Full of magic and childish wonder, this coming-of-age novella has something for everyone: beautiful dolls, ferocious battles, and dark undertones. Younger readers will be enchanted by this children's classic, while older readers will be intrigued to discover the background to the famous ballet libretto. It is Christmas Eve and little Marie has tired of her new presents, happily playing with a nutcracker instead. So when her brother Fritz breaks it, she is horrified, tenderly bandaging the little nutcracker with her ribbon and putting him to bed. When the clock strikes midnight, Marie is stunned to see an army of mice advancing, led by a seven-headed Mouse King. Her very own nutcracker leads the dolls and toys against the mouse army and a violent battle ensues. This timeless tale is full of the magic of Christmas, but is a delight to read at any time of the year. Its enduring popularity is testament to its originality and charm.
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On the twenty-fourth of December, Dr. Stahlbaum's children were not allowed on any pretext whatever at any time that day to go into the small drawing-room, much less into the best drawing-room into which it opened. Fritz and Marie were sitting cowering together in a corner of the back parlour when the evening twilight fell, and they began to feel terribly eerie. Seeing that no candles were brought, as was generally the case on Christmas Eve, Fritz, whispering in a mysterious fashion, confided to his young sister (who was just seven) that he had heard rattlings and rustlings going on all day, since early morning, inside the forbidden rooms, as well as distant hammering. Further, that a short time ago a little dark-looking man had gone slipping and creeping across the floor with a big box under his arm, though he was well aware that this little man was no other than Godpapa Drosselmeier. At this news Marie clapped her little hands with joy, and cried:
"Oh! I do wonder what pretty things Godpapa Drosselmeier has been making for us this time!"
Godpapa Drosselmeier was anything but a nice-looking man. He was small and lean, with a great many wrinkles on his face, a big patch of black plaster where his right eye ought to have been, and not a hair on his head; which was why he wore a fine white wig, made of glass, and a very beautiful work of art. But he was a very, very clever man, who even knew and understood all about clocks and watches, and could make them himself. So that when one of the beautiful clocks that were in Dr. Stahlbaum's house was out of sorts and couldn't sing, Godpapa Drosselmeier would come, take off his glass periwig and his little yellow coat, gird himself with a blue apron, and proceed to stick sharp-pointed instruments into the inside of the clock in a way that made little Marie quite miserable to witness. However, this didn't really hurt the poor clock, which, on the contrary, would come to life again, and begin to whirr and sing and strike as merrily as ever; which caused everybody the greatest satisfaction. Of course, whenever he came he always brought something delightful in his pockets for the children — perhaps a little man, who would roll his eyes and make bows and scrapes, most comic to behold; or a box, out of which a little bird would jump; or something else of the kind. But for Christmas he always had some specially charming piece of ingenuity; something which had cost him infinite pains and labour — for which reason it was always taken away and put aside with the greatest care by the children's parents.
"Oh! what can Godpapa Drosselmeier have been making for us this time," Marie cried, as we have said.
Fritz was of the opinion that this time it could hardly be anything but a great castle, a fortress, where all sorts of pretty soldiers would be drilling and marching about; and then, that other soldiers would come and try to get into the fortress, upon which the soldiers inside would fire away at them, as pluckily as you please, with cannon, till everything banged and thundered like anything.
"No, no," Marie said. "Godpapa Drosselmeier once told me about a beautiful garden with a great lake in it, and beautiful swans swimming about with great gold collars, singing lovely music. And then a lovely little girl comes down through the garden to the lake, and calls the swans and feeds them with shortbread and cake."
"Swans don't eat cake and shortbread," Fritz cried, rather rudely (with masculine superiority), "and Godpapa Drosselmeier couldn't make a whole garden. After all, we have got very few of his playthings; whatever he brings is always taken away from us. So I like the things papa and mamma give us much better; we keep them, all right, ourselves, and can do what we like with them."
The children went on discussing what he might have in store for them this time. Marie called Fritz's attention to the fact that Miss Gertrude (her biggest doll) appeared to be failing a good deal as time went on, inasmuch as she was more clumsy and awkward than ever, tumbling on to the floor every two or three minutes. This did not occur without leaving very ugly marks on her face, and of course proper condition of her clothes became out of the question altogether. Scolding was of no use. Mamma too had laughed at her for being so delighted with Miss Gertrude's little new parasol. Fritz, again, remarked that a good fox was needed for his small zoological collection, and that his army was quite without cavalry, as his papa was well aware. But the children knew that their elders had got all sorts of charming things ready for them, and that the Christ Child, at Christmas time, took special care for their wants. Marie sat in thoughtful silence, but Fritz murmured quietly to himself:
"All the same, I should like a fox and some hussars!"
It was now quite dark. Fritz and Marie, sitting close together, did not dare to utter another syllable; they felt as if there were a fluttering of gentle, invisible wings around them, while a very distant, but unutterably beautiful strain of music could dimly be heard. Then a bright gleam of light passed quickly across the wall, and the children knew that the Christ Child had sped away on shining wings to other happy children. At this moment a silvery bell said, "Kling-ling! Kling-ling!" the doors flew open, and such a brilliance of light came streaming from the drawing-room that the children stood rooted where they were with cries of "Oh! Oh!"
