The Nutcracker And The Mouse-King – E. T. A. Hoffmann
An absolutely delightful Christmas story by German author E.T.A. Hoffmann tells the story of young Marie Stahlbaum, whose beloved Christmas toy, the Nutcracker, comes alive and, after defeating the evil Mouse King in battle, hushes her away to a magical and fantastic kingdom populated by dolls.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse-King.
Excerpt from the text:
In the sitting-room of the Doctor’s house, just as you enter the room, there stands on the left hand, close against the wall, a high glass-case, in which the children preserve all the beautiful things which are given to them every year. Louise was quite a little girl when her father had the case made by a skilful joiner, who set in it such large, clear panes of glass, and arranged all the parts so well together, that every thing looked much brighter and handsomer when on its shelves than when it was held in the hands. On the upper shelf, which Maria and Fred were unable to reach, stood all Godfather Drosselmeier’s curious machines. Immediately below this was a shelf for the picture-books; the two lower shelves Maria and Fred filled up as they pleased, but it always happened that Maria used the lower one as a house for her dolls, while Fred, on the contrary, cantoned his troops in the one above.
And so it happened to-day, for while Fred set his hussars in order above, Maria, having laid Miss Trutchen aside, and having installed the new and sweetly dressed doll in her best furnished chamber below, had invited herself to tea with her. I have said that the chamber was well furnished, and it is true; here was a nice chintz sofa and several tiny chairs, there stood a tea-table, but above all, there was a clean, white little bed for her doll to repose upon. All these things were arranged in one corner of the glass case, the sides of which were hung with gay pictures, and it will readily be supposed, that in such a chamber the new doll, Miss Clara, must have found herself very comfortable.
It was now late in the evening, and night, indeed, was close at hand, and Godfather Drosselmeier had long since gone home, yet still the children could not leave the glass-case, although their mother repeatedly told them that it was high time to go to bed. “It is true,” cried Fred at last; “the poor fellows (meaning his hussars) would like to get a little rest, and as long as I am here, not one of them will dare to nod—I know that.” With these words he went up to bed, but Maria begged very hard, “Only leave me here a little while, dear mother. I have two or three things to attend to, and when they are done I will go immediately to bed.” Maria was a very good and sensible child, and therefore her mother could leave her alone with her play-things without anxiety. But for fear she might become so much interested in her new doll and other presents as to forget the lights which burned around the glass case, her mother blew them all out, and left only the lamp which hung clown from the ceiling in the middle of the chamber, and which diffused a soft, pleasant light. “Come in soon, dear Maria, or you will not be up in time to-morrow morning,” called her mother, as she went up to bed. There was something Maria had at heart to do, which she had not told her mother, though she knew not the reason why; and as soon as she found herself alone she went quickly about it. She still carried in her arms the wounded Nutcracker, rolled up in her pocket handkerchief. Now she laid him carefully upon the table, unrolled the handkerchief softly, and examined his wound. Nutcracker was very pale, but still he smiled so kindly and sorrowfully that it went straight to Maria’s heart. “Ah! Nutcracker, Nutcracker, do not be angry at brother Fred because he hurt you so, he did not mean to be so rough; it is the wild soldier’s life with his hussars that has made him a little hard-hearted, but otherwise he is a good fellow, I can assure you. Now I will tend you very carefully until you are well and merry again; as to fastening in your teeth and setting your shoulders, that Godfather Drosselmeier must do; he understands such things.”
But Maria was hardly able to finish the sentence, for as she mentioned the name of Drosselmeier, friend Nutcracker made a terrible wry face, and there darted something out of his eyes like green sparkling flashes. Maria was just going to fall into a dreadful fright, when behold, it was the sad smiling face of the honest Nutcracker again, which she saw before her, and she knew now that it must be the glare of the lamp, which, stirred by the draught, had flared up, and distorted Nutcracker’s features so strangely. “Am I not a foolish girl,” she said, “to be so easily frightened, and to think that a wooden puppet could make faces at me? But I love Nutcracker too well, because he is so droll and so good tempered; therefore he shall be taken good care of as he deserves.” With this Maria took friend Nutcracker in her arms, walked to the glass case, stooped down, and said to her new doll, “Pray, Miss Clara, be so good as to give up your bed to the sick and wounded Nutcracker, and make out as well as you can with the sofa, Remember that you are well and hearty, or you would not have such fat red cheeks, and very few little dolls have such nice sofas.”
