Read a full summary of The Nutcracker, written by E.T.A. Hoffmann and adapted by Alexandre Dumas, right here! This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in The Nutcracker, then you are in the right place!
Special thanks to Sarina Byron, a BSR contributor who wrote this great recap! Sarina is a British Author and Contributing Writer living in California. Sarina enjoys bringing forth a different perspective and encouraging a different way of thinking through her writing. Visit her blog to read her reviews, and check the end of the review for a link to her Instagram.
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in The Nutcracker?
The story of the Nutcracker is many stories within one story. Alexandre Dumas describes the time when he was visiting the home of his friend Lord M over the holidays. He retired to the parlour in search of solitude and dozed off when the children of the house took advantage of his slumber and trapped him in classic Gulliver style. They made it clear he would not be released until he told them a story.
The narrator gave in and began a story which started at the home of Judge Silberhaus, who lived in Nuremberg with his wife, two children named Mary and Fritz, and a close friend and the children’s godfather, Christian Elias Drosselmayer. In describing the children’s temperament, he said that Fritz was a loud, impatient boy, and Mary was the complete opposite with a sweet temperament. Nuremberg was a town famous for its toys and exported a great deal of them.
As per German custom, the children were told their Christmas gifts were picked out by their guardian angels. They were hung on a shrub that adorned the top of a table and any toys too heavy for the shrub were placed under it.
Godfather Drosselmayer, although scary in appearance, being tall, thin, dressed in a worn-out coat and wearing an eye patch, was a favorite with the children on account of the realistic toys he used to bring them. He gifted them a spit which the dog could turn without moving from his spot as he was getting old and needed the help. These kinds of toys made him dearer to the family, but since his toys were such masterful pieces, they were stored on the highest shelf and treated like works of art.
On Christmas Eve, the children were impatiently waiting for their gifts whilst talking about what their parents got them when their governess, Miss Trudchen, reminded them their gifts came from their guardian angel. Finally, it was time to go down, and they were thrilled to find sugar plums on the table instead of fruit. Mary’s gifts included a doll that was larger than her other doll and a beautiful new dress. Fritz was the new proud owner of squadron of hussars wearing red and gold jackets who were mounted on white horses. He had also been gifted a toy horse, which he had been longing for.
Godfather Drosselmayer also gifted them a house where the figurines moved in and out like real people. Fritz wanted to enter the house, and when he was told that he could not, as he was too big for it, he lost interest in that present. Mary didn’t want to be rude, but the movements in that house made her dizzy. Mrs. Silberhaus apologized for Fritz’s rudeness, and Miss Trudchen offered to help Mary try her new frock.
Just then, Mary spotted another gift, a funny looking toy who was dressed rather regally but with a wooden scarf. He was identified as a nutcracker, and Mary was delighted to have him. Fritz heard the crack and, upon spotting the nutcracker, began to cram larger and larger nuts into his mouth until his teeth and jaw broke. Mary was extremely disappointed and took her nutcracker away to comfort him. She put him in her doll Clara’s bed and wound his jaw with a bandage.
With all the excitement of the day, Mary struggled to go to bed and asked her mother if she could stay a while longer with the toys. She was given the required permission, and when she was moving her toys around, she heard a strange sound that seemed to be coming from hundreds of mice.
Just then, the clock struck twelve, and she saw Godfather Drosselmayer sitting atop it instead of the usual owl. A fierce battle broke out around her between the toys and the mice. The sugar and biscuit toys also joined in but were quickly devoured by the mice, which struck fear in the hearts of the other toys. Just as the King of Mice was about to devour the nutcracker, Mary threw a shoe at him and made the battle disappear.
Her family found her the next morning, surrounded by scattered biscuits and toys, and speaking incoherently about a battle. She accused Godfather Drosselmayer of conspiring to hurt her Nutcracker, and in response, he quoted an ominous rhyme. He told her he would relate to her the story of The Crackatook Nut and Princess Pirlipata.
The story took place in a small kingdom called “Nuremberg” which was neither Prussia nor Poland, Bavaria nor Platinate. It was where, to the King and Queen, was born a beautiful girl they called Pirlipata. The child was so beautiful that the kingdom rejoiced endlessly, but the Queen was nervous. She had the baby girl constantly watched by twelve nurses with cats who were constantly pet to keep them purring.