Papa and mamma came and took their hands, saying, "Come now, darlings, and see what the blessed Christ Child has brought for you."CHAPTER 2
THE CHRISTMAS PRESENTS
I appeal to you, kind reader (or listener) — Fritz, Theodore, Ernest, or whatsoever your name may be — and I beg you to bring vividly before your mind's eye your last Christmas table, all glorious with its various delightful Christmas presents; and then perhaps you will be able to form some idea of the manner in which the two children stood speechless with their eyes fixed on all the beautiful things; how after a while, Marie, with a sigh, cried, "Oh, how lovely! how lovely!" and Fritz gave several jumps of delight.
The children had certainly been very, very good and well-behaved all the foregoing year to be thus rewarded; for never before had so many beautiful and delightful things been provided for them. The great Christmas tree on the table bore many apples of silver and gold, and all its branches were heavy with bud and blossom, consisting of sugar almonds, many-tinted bon-bons, and all sorts of things to eat. Perhaps the prettiest thing about this wonder-tree, however, was the fact that in all the recesses of its spreading branches hundreds of little tapers glittered like stars, inviting the children to pluck its flowers and fruit. Also, all around the tree on every side everything shone and glittered in the loveliest manner. Oh, how many beautiful things there were! Who, oh who, could describe them all? Marie gazed there at the most delicious dolls, and all kinds of toys, and (what was the prettiest thing of all) a little silk dress with many-tinted ribbons was hung upon a projecting branch so that she could admire it on all sides; which she accordingly did, crying out several times, "Oh! what a lovely, lovely, darling little dress! And I suppose, I do believe, I shall really be allowed to put it on!" Fritz, in the meantime, had had two or three trials of how his new fox (which he had found tied to the table) could gallop and now stated that he seemed a wildish sort of brute; but, no matter, he felt sure he would soon get him well in order; and he set to work to muster his new squadron of hussars, admirably equipped, in red and gold uniforms, with real silver swords, and mounted on such shining white horses that you would have thought they were of pure silver too.
When the children had sobered down a little, and were beginning upon the beautiful picture books (which were open, so that you could see all sorts of most beautiful flowers and people of every hue, to say nothing of lovely children playing, all as naturally represented as if they were really alive and could speak), there came another tinkling of a bell, to announce the display of Godpapa Drosselmeier's Christmas present, which was on another table, against the wall, concealed by a curtain. When this curtain was drawn, what did the children behold?
On a green lawn, bright with flowers, stood a lordly castle with a great many shining windows and golden towers. A chime of bells was going on inside it; doors and windows opened, and you saw very small but beautiful ladies and gentlemen with plumed hats, and long robes down to their heels walking up and down in the rooms of it. In the central hall, which seemed all in a blaze, there were quantities of little candles burning in silver chandeliers; children in little short doublets were dancing to the chimes of the bells. A gentleman in an emerald green mantle came to a window, made signs, and then disappeared inside again; also, even Godpapa Drosselmeier himself (but scarcely taller than papa's thumb) came now and then, and stood at the castle door, then went in again.
Fritz had been looking on with the rest at the beautiful castle and the people walking about and dancing in it, with his arms leant on the table; then he said:
"Godpapa Drosselmeier, let me go into your castle for a little while."
Drosselmeier answered that this could not possibly be done. In which he was right; for it was silly of Fritz to want to go into a castle which was not so tall as himself, golden towers and all. And Fritz saw that this was so.
After a short time, as the ladies and gentlemen kept on walking about just in the same fashion, the children dancing, and the emerald man looking out at the same window, and Godpapa Drosselmeier coming to the door, Fritz cried impatiently:
"Godpapa Drosselmeier, please come out at that other door!"
"That can't be done, dear Fritz," answered Drosselmeier.
"Well," resumed Fritz, "make that green man that looks out so often walk about with the others."
"And that can't be done, either," said his godpapa, once more.
"Make the children come down, then," said Fritz. "I want to see them nearer."
"Nonsense, nothing of that sort can be done," cried Drosselmeier with impatience. "The machinery must work as it's doing now; it can't be altered, you know."
"Oh," said Fritz, "it can't be done, eh? Very well, then, Godpapa Drosselmeier, I'll tell you what it is. If your little creatures in the castle there can only always do the same thing, they're not much worth, and I think precious little of them! No, give me my hussars. They've got to maneuver backwards and forwards just as I want them, and are not fastened up in a house."