Miss Clara, in her gay Christmas attire, looked very grand and haughty, and would not even say “Muck.” “But why should I stand upon ceremony?” said Maria, and she took out the bed, laid little Nutcracker down upon it softly, and gently rolled a nice ribbon which she wore around her waist, about his poor shoulders, and then drew the bedclothes over him snugly, so that there was nothing to be seen of him below the nose. “He shan’t stay with the naughty Clara,” she said, and raised the bed with Nutcracker in it to the shelf above, and placed it close by the pretty village, where Fred’s hussars were quartered. She locked the case, and was about to go up to bed, when—listen children—when softly, softly it began to rustle, and to whisper, and to rattle round and round, under the hearth, behind the chairs, behind the cupboards and glass case. The great clock whir—red louder and louder, but it could not strike. Maria turned towards it, and there the large gilt owl that sat on the top, had dropped down its wings, so that they covered the whole face, and it stretched out its ugly head with the short crooked beak, and looked just like a cat. And the clock whirred louder in plain words. “Dick—ry, dick—ry, dock—whirr, softly clock, Mouse-King has a fine ear—prr—prr—pum—pum—the old song let him hear—prr—prr—pum—pum—or he might—run away in a fright—now clock strike softly and light.” And pum—pum, it went with a dull deadened sound twelve times. Maria began now to tremble with, fear, and she was upon the point of running out of the room in terror, when she beheld Godfather Drosselmeier, who sat in the owl’s place on the top of the clock, and had hung down the skirts of his brown coat just like wings. But she took courage, and cried out loudly, with sobs, “Godfather Drosselmeier, Godfather Drosselmeier, what are you doing up there? Come down, and do not frighten me so, you naughty Godfather Drosselmeier!”
Just then a wild squeaking and whimpering broke out on all sides, and then there was a running, trotting and galloping behind the walls, as if a thousand little feet were in motion, and a thousand little lights flashed out of the crevices in the floor. But they were not lights—no—they were sparkling little eyes, and Maria perceived that mice were all around, peeping out and working their way into the room. Presently it went trot—trot—hop—hop about the chamber, and more and more mice, in greater or smaller parties galloped across, and at last placed themselves in line and column, just as Fred was accustomed to place his soldiers when they went to battle. This Maria thought was very droll, and as she had not that aversion to mice which most children have, her terror was gradually leaving her, when all at once there arose a squeaking so terrible and piercing, that it seemed as if ice-cold water was poured down her back. Ah, what now did she see!
I know, my worthy reader Frederic, that thy heart, like that of the wise and brave soldier Frederic Stahlbaum, sits in the right place, but if thou hadst seen what Maria now beheld, thou wouldst certainly have run away; yes, I believe that thou wouldst have jumped as quickly as possible into bed, and then have drawn the covering over thine ears much farther than was necessary to keep thee warm. Alas! poor Maria could not do that now, for—listen children—close before her feet, there burst out sand and lime and crumbled wall stones, as if thrown up by some subterranean force, and seven mice-heads with seven sparkling crowns rose out of the floor, sqeaking and squealing terribly. Presently the mouse’s body to which these seven heads belonged, worked its way out, and the great mouse crowned with the seven diadems, squeaking loudly, huzzaed in full chorus, as he advanced to meet his army, which at once set itself in motion, and hott—hott—trot—trot it went—alas, straight towards the glass case—straight towards poor Maria who stood close before it!
