Christmas Stories: 'The Nutcracker'

A cropped image of a woman hanging a wooden nutcracker on a Christmas tree.
Who doesn't love Christmas stories? The nutcracker story is a Christmas-time constant. Oscar Wong / Getty Images

In the late 1800s, the brilliant composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky unveiled a ballet called "The Nutcracker," which brimmed with soaring melodies and quickly became a Christmastime favorite. Here, writer E.T.A. Hoffmann has put "The Nutcracker" into story form. It's an irresistible tale of a toy soldier that turns into a prince. Read this Christmas story and find out why it has charmed generations of people.

"The Nutcracker"

On the twenty-fourth of December, Dr. Stahlbaum's children were not allowed to set foot in the family parlor. Fritz and Marie sat together in the back room and waited. In whispers Fritz told his younger sister that he had seen Godfather Drosselmeier. At that, Marie clapped her little hands for joy and cried out, "Oh, what do you think Godfather Drosselmeier has made for us?"


Fritz said it was a fortress, with all kinds of soldiers marching up and down.

"No, no," Marie interrupted. "Mr. Drosselmeier said something to me about a beautiful garden with a big lake in it and lovely swans swimming all around on it."

"Mr. Drosselmeier can't make a whole garden," said Fritz rather rudely.

Then the children tried to guess what their parents would give them. Marie sat deep in thought, while Fritz muttered, "I'd like a chestnut horse and some soldiers."

At that moment, a bell rang, the doors flew open, and a flood of light streamed in from the big parlor. "Come in, dear children," said Papa and Mama.

The children stood silently with shining eyes. Then Marie cried out, "Oh, how lovely!" And Fritz took two rather spectacular jumps into the air.

Marie discovered a silk dress hanging on the tree. "What a lovely dress!" she cried.

Meanwhile, Fritz galloped around the table, trying out the new horse he had found. Then he reviewed his new squadron of soldiers, who were admirably outfitted in red and gold uniforms.

Just then, the bell rang again. Knowing that Godfather Drosselmeier would be unveiling his present, the children ran to the table that had been set up beside the wall. The screen that had hidden it was taken away. The children saw a magnificent castle with dozens of sparkling windows and golden towers. Chimes played as tiny ladies and gentlemen strolled around the rooms, and children in little skirts danced to the music of the chimes.

Fritz looked at the beautiful castle, then said, "Godfather Drosselmeier, let me go inside your castle."

"Impossible," said Mr. Drosselmeier.

"Then make the children come out," cried Fritz.

"No," said their godfather crossly, "that, too, is impossible. This is how the mechanism works, and it cannot be changed."

"Then I don't really care for it," said Fritz. "My soldiers march as I command, and they're not shut up in a house." Fritz marched away to play with his soldiers.

Marie did not leave the Christmas table, for she was well-behaved.

The real reason why Marie did not want to leave the Christmas table was that she had just caught sight of something. When Fritz marched away, an excellent little man came into view.

The distinction of his dress showed him to be a man of taste and breeding. Oddly enough, though, he wore a skimpy cloak that was made of wood. His light green eyes were full of kindness, and his white-cotton beard was most becoming.

"Oh, Father dear," Marie cried out, "who does the dear little man belong to?"

"Dear child," said Dr. Stahlbaum, "our friend here will serve you all well. He will crack hard nuts for all of you with his teeth."

Carefully picking him up from the table, Dr. Stahlbaum lifted his wooden cloak, and the little man opened his mouth wide, revealing two rows of sharp white teeth. At her father's bidding, Marie put in a nut, and -- crack -- the little man bit it in two, the shell fell down, and Marie found the sweet kernel in her hand.

Fritz ran over to his sister. He chose the biggest nut, and all of a sudden -- crack, crack -- three little teeth fell out of the Nutcracker's mouth.

"Oh, my poor little Nutcracker!" Marie cried, taking him out of Fritz's hands.

"He's just a stupid fool," said Fritz. "He calls himself a nutcracker, and his teeth are no good. Give him to me, Marie."

Marie was in tears. "No, no!" she cried. "He's my dear Nutcracker and you can't have him." Sobbing, Marie wrapped the Nutcracker in her little handkerchief. She bandaged his wounded mouth. Then she rocked him in her arms like a baby.

It was getting late, and Mother urged her children to turn in for the night. But Marie pleaded, "Just a little while longer, Mother dear."

Marie's mother put out all of the candles, leaving on only one lamp. "Go to bed soon," she said, "or you won't be able to get up tomorrow."

As soon as Marie was alone, she set the Nutcracker carefully on the table, unwrapped the handkerchief ever so slowly, and examined his wounds.

