Most people are familiar with E.T.A. Hoffmann’s famous Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker, which has become a cultural institution and a holiday tradition for many families. But few know the history of Hoffmann’s ballet or of the adaption it went through at the hands of famed 19th century novelist Alexander Dumas, author of classic books The Man in the Iron Mask, The Three Musketeers, and The Count of Monte Cristo. A ballet about a magical nutcracker might see odd company along side Dumas’ other writing, but there is more to the ballet than sugarplum fairies. Ironically, Dumas, famous for stories of intrigue, deceit and revenge made the story lighter and less frightening, expanding it’s appeal as a Christmas tale for children, beyond Hoffmann’s more twisted evil mice run wild.
While The Nutcracker never found its way onto high school reading lists, I remember, back when I was a baby-faced freshman, struggling through The Count of Monte Cristo, a daunting tome, required reading over winter break for AP English. My parents spend much of the Christmas holiday bribing, cajoling, and ultimately threatening to take away video games and anything else they could think of so I would crack the demoralizingly large book that had become the demise of my Christmas holiday.
When the lucky kids in regular English headed off to Flagstaff to take advantage of a rare Arizona snow event, I felt the anchor of Dumas holding me inside and away from sledding, snowball fights, and snow angels and I hated him and his book. Finally giving in, realizing the book would not read itself and my parents wouldn’t magically forget about the assignment, I began to read. It turns out, that once I got past the adolescent angst that kept me from starting the book, I quite enjoyed it. In fact, from the moment I started, I couldn’t put it down, and I finished the 928 pages in just a few days. The book quickly became one of my favorite reads, and still remains so to this day.
What connection does this have to The Nutcracker? Young boys are often reluctant to partake in anything that smacks of “culture,” truth be told, many men too are often dissuaded by the idea of a night at the ballet. The Nutcracker however, apart from being a holiday tradition, is also a dramatic tale, fraught with action, adventure, soldiers and sword fights, all things that appeal to young men. So if you have been considering adding The Nutcracker as a new tradition for your family, but are meeting with a less than enthusiastic response from your young ones, especially those who are unfamiliar with The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers, you might want to draw some parallels to Dumas’ other exciting sagas to get them over the hurdle of from stuffy ballet to swashbuckling battlefield.