Her heart had before beat so terribly from anxiety and fear, that she thought it would leap out of her bosom, and then she knew she must die; but now it seemed as if the blood stood still in her veins. Half fainting, she tottered backward, when clatter—clatter—rattle—rattle it went—and a glass pane which she had struck with her elbow fell in pieces at her feet. She felt at the moment a sharp pain in her left arm, but her heart all at once became much lighter, she heard no more squeaking and squealing, all had become still, and although she did not dare to look, yet she believed that the mice, frightened by the clatter of the broken glass, had retreated into their holes. But what was that again! Close behind her in the glass case a strange bustling and rustling began, and little fine voices were heard. “Up, up, awake—arms take—awake—to the fight—this night—up, up—to the fight.” And all the while something rang out clear and sweet like little bells. “Ah, that is my clear musical clock!” exclaimed Maria joyfully, and turned quickly to look.
She then saw how it flashed and lightened strangely in the glass case, and there was a great stir and bustle upon the shelves. Many little figures crossed up and down by each other, and worked and stretched out their arms as if they were making ready. And now, Nutcracker raised himself all of a sudden, threw the bedclothes clear off, and leaped with both feet at once out of bed, crying aloud, “Crack—crack—crack—stupid pack—drive mouse back—stupid pack—crack—crack—mouse—back—crick—crack—stupid pack.” With these words he drew his little sword, flourished it in the air, and exclaimed, “My loving vassals, friends and brothers, will you stand by me in the hard fight?” Straightway three Scaramouches, a Harlequin, four Chimney-sweepers, two Guitar-players and a drummer cried out, “Yes, my lord, we will follow you with fidelity and courage—we will march with you to battle—to victory or death,” and then rushed after the fiery Nutcracker, who ventured the dangerous leap down from the upper shelf. Ah, it was easy enough for them to perform this feat, for beside the fine garments of thick cloth and silk which they wore, the inside of their bodies were made of cotton and tow, so that they came down plump, like bags of wool. But poor Nutcracker had certainly broken his arms or his legs, for remember, it was almost two feet from the shelf where he stood to the floor, and his body was as brittle as if it had been cut out of Linden wood. Yes, Nutcracker would certainly have broken his arms or his legs, if, at the moment when he leaped, Miss Clara had not sprung quickly from the sofa, and caught the hero with his drawn sword in her soft arms. “Ah, thou dear, good Clara,” sobbed Maria, “how I have wronged thee! Thou didst certainly resign thy bed willingly to little Nutcracker.”
But Miss Clara now spoke, as she softly pressed the young hero to her silken bosom. “You will not, oh, my lord! sick and wounded as you are, share the dangers of the fight. See how your brave vassals assemble themselves, eager for the affray, and certain of conquest. Scaramouch, Harlequin, Chimney-sweepers, Guitar-players, Drummer, are all ready drawn up below, and the china figures on the shelf stir and move strangely! Will yon not, oh, my lord! repose upon the sofa, or from my arms look down upon your victory?” Thus spoke Clara, but Nutcracker demeaned himself very ungraciously, for he kicked and struggled so violently with his legs, that Clara was obliged to set him quickly down upon the floor. He then, however, dropped gracefully upon one knee, and said, “Fair lady, the recollection of thy favor and condescension will go with me into the battle and the strife.”
Clara then stooped so low that she could take him by the arm, raised him gently from his knees, took off her bespangled girdle, and was about to throw it across his neck, but little Nutcracker stepped two paces backward, laid his hand upon his breast, and said very earnestly, “Not so, fair lady, lavish not thy favors thus upon me, for—” he stopped, sighed heavily, tore off the ribbon which Maria had bound about his shoulders, pressed it to his lips, hung it across him like a scarf, and then boldly flourishing his bright little blade, leaped like a bird over the edge of the glass case upon the floor. You understand my kind and good readers and listeners, that Nutcracker, even before he had thus come to life, had felt very sensibly the kindness and love which Maria had shown towards him, and it was because he had become so partial to her, that he would not receive and wear the girdle of Miss Clara, although it shone and sparkled so brightly. The true and faithful Nutcracker preferred to wear Maria’s simple ribbon. But what will now happen? As soon as Nutcracker had leaped out, the squeaking and whistling was heard again. Ah, it is under the large table, that the hateful mice have concealed their countless bands, and high above them all towers the dreadful mouse with seven heads! What will now happen!