"Dear Nutcracker," she said softly, "don't be angry at my brother, Fritz. He meant no harm. I'm going to take care of you until you're well and happy again."

Marie picked up the Nutcracker and placed him next to the other toys in a glass cabinet in the parlor. She shut the door and was going to her bedroom, when she heard whispering and shuffling. The clock whirred twelve times. Then she heard giggling and squeaking all around her, followed by the sound of a thousand little feet scampering behind the walls. Soon Marie saw mice all over the room, and in the end they formed ranks, just as Fritz's soldiers did.

Go to the next page to continue reading "The Nutcracker."


Christmas Stories: 'The Nutcracker,' Part II


Here is the second part of "The Nutcracker":

Crushed stone flew out of the floor as though driven by some underground force, and seven mouse heads with seven sparkling crowns rose up, squeaking and squealing hideously. This enormous mouse was hailed by the entire army, cheering with three loud squeaks. And then the army set itself in motion -- hop, hop, trot, trot -- heading straight for the toy cabinet.


At the same time, Marie saw a strange glow inside the toy cabinet. All at once, Nutcracker jumped from the cabinet, and the squeaking and squealing started again.

"Trusty Vassal-Drummer," cried the Nutcracker, "sound the advance!" The drummer played so loudly that the windows of the toy cabinet rattled. A clattering was heard from inside, and all the boxes containing Fritz's army bursted open. Soldiers climbed out and jumped to the bottom shelf. Then they formed ranks on the floor. The Nutcracker ran back and forth, shouting words of encouragement to the troops.

A few moments later, guns were going boom! boom! The mice advanced and overran some of the artillery positions. Such was the confusion, and such were the smoke and dust, that Marie could hardly see what was going on. But this much was certain -- both sides fought with grim determination, and for a long while victory hung in the balance. Then the mice brought up more troops.

The Nutcracker found himself trapped against the toy cabinet. "Bring up the reserves!" he cried. And true enough, a few men came out, but they wielded their swords so clumsily that they knocked off General Nutcracker's cap.

The Nutcracker was in dire peril. He tried to jump over the ledge of the toy cabinet, but his legs were too short. In wild despair he shouted, "A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

At that moment, the King of Mice charged the Nutcracker. Without quite knowing what she was doing, Marie took off her left shoe and flung it with all her might, hoping to hit the Mice King. At that moment, everything vanished from Marie's sight. She felt a sharp pain in her left arm and fell to the floor in a faint.

When Marie awoke from her deep sleep, she was lying in her own little bed. The sun shining into the room sparkled on the ice-coated windowpanes. A strange gentleman was sitting beside her, but she soon recognized him as Dr. Wendelstern. "She's awake," he said softly to Marie's mother. She came over and gave Marie an anxious look.

"Oh, Mother dear," Marie whispered. "Have all the nasty mice gone away? Was the Nutcracker saved?"

"Don't talk such nonsense, child," said her mother. "What have mice got to do with the Nutcracker? Oh, we've been so worried about you. Last night, I went into the living room and found you lying beside the glass toy cabinet in a faint, bleeding terribly. The Nutcracker was lying on your arm, and your left shoe was lying on the floor nearby..."

"Oh, Mother," Marie broke in. "There had just been a big battle between the dolls and the mice. The mice were going to capture the poor Nutcracker. So I threw my shoe at the mice, and after that I don't know what happened."

Marie's father came in and had a long talk with Dr. Wendelstern. Marie had to stay in bed and take medicine for a week.

Then Godfather Drosselmeier came to visit. "I've brought you something that will give you pleasure," he told Marie. With that, he reached into his pocket and took out the Nutcracker, whose lost teeth he had put back in very neatly and firmly, and whose broken jaw he had fixed as good as new. Marie cried out for joy!

That night, Marie was awakened in the moonlight by a strange rumbling. "Oh, dear, the mice are here again!" Marie cried out in fright.

Then she saw the King of Mice squeeze through the hole in the wall. He scurried across the floor and jumped onto the table beside Marie's bed. "Give me your candy," he said, "or I'll bite your Nutcracker to pieces." Then he slipped back into the hole.

Marie was so frightened that she could hardly say a word. That night she put her whole supply of delicacies at the foot of the toy cabinet. The next morning the candy was gone.

Marie was happy because she had saved the Nutcracker, but that night the Mouse King returned. "Give me your beautiful dress and all your picture books," he hissed.

Marie was beside herself with anguish. The next morning she went to the toy cabinet sobbing and said to the Nutcracker, "Oh, dear, what can I do? If I give that horrid Mouse King all my books and my dress, he'll just keep asking for more."

