Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Review: Nutcracker and Mouse King

This book (originally called Nußknacker und Mausekönig [1]), by E. T. A. Hoffman, along with a retelling by Alexandre Dumas, père [2], was a Christmas present [3] from my friend and former roommate, Markham.[4] It is the inspiration for the better-known Tchaikovsky ballet, The Nutcracker. While I'm familiar with Tchaikovsky's music, I've never watched the ballet all the way through or read the libretto. So this was my first time experiencing the actual story.

My verdict: This particular translation was a little off (though not to the degree that I'd say "traduttore, traditore"). For example, most translators render the title: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Articles were dropped left and right. And sometimes entire sentences just didn't make sense (though I suspect they did in the original German). Fortunately, I was often able to determine what the author intended to convey. Also, it's not clear until the end whether (the little girl) is having a fever-induced hallucination, has an overactive imagination, or is actually experiencing the events in the story. Handled correctly, this ambiguity would tantalize the reader until the final revelation. However, here it just came across as muddled and indecisive. I cannot say how much that is due to the translation. The overall story, though, is intriguing and I enjoyed it despite the technical errors mentioned above. I liked the retelling by Alexandre Dumas père better, though.


[1] The Mouse King (German: Mausekönig) was likely inspired by the bizarre German phenomenon of the rat king (German: Rattenkönig). See king (folklore).

[2] Read my review here.

[3] See my post Lillian's First Christmas.

[4] His blog can be seen at

Image attributions:

Nuctracker is by Benutzer:Flyout, available at 

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