She was nervous because before Princess Pirlipata was born, there was a large gathering of fellow Kings at the palace in Nuremberg. The King grew weary of the activity and asked his wife to make his favorite sausages, blood pudding, and baloneys for him. As she was cooking these, Dame Mousey, whom the Queen recognized as a sister and fellow sovereign, although she would never acknowledge it in public, came in and asked if she could share in the fat. The Queen invited her to do so, but Dame Mousey’s satisfied groans brought in her rather large family who all attacked the fat.
The Queen grew frightened that there wouldn’t be any left for the King’s meats and began to cry for help. The Queen’s helpers dissipated Dame Mousey’s family, and there was just enough fat to make the meats but not to make them delicious. The King was disappointed and ordered Dame Mousey and her family should die for this.
Dame Mousey warned her family against walking into traps with fat, but her family would not listen and she lost 7 of her sons, 18 of her nephews, 50 of her cousins, and 235 of her other connexions. Dame Mousey vowed revenge at this act, and this prompted the Queen to constantly worry about her daughter and install the maids with cats to keep Dame Mousey away.
Despite all these precautions, Dame Mousey got past them when they all dozed one night and bit Princess Pirlipata in a manner that disfigured her appearance. The King was furious, and the Queen was distraught. The King ordered Dame Mousey should be killed without further delay and summoned the court astrologer and mechanician to order them to find a cure.
The mechanician was no other than Christian Elias Drosselmayer, Mary and Fritz’s godfather. He examined Princess Pirlipata thoroughly and even took her apart and sewed her back again when he found nothing. He went to the astrologer’s house, and they looked through her birth chart and many ancient remedies and found her condition could only be cured when a young man who had never been shaved and always wore boots, cracked a Crackatook nut, which was the hardest nut to ever have existed, and offered her the kernel.
The King was pleased they knew what they were looking for and gave them 14 years and 5 months to find the nut and the nutcracker. They travelled far and wide across all continents and found nothing. They spent time at the King of Dates, the Prince of Almonds, the Academy of Gran Monkeys, and the famous Naturalist Society of Squirrels. Drosselmayer lost his hair to the sun in the tropics and his right eye to the arrow of a Caribbean Chief.
When they only had 122 days left in their period of 14 days and 5 months, they started back for Nuremberg by way of Baghdad, Alexandria, Venice, and Tyrol. Throughout the journey, they wished the King had either died or forgotten his orders. However, they had no such luck. The King was alive and well and disappointed to learn they had not found the cure.
Instead of offering them the promised prizes of a yearly pension of 600 pounds and a telescope to the astrologer and a sword set with diamonds and a knighthood of the Order of the Spider to the mechanician, he would be sending them to the gallows. As they still had three days left in their time, Christian Elias Drosselmayer asked if he could go visit his brother. His wish was granted, and the astrologer went with him to his brother’s place.
His brother, Christopher Zacharias Drosselmayer received his brother with much joy and expressed pleasure at meeting him after so many years. When he learnt of what his brother had been going through the last few years, he told him to put his mind at rest as he had a Crackatook nut, just like the one he was seeking.
Then came the story of the Crackatook nut. The year Christian Elias had left for his search, a nut seller arrived in Nuremberg. The other nut sellers were infuriated at having competition, and they fought with him over their domicile. One day, as the new nut seller was on the road, his bag of nuts fell on the street, and a wagon went over them breaking all but one. He offered the unbroken nut to Christopher Zacharias for a new zwanziger of the year 1720. Funnily, Christopher Zacharias had exactly that in his pocket.
After acquiring the Crackatook nut, he tried extremely hard to sell it. He even had it gilt to improve its appearance, but there were no takers. It appeared to be waiting for Christian Elias. As they were rejoicing at having found the Crackatook nut, they met Christopher Zacharias’s son, who had only ever been dressed in boots by his mother and had never shaved. He was also famous for cracking nuts at Christopher Zacharias’s shop and was known to all the girls as the “Nutcracker.” Having inadvertently fulfilled their mission, they went back to the King and told him they had found the nut and he should invite men from all over the world to try to crack it.