The Nutcracker said in a strained whisper, "Just get me a sword..." At that his words ebbed away, and his eyes became fixed.

Marie asked Fritz for a sword, and Fritz slung it around the Nutcracker's waist.

To see how "The Nutcracker" ends, go to the next page.


Christmas Stories: 'The Nutcracker,' Part III


Here is the third and final part of "The Nutcracker":

The next night fear and dread kept Marie awake. At the stroke of twelve she heard clanging and crashing in the parlor. And then suddenly, "Squeak!"


Soon Marie heard a soft knocking at the door and a faint little voice, "Miss Stahlbaum, open the door and have no fear. I bring good news!" Marie swiftly opened the door and found that the Nutcracker had turned into a prince!

The prince took Marie's hand and told her how he was really Godfather Drosselmeier's nephew, and an evil spell had turned him into a nutcracker. When he defeated the Mouse King, the spell was broken and he was turned back into a prince.

"Oh, Miss Stahlbaum," said the prince, "what splendid things I can show you in this hour of victory over my enemy, if you will follow me a little way."

Marie agreed and followed the prince to the big clothes cupboard in the entrance hall. The door of the cupboard was wide open. The prince stepped inside, pulled a tassel, and a little ladder came down through the sleeve of a traveling coat.

Marie climbed the ladder and soon passed through the sleeve. When she looked out through the neck hole, she found herself in a fragrant meadow.

"This is Candy Meadow," said the prince.

Looking up, Marie saw a beautiful arch as they were passing through it. "Oh, it's so wonderful here," she sighed.

The prince clapped his hands, and several little shepherds appeared. They brought up a golden chair and asked Marie to sit down. Then the shepherds danced a charming ballet. Suddenly, as if at a signal, they all vanished into the woods.

The prince took Marie's hand and led her down Honey River. Downstream there was a sweet little village. "This is Gingerbread City," said the prince. "The people who live here are beautiful, but most are dreadfully cranky because they have awful toothaches. But instead of worrying our heads over that, let's sail across the lake to the capital."

The prince clapped his hands. The gondola appeared in the distance and quickly came closer. Marie and the prince stepped onto the gondola, which quickly started off again.

Soon Marie found herself near a marvelous city. "This," said Nutcracker, "is the capital." The city was so beautiful and splendorous. Not only were the walls and towers of the most magnificent colors, but the shapes of the buildings were like nothing else on earth.

Suddenly, Marie saw a castle with a hundred lofty towers. "This," said the prince, "is Marzipan Castle." At that moment soft music was heard, the gates of the castle opened, and out stepped four ladies so richly and splendidly attired that Marie knew they could only be princesses. One by one, they embraced their brother.

The ladies led Marie and the prince to an inner room, whose walls were made of sparkling colored crystal. The princesses planned to prepare a meal for Marie and the prince. They brought in the most wonderful fruit and candy Marie had ever seen and began to squeeze the fruit and grate the sugared almonds.

The most beautiful of the prince's sisters handed her a little golden mortar and said, "Dear sweet friend, would you care to pound some rock candy?"

While Marie pounded away, the prince told the history of the cruel war between the Mouse King's army and his own.

As Marie listened to his story, she began to feel very dizzy. Soon Marie felt as though she were falling.

Marie fell to the floor. When she opened her eyes, she was lying in her little bed, and her mother was standing there.

"How can anyone sleep so long!" her mother exclaimed.

"Oh, Mother," said Marie, "you cannot imagine all of the places that young Mr. Drosselmeier took me to last night."

Marie's mother looked at her in amazement. "You've had a long, beautiful dream, but now you must forget all that nonsense," she said.

"But, Mother dear," said Marie, "I know that the Nutcracker is really young Mr. Drosselmeier from Nuremberg, Godfather Drosselmeier's nephew."

Mrs. Stahlbaum burst out laughing. Marie was on the verge of tears. Her mother sternly said, "You're to forget about this foolishness once and for all." So she did.

One day Marie's mother came into her room and said, "Your godfather's nephew from Nuremberg is here. So be on your good behavior."

Marie turned as red as a beet when she saw the young man, and she turned even redder when young Drosselmeier asked her to go with him to the cabinet in the parlor.

He went down on one knee and said, "Miss Stahlbaum, you see at your feet the happiest of men, whose life you saved on this very spot. Please come and reign with me over Marzipan Castle."

Marie said softly, "Of course I will come with you."

Marie left in a golden carriage. And she is still the queen of a country where the most wonderful things can be seen if you have the right sort of eyes for it.