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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by E.T.A. Hoffman (1776-1822)
Age Range: 9-11
Thanks to Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker is one of the best known stories of world literature. However, few people realise that the ballet is actually an expansion of one small section of the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann which was first published in 1819.
One Christmas Eve, Herr Drosselmeyer, a maker of magical toys, gives his goddaughter Marie a nutcracker. Later that night, Marie creeps downstairs to retrieve it from under the tree, but she falls asleep and is transported into another world, where her nutcracker takes on a human form and she finds herself in the midst of a strange adventure.
This original Hoffmann tale occasionally shows a darker side of childhood fantasies and fears. The boundaries between dream and reality are blurred, just as Herr Drosselmeier is seen alternately as sinister and jolly.
Roberto Innocenti’s richly eloquent illustrations reflect both the joyous as well as these darker, psychological elements. His exquisite detail and sense of perspective is extraordinary and helps to create a sombre mood when the story is dealing with the darker elements. Marie’s dreams are eerily realistic as they are touched by a mysterious light. The characters look wan and a little sad, and the colour is subdued, primarily shades of brown, with slate blue and dusty rose hues. The portrayal of the mice are wonderful, particularly the picture on page 65, of two mice being captured in a cage, with their relatives bemoaning their fate. A beautiful version of this classic tale that will captivate adults and children alike.