This is not just a hackneyed version of “The Nutcracker” dressed up by the magnificent illustrations of Maurice Sendak. On the contrary, this book (beautifully printed and bound) features the original story written by E.T.A. Hoffmann, later watered-down for the famous ballet. While I have always loved the ballet in any form, this story is far superior to the traditional one, and captured my attention from the very start. As Sendak wrote in his preface about the version familiar to audiences today:
“[It] is smoothed out, bland, and utterly devoid not only of difficulties but of the weird, dark qualities that make it something of a masterpiece.”
Kent Stowell, the artistic director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, invited Sendak to collaborate on a new production, and they agreed to adapt the Hoffman version. The translation used in this book by Ralph Manheim is superb – there is nothing dated or stodgy about it, and I found myself unable to quit reading until I had finished the entire story. And as admirers of Sendak know, as an illustrator he is particularly well-suited to capture “weird, dark qualities” and render them as not at all scary but full of whimsy and fascinating detail.
My favorite parts? The character known as the Giant Sweettooth of Candytown (since he is obviously one of my progenitors) and the very last sentiment, which concludes:
“…Marie is believed to be still the queen of a country where sparkling Christmas woods, transparent marzipan castles, in short, the most wonderful things, can be seen if you have the right sort of eyes for it.”
“The right sort of eyes” …. What a marvelous concept!
Reissued by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2012