Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker is by Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked. I’ve not read Wicked (although I’ve wanted to), so I was definitely looking forward to this one!
• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (October 31, 2017)
From the author of the beloved #1 New York Times bestseller Wicked, the magical story of a toymaker, a nutcracker, and a legend remade . . .
Gregory Maguire returns with an inventive novel inspired by a timeless holiday legend, intertwining the story of the famous Nutcracker with the life of the mysterious toy maker named Drosselmeier who carves him.
Hiddensee: An island of white sandy beaches, salt marshes, steep cliffs, and pine forests north of Berlin in the Baltic Sea, an island that is an enchanting bohemian retreat and home to a large artists’ colony– a wellspring of inspiration for the Romantic imagination . . .
Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked and to Wonderland in After Alice, Maguire now takes us to the realms of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffmann– the enchanted Black Forest of Bavaria and the salons of Munich. Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann’s mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier– the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale ballet– who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.
But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism ties to Hellenic mystery-cults– a fascination with death and the afterlife– and ponders a profound question: How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless? Ultimately, Hiddensee offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress on a dark winter evening, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized, has something precious to share.
I read a lot of literary fiction, memoir, some historical fiction, and regular fiction, so this book was definitely outside of my usual reading comfort zone. I love pushing myself out of that zone occasionally, and I thought Hiddensee would be the perfect novel to do just that! There’s a lot of magic going on in this book, so it was definitely a departure from my normal reads.
At first, I was really along for the ride and was loving the story. It reads pretty quickly, so I was just zooming along as it opens with a young boy in a forest, living with an old man and an old woman. One day, they decide it’s time to kill him (for unclear reasons), and he’s led out into the forest by the man. Before he can kill the boy, however, an accident happens – the old man is hit with an axe in the leg, and as the boy attempts to cut down a tree to make him a crutch, the tree falls on the boy, killing him.
However, something mysterious happens, and the little boy comes back to life, flees the forest, and finds a town where a minister takes him in. You then go on a journey with the young man as he grows and finds places and ways to live and make ends meet. I was rather surprised by how the story progresses, because it’s not until maybe 1/3 of the way through the book before the term “nutcracker” is even mentioned, and you have to go more than half way through the book before you actually get to any storyline going in that direction.
For the most part, I was okay with that, though, because you really need the whole story of the boy’s life to understand that part. I did feel that we could have had less of that before story and more of the after, though.
Also, in the middle of the book, the magical tale becomes even more magical, and I have to admit I was a bit confused for a while, trying to piece everything together and learn who characters were and what they represented.
At any rate, though, this magical tale was really enjoyable, even to someone who doesn’t read much of this genre. Plus, it’s about the Nutcracker, making this book timely and festive to read right now! I’ll give it 3.5 stars.