With which he made off to the other table, and set his squadron of silver horse trotting here and there, wheeling and charging and slashing right and left to his heart's content. Marie had slipped away softly, too, for she was tired of the promenading and dancing of the puppets in the castle, though, kind and gentle as she was, she did not like to show it as her brother did. Drosselmeier, somewhat annoyed, said to the parents, "After all, an ingenious piece of mechanism like this is not a matter for children, who don't understand it; I shall put my castle back in its box again." But mother came to the rescue, and made him show her the clever machinery which moved the figures, Drosselmeier taking it all to pieces, putting it together again, and quite recovering his temper in the process. So that he gave the children all sorts of delightful brown men and women with golden faces, hands and legs, which were made of ginger cake, and with which they were greatly content.CHAPTER 3
MARIE'S PET AND PROTÉGÉ
But there was a reason why Marie found it against the grain to come away from the table where the Christmas presents were laid out; and this was, that she had just noticed something there which she had not observed at first. Fritz's hussars having taken ground to the right at some distance from the tree, in front of which they had previously been paraded, there became visible a most delicious little man, who was standing there quiet and unobtrusive, as if waiting patiently till it should be his turn to be noticed.
Objection, considerable objection, might, perhaps, have been taken to him on the score of his figure, for his body was rather too tall and stout for his legs, which were short and slight; moreover, his head was a good deal too large. But much of this was atoned for by the elegance of his costume, which showed him to be a person of taste and cultivation. He had on a very pretty violet hussar's jacket, knobs and braid all over, pantaloons of the same, and the loveliest little boots ever seen even on a hussar officer — fitting his little legs just as if they had been painted on them. It was funny, certainly, that dressed in this style as he was he had a little, rather absurd, short cloak on his shoulders, which looked almost as if it were made of wood, and on his head a cap like a miner's. But Marie remembered that Godpapa Drosselmeier often appeared in a terribly ugly morning jacket, and with a frightful-looking cap on his head, and yet was a very very darling godpapa.
As Marie kept looking at this little man, whom she had quite fallen in love with at first sight, she saw more and more clearly what a sweet nature and disposition were legible in his countenance. Those green eyes of his (which stuck, perhaps, a little more prominently out of his head than was quite desirable) beamed with kindliness and benevolence. It was one of his beauties, too, that his chin was set off with a well-kept beard of white cotton, as this drew attention to the smile which his bright red lips always expressed.
"Oh, papa, dear!" cried Marie at last, "whose is that most darling little man beside the tree?"
"Well," was the answer, "that little fellow is going to do plenty of good service for all of you; he's going to crack nuts for you, and he is to belong to Louise just as much as to you and Fritz." With which papa took him up from the table, and on his lifting the end of the wooden cloak, the little man opened his mouth wider and wider, displaying two rows of very white, sharp teeth. Marie, directed by her father, put a nut into his mouth, and — knack — he had bitten it in two, so that the shells fell down, and Marie got the kernel. So then it was explained to all that this charming little man belonged to the Nutcracker family, and was practicing the profession of his ancestors. "And," said papa, "as friend Nutcracker seems to have made such an impression on you, Marie, he shall be given over to your special care and charge, though, as I said, Louise and Fritz are to have the same right to his services as you."
Marie took him into her arms at once, and made him crack some more nuts; but she picked out all the smallest, so that he might not have to open his mouth so terribly wide, because that was not nice for him. Then sister Louise came, and he had to crack some nuts for her too, which duty he seemed very glad to perform, as he kept on smiling most courteously.
Meanwhile, Fritz was a little tired, after so much drill and maneuvering, so he joined his sisters, and laughed beyond measure at the funny little fellow, who (as Fritz wanted his share of the nuts) was passed from hand to hand, and was continually snapping his mouth open and shut. Fritz gave him all the biggest and hardest nuts he could find, but all at once there was a "crack — crack," and three teeth fell out of Nutcracker's mouth, and his lower jaw became loose and wobbly.
"Ah! my poor darling Nutcracker," Marie cried, and took him away from Fritz.
"A nice sort of chap he is!" said Fritz. "Calls himself a nutcracker, and can't give a decent bite — doesn't seem to know much about his business. Hand him over here, Marie! I'll keep him biting nuts if he drops all the rest of his teeth, and his jaw into the bargain. What's the good of a chap like him!"
"No, no," said Marie, in tears; "you shan't have him, my darling Nutcracker; see how he's looking at me so mournfully, and showing me his poor sore mouth. You're a hard-hearted creature! You beat your horses, and you've had one of your soldiers shot."
"Those things must be done," said Fritz, "and you don't understand anything about such matters. But Nutcracker's as much mine as yours, so hand him over!"
Marie began to cry bitterly, and quickly wrapped the wounded Nutcracker up in her little pocket handkerchief. Papa and mamma came with Drosselmeier, who took Fritz's part, to Marie's regret. But papa said, "I have put Nutcracker in Marie's special charge, and as he seems to have need just now of her care, she has full power over him, and nobody else has anything to say in the matter. And I'm surprised that Fritz should expect further service from a man wounded in the execution of his duty. As a good soldier, he ought to know better than that."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Nutcracker"
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Table of Contents
1 Christmas Eve 2 The Christmas Presents 3 Marie's Pet and Protege 4 Wonderful Events 5 The Battle 6 The Invalid 7 Uncle and Nephew 8 Victory 9 Toyland 10 The Metropolis 11 Conclusion
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