A competition began and saw thousands of young men try their jaws at the Crackatook nut, but most of their attempts ended with either broken teeth or broken jaws. Nathaniel Drosselmayer was the 11,375th candidate, and to the joy of Princess Pirlipata, he was successful. She went back to her beautiful form, and everyone began to rejoice. However, they all forgot about the seven backward steps, and just as Nathaniel was taking his seventh step, Dame Mousey ran in and caused him to stumble. In that instant, Dame Mousey was crushed under his foot, and he turned just as misshapen as Princess Pirlipata had been.
Dame Mousey cursed him for killing her, and Princess Pirlipata rejected him for his new appearance. The King banished Nathaniel, the astrologer, and the mechanician from the kingdom. Christian Elias went back to his brother’s house but did not tell him the youth he was accompanied by was his own son. Instead, he tells him his son had been kept back at the palace for revelry and celebration. Nathaniel couldn’t help feeling annoyed at what his uncle had put him through.
On hearing this story, Mary knew immediately the Nutcracker was Nathaniel Drosselmayer and her godfather was the mechanician from his own story. She asked him to confirm this, but Godfather Drosselmayer would do no such thing. Now that she knew the secret, the King of Mice began to come to Mary every night to blackmail her. He took her sugar plums, sweet cakes, sugar dolls, and biscuit figurines.
The Nutcracker was enraged at this and asked Mary to bring him a sword so he could take care of the King of Mice. Mary asked Fritz for a sword, and he gave her the one belonging to his soldier who was on half-pay. That night Mary heard a fight in progress, but she was frozen in her bed.
After it was over, the Nutcracker came to Mary’s door and asked her to allow him to take her on an adventure. She consented but asked him not to keep her too long as she had not slept a wink. He took her on a tour of the Kingdom of Toys.
They started with a visit to the Field of Sugar candy, which they entered through the Gate of Burnt Almonds. They then went to the Forest of Christmas where all the Christmas trees came from. At the forest they were given a ballet performance by shepherds, shepherdesses, hunters, and huntresses.
They then came upon the River of Orange Juice which was the smallest in the kingdom. They also saw the River of Lemonade, Sea of Punch, Lake of Sweet Whey and the Milk of Almonds. Then they visited the Village of Sweet Cake, which was situated on the Streamlet of Honey. From there they went to the Capital where everything was rose-tinted and a fragrance of roses wafted everywhere. Mary recognized it as the river that Godfather Drosselmayer had made for her and where she had played with swans that lived in it.
They rode on the River of Essence of Roses where they were carried on a chariot to the Wood of Preserved Fruit. They then went to the City of Candied Fruit and Palace of Sweet Cake. At the Palace of Sweet Cake, they were joyfully received by the Prince’s four sisters, who personally prepared a banquet for the couple.
When Mary awoke, she told her family of her adventures, and they admired her fanciful dream and vivid imagination. She then showed them the seven crowns from the seven heads of the King of Mice that the Nutcracker had given her, and her parents were alarmed at how she came by such beautiful, intricate objects. As they were talking about it, Godfather Drosselmayer entered and told them he had gifted Mary those on her second birthday. No one remembered him doing, so but they did not wish to argue with him.
Mary was sad no one believed her and was saying so to the Nutcracker as he sat in the cupboard when she fainted. When she came to, Nathaniel was standing next to her with her parents and Godfather Drosselmayer, and they told her she had fainted just as Nathaniel had walked in. Nathaniel gifted her sweet cake and toys and presented Fritz with a sword of the finest Damascus steel. He then cracked nuts for the family as they sat and dined together.
After they ate, Nathaniel accompanied Mary to the room with the toy cupboard. He went down on his knees and asked to marry her. She agreed providing her parents consented as well. Nathaniel sought her parents’ permission, and they agreed on the condition: that the wedding should take place a year later.
At the promised date, Nathaniel came in a carriage of mother of pearl, which was encrusted with gold and silver and was pulled by the smallest and most valuable ponies in the world. Together they took up abode at the Kingdom of Toys where Mary is still believed to the Queen to this day. This Kingdom is accessible to all who have extraordinary abilities which render them sharp enough to see it.
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