Winter Tales: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

It’s getting closer and closer to Christmas, so for the next few weeks, I’m going to highlight some tales that are centered around Christmas or winter. To start us off, one of the most classic Christmas stories: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann. The story, first published in 1816, was turned into a ballet in 1892 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It soon became world famous.

If nutcrackers can be soldiers, why not baseball players?
If nutcrackers can be soldiers, why not baseball players?

What It’s About

It’s Christmas Eve. Marie Stahlbaum and her brother Fritz are wondering what their godfather, Drosselmeyer, will bring them for Christmas. He is a clockmaker and an inventor and always makes presents for them. When the children finally receive their gifts, they find a mechanical house full of people that can move. Marie, however, is entranced by a nutcracker soldier. She and Fritz crack nuts with it, until it’s jaw cracks. Marie bandages it and the family goes to bed, but she wants to stay with the nutcracker a little longer. As the clock strikes twelve, the nutcracker comes alive and joins the other now-living toys in fighting against a mouse army that has appeared. The mice are led by a seven-headed king. As the toys begin to be overwhelmed, Marie throws her shoe at the Mouse King. The next day, Marie tells Drosselmeyer what happened, and he tells her the story of Princess Pirlipat and the Mouse Queen.

The Mouse Queen played a cruel trick on Princess Pirlipat’s parents (try saying that five times fast) and the king retaliated by having the court inventor, Drosselmeyer, make traps for them. The Mouse Queen was understandably upset at the death of her children and in turn cursed the Princess, giving her a huge head, a wide (and probably creepy) smile, and a cottony beard. People searched for a cure that, as they often are in fairy tales, was ridiculously complicated. (You can find all the details of it here if you’re curious.) In the end, the poor boy who was trying his hardest to fulfill all the requirements failed and the curse affected him instead of the princess. He turned into a nutcracker and she had him banished because he was ugly.

The next few nights, Marie hears the Mouse King threatening to bite the nutcracker unless she makes a sacrifice to him (her other toys, candy, etc. Nothing too crazy). Finally, the nutcracker fights and defeats him and takes Marie to the doll kingdom. When she tells her parents about it the next day, they tell her to stop talking about her crazy dreams. Marie can’t forget about it, however, and promises the nutcracker that she’s different from Princess Pirlipat and would love him no matter what he looked like. The nutcracker becomes human again and thanks Marie for breaking the curse (it was apparently a lot easier the second time around). He proposes to her and a year and a day later, takes her away to the doll kingdom where they are crowned king and queen.

Fun Fact #1

The boy who tries to break Princess Pirlipat’s curse, and consequently gets turned into a nutcracker, is Drosselmeyer’s nephew.

Fun Fact # 2

The seven-headed Mouse King was the son of the Mouse Queen of Drosselmeyer’s story; part of the cure to the nutcracker’s curse was defeating him.

Fun Fact #3

This one isn’t so much fun as it is creepy. Marie was seven when the story took place. Seven. Yeah.

Fun Fact #4

In the ballet, Marie’s name changed to Clara. So no, I wasn’t mixed up. It was originally Marie.

I’m not going to do an “If You’re Interested….” because I’ve never seen any adaptations of this, other than the ballet. Let me know if you have, though!

What winter story should I talk about next week?

Until next time!

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