From December 23, 2013:
E.T.A. Hoffman was a German writer and composer from the Romantic school, his work gothic, strange, weird, often the stuff of nightmares. His story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was the basis for the music and the ballet. I included an excerpt from the book below.
‘Tis the season …
It wasn’t long after that incident that Marie was wakened one moonlit night by a strange rumbling that seemed to come from the corner of the room. It was as if small stones were being thrown about with squeaks and squeals mixed in.
“The mice – the mice have come back!” Marie cried in surprise. She wanted to wake her mother, but found herself unable to make a sound or move a muscle. She could only watch as the Mouse King squeezed himself out through a hole in the wall. His fourteen eyes and seven crowns glistened as he bounded through the room and made a huge leap up to the top of Marie’s nightstand.
“Hee hee hee, I must have your sugar balls and marzipan, or I will bite your Nutcracker through!” he squeaked, and gnashed his teeth hideously. Then he jumped off the table and disappeared through the hole in the wall.
Marie was so frightened by his horrific appearance that the next morning she was very pale and could barely say a word. A hundred times she wanted to tell her mother, Louise, or at least Fritz what had happened, but she thought, “will they believe me, or will they laugh at me?”
But one thing was certain, and that was that she would have to give up her sugar balls and marzipan. She put each and every piece in front of the toy cabinet that night. The next morning her mother said, “I don’t know how all these mice got into our living room – look, Marie! They’ve eaten all your candy!”
Indeed they had. The marzipan wasn’t to the Mouse King’s taste, but he nibbled it with his sharp teeth so that it had to be thrown out.
Marie wasn’t concerned with the candy, however. She was quite happy inside for she believed that Nutcracker was safe.
But that night she heard a dreadful squeaking and squealing right by her ear. The Mouse King was there again and looked even more horrible than before. His eyes gleamed and he hissed more threateningly from between his gnashing teeth, “I must have more. Give me your sugar dolls, or I’ll bite your Nutcracker through!”
And he jumped away again.
Marie was very sad. The next morning she went to the cabinet and looked mournfully at her sugar dolls. Her pain was not unreasonable – her sugar dolls were beautifully shaped and molded into figures even you might find difficult to believe. A shepherd and shepherdess looked after grazing flocks of milky-white lambs while their merry little dog scampered about, two mailmen walked with letters in their hand, and four handsome couples – men in dapper suits and women in beautiful dresses – rocked in a Russian swing. Behind that there were dancers, then Pachter Feldkümmel and Joan of Arc, whom Marie didn’t particularly care about. But in the corner stood a red-cheeked child, Marie’s favorite. Tears welled from her eyes. “Oh!” she exclaimed, turning to the Nutcracker, “Dear Mr. Drosselmeier, I’ll do everything I can to save you, but it’s very hard!”
She looked at the Nutcracker, who looked so helpless that she couldn’t help but imagine the Mouse King with all seven mouths open to devour the unfortunate young man. At that, she was ready to sacrifice everything. She took all of her sugar dolls and set them by the base of the cabinet as she had with the sugar balls and marzipan the night before. She kissed the shepherd, the shepherdess, the lambs, and her favorite, the red-cheeked child, which she put in the very back. Pachter Feldkümmel and Joan of Arc were put in front.
“Now that’s too bad,” Marie’s mother said the next morning. “A very big and nasty mouse must live in the toy cabinet, because poor Marie’s sugar dolls are all gnawed and chewed up.”
Marie could not keep herself from crying, but she soon smiled again when she thought to herself, “what does it matter? Nutcracker is safe.”
That evening, after Marie’s mother told the judge about the damage caused by the mouse in the cabinet, Dr. Stahlbaum said, “it’s a shame we can’t exterminate that infernal mouse that’s destroying Marie’s candy.”
“Hey,” Fritz interrupted enthusiastically, “the baker downstairs has got a big gray cat I’d like to bring up. He’ll take care of things and bite off that mouse’s head, even if it’s Lady Mouserinks or the Mouse King himself!”
Their mother laughed. “And jump around on tables and couches, knock down the glasses and cups, and cause a thousand other damages.”
“Oh, no, he wouldn’t,” Fritz protested. “He’s a clever cat. I wish I could walk as gracefully on the roof as he does.”
“Please, no tomcats tonight,” said Louise, who could not tolerate cats.
“Actually, Fritz has a point,” Dr. Stahlbaum said. “But could we set up a trap? Or do we have none?”
“Godfather Drosselmeier can make one. He invented them,” Fritz said.
Everyone laughed, and after Mrs. Stahlbaum informed everyone that there were no mousetraps in the house the judge announced that he had several, and within an hour he had gone to his home and brought back a splendid mousetrap.
The tale of the hard nut was very much alive inside Fritz and Marie’s heads. When Marie saw Dora the cook (whom she knew quite well) browning the fat, all of the stories came rushing back to her head. She began to tremble and she blurted “oh my queen, beware of Mouserinks and her family!”
At that, Fritz drew his sword and said, “if any of them showed up here, I’d take them out!”
Later, as Fritz watched Drosselmeier bait the mousetrap and set it into the cabinet, he said, “careful, Godfather Drosselmeier, that the Mouse King doesn’t play some trick on you.”
That night, Marie felt something like ice-cold feet crawling up her arm and something rough and disgusting brush against her cheek. There was a horrible squealing in her ear – the Mouse King sat on her shoulder. He drooled blood-red, gnashed his teeth even more ferociously than before, and hissed into Marie’s ear:
Don’t go to the house
Don’t go to the feast
Can’t let yourself get caught
Like a wretched little beast
Give me all your picture books
Give me your Christmas dress
Or I’ll nibble Nutcracker all to bits
And you’ll never have any peace
Marie was miserable and visibly distressed. She was haggard and pale, and when her mother – who though that Marie was still upset over her candy and terrified of the mouse – noticed this she said, “I’m afraid that nasty mouse hasn’t been caught yet.” Then she added, “but we’ll get it, don’t worry. If the trap doesn’t work, we’ll have Fritz bring up the baker’s cat.”
As soon as Marie was alone in the living room, she stood in front of the glass cabinet and sobbing, said, “oh, Mr. Drosselmeier, what more can an unfortunate girl like me do for you? The Mouse King wants my picture books and the dress the Christ Child gave me – and when he’s bitten through those he’ll just demand more. I’m afraid when I run out of things to give him he’ll want to bite me up instead. What am I supposed to do now?”
As Marie complained to the Nutcracker, she noticed a large spot of blood on his neck.
Since learning that the Nutcracker was really Drosselmeier’s nephew, she no longer carried him about in her arm nor kissed him as she had before, and in fact she found herself becoming quite shy in front of him. However, she removed him from the toy cabinet and wiped away the blood with her handkerchief. Suddenly, she felt him growing warm in her hand – and even moving. She quickly set him back down, and he spoke with apparent difficulty, “my dear Miss Stahlbaum, to whom I owe everything, do not sacrifice your picture books or your Christmas dress for me. I just need a sword – if I had a sword, I could-”
And suddenly he stopped, and his melancholic eyes became still and lifeless once more.
Marie was no longer frightened or worried. In fact, she jumped with joy because she now knew how to save the Nutcracker without sacrificing any more of her treasured possessions. But where to find a sword? She decided to ask Fritz, and that evening after their parents had departed from the living room, told him the complete story of what had happened in front of the toy cabinet that fateful night, and what she had to do to save Nutcracker now.