The Nutcracker is a holiday fairy tale about a young girl, Clara, and her very favorite Christmas. Her Godfather, Drosselmeyer, is a magical, mysterious character in her life. This Christmas he has a special gift for her, a beautiful Nutcracker doll. She received the present from him at the annual family party. After finding out that it could crack nuts, her brother Fritz tries it out and breaks it. Clara is upset and the party halts until Drosselmeyer fixes the Nutcracker.
Clara is excited about the new doll, and she wants to stay up all night with it, but her family sends her off to bed. After everyone has left and the family is asleep, Clara sneaks downstairs to look at her Nutcracker doll. She eventually falls asleep, and with a little help from Drosselmeyer's magic, her dream begins.
She's suddenly woken by mice and the Mouse King appears and tries to kidnap her and take her to his kingdom. Clara looks everywhere for her Nutcracker, but he is gone. Suddenly, the Christmas tree grows to an enormous height and everything seems out of proportion.
Finally, soldiers appear, and behind them is the Nutcracker. He has come to save her from the Mouse King. First, he must fight the Mouse King. His soldiers and the Mouse King's mice go to battle. After an exhausting exchange, the Nutcracker is about to be defeated by the Mouse King.
Just then, Clara threw her slipper. That hit the Mouse King, stunning him. After his stumble, the Nutcracker defeats the Mouse King. Clara has found her Prince.
Appearing through the smoke comes the Nutcracker Prince who has come to take her away to his special land and to show her his magnificent palace. Their journey takes them through the enchanted land of the Snow Queen, Snowflakes and Candyland, where they meet sweets from around the world.
They are met by the Sugar Plum Fairy, Arabian dancers, Russian dancers, and the beautiful waltzing flowers. Many of these dances represent foods. Clara does not want to leave her Prince or Fantasyland, but on Christmas Day she awakens under the Christmas tree with all her new friends gone and her family around her.
She is left with the Nutcracker Doll and wonderful memories of her most magical Christmas.
What today appears as a fairy tale of a young girl's magical dream began as a morbid story filled with dark undertones. E.T.A Hoffman, the author of "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," never intended the story to be for children, as his words portrayed a bleak view of humanity and relationships.
Published in 1816, Hoffman's tale would undergo revision by Alexander Dumas, eliminating much of the bitterness to adapt the tale as a children's story. The new version was read with interest by Marius Petipa, the senior ballet master of the Russian Imperial Ballet, who asked Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to compose a score for a full-length "Nutcracker" production.
The story would later be simplified, but with the music left intact, and was created as a holiday tale that has lasted for generations.
Hoffman's plot centers around a young German girl named Marie who lived in a loveless house. The only warmth in Marie's life is a strange love she holds for her Nutcracker doll, a gift from her Godfather Drosselmeyer at the family Christmas party.
At night after the party is over, hundreds of mice appear from cracks in the room, led by the vicious Mouse King with seven heads. He blackmails Marie into giving him all of her marzipan dolls by threatening to dismember her prized Nutcracker doll.
The Nutcracker eventually comes to life and attempts to fight off the Mouse King, but is easily beaten. Marie retaliates by throwing her slipper at the Mouse King and fainting immediately after. There was no outcome to the battle in this portion of Hoffman's tale.
The next time the reader sees Marie, she is lying in a pool of blood surrounded by her family and a doctor. She apparently has cut her arm on the glass of a toy cabinet that fell on her and she has nearly bled to death.
Instead of comfort, her family scolds her and sentences her to her room until she will admit that she is a naughty child. While Marie is recovering, Drosselmeyer comes to visit and ends up telling her another story about the Mouse King and the Nutcracker. Here Hoffman tells a story within a story:
The feud of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King is legendary according to Drosselmeyer. In the beginning, a beautiful princess Pirlipat is cursed to become forever ugly by the Mouse King's mother who is avenging the death of several of her sons at the hands of the princess' father.
The only way to stop the curse is for a brave and handsome man to find the hardest nut in the world, crack it with his teeth, and deliver the kernel to the princess to eat. To sweeten the hunt, the king has promised his daughter's hand in marriage and a grand money award to anyone who can break the curse.
At the final moment when the curse is to take effect, Drosselmeyer's nephew appears with the prized nut and offers her the kernel. The moment she swallows the nut, she turns into a breathtakingly beautiful woman.
At the same time, young Drosselmeyer becomes repulsively ugly with elongated features like those of a wooden nutcracker (hence the name). No one ever bothered to tell him that he would inherit the curse in place of the princess.
Instead of a fairy tale ending, the princess is repelled by Drosselmeyer's ugliness and has her father banish him permanently from the kingdom or face execution. In the commotion, Drosselmeyer accidentally steps on the Mouse King's mother and kills her, prompting eternal vengeance on the Nutcracker.
At this point, Hoffman returns to the main story, where another battle begins. This time, the Mouse King is killed by the Nutcracker and he sweeps Marie off into another kingdom where he is a prince. At the end of their journey through this wondrous place, which also turns out to be the end of the evening, Marie is brought back to her bedroom.
The story closes on a bright note as Marie meets and marries Drosselmeyer's nephew, but the abrupt ending and change of good fortune appear to be added on to disguise all of the bitterness in previous portions of Hoffman's story.