable.

The Bottom Line

This is a must-have for fans of Sendak, for people who love Christmas, or for fans of children’s lit. I only wish that I knew people with young children that I could buy this book for – I would’ve loved it as a child just as much as I love it now.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 7:05 am December 5, 2012.
Category: Children's
Book Author(s): , ,
Publisher(s): ,

  • Cheryl

    I reviewed this one recently too. Definitely a fun read, and interesting to see how different it was from the ballet. Now that you mention it, I think the story-within-the-story was my favorite part too!