"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King

Many posts ago, I talked a little about  why I wrote EOLYN, highlighting some of the early influences that,  in my view, inspired the story.  I haven't returned to this topic -- at least, not explicitly -- since then.  But tonight I was watching the San Francisco Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker Suite, and I remembered what this fairy tale meant to me as a child. I realized this classic ballet, based on the much more intriguing story by E.T.A. Hoffman, was one of the fantasies that fed my young imagination and planted the earliest seeds of my own stories.

There was a period -- oh about ten years ago -- when I considered myself an authority on the Nutcracker.  After all, I'd seen the ballet countless times.  I'd even performed in it as a child, interpreting the role of a young boy in the Christmas party hosted by the Staulbaums.  I'd read Hoffman's tale -- or had it read to me -- repeatedly by the time I was ten years old.  And I knew all kinds of quirky little facts about the story's history, like for instance, how the Tchaikovsky hated the score for the ballet.  It was the least favorite of all his works (thought it became his most famous), because when Russian choreographer Petipa commissioned the music he had already choreographed the dances.  So Tchaikovsky's creative impulse was thoroughly constrained by having to respect predetermined rhythms and phrases. 

As a self-designated Nutcracker Expert, I had a full layout in my mind of the differences and similarities between the ballet and Hoffman's story; I knew what the original version was really about, and I could tell anyone all the fine and important details in which the ballet departed from the purity of Hoffman's vision.

You can imagine my surprise when, a few years back, I sat down with Hoffman's story once more for nostalgia's sake and discovered it was very different from what I remembered.  It turned out I wasn't an expert on the Nutcracker at all.  The story I'd been telling all those years -- the original, true version in which Klara was the brave young protagonist of a magical and somewhat dark adventure -- had not been written by Hoffman at all, nor choreographed by Petipa.  In fact, it didn't really exist anywhere outside my own imagination.

To this day I'm wondering what led to the strange amalgamation of real story and personal myth that became my unique version of the Nutcracker.  The essential elements remain; my 'Nutcracker' is still a Christmas story, though curiously devoid of all Christian imagery.  (Has anyone ever noticed the creche is altogether absent during that great battle against the Seven Headed Mouse King? I mean, where were Joseph and Mary -- and Baby Jesus, for that matter -- when the Nutcracker really needed them?)  My 'Nutcracker' has a female protagonist who makes the transition to womanhood by falling in love with an ugly prince, following him into war, and saving his life.  And my 'Nutcracker' is the story of a girl coming into her own by learning the ways of magic, inheriting a rich tradition of special powers from her mysterious and beloved uncle, the toy maker known as Drosselmeyer.  Most importantly, my 'Nutcracker' is not a dream (and nor was Hoffman's -- it was Petipa, it would seem, who got that lame 'it-was-all-just-a-dream' ending started, and generations of ballet companies since who have insisted on keeping it).

Of course, my version does not have a Sugar Plum Fairy, but who needs her anyway?  (The Snow Fairy, on the other hand, was a definite keeper...)

Somehow this is all connected to EOLYN.  That's why I got started on the topic; that's what I found myself thinking as I watched the San Francisco Ballet on TV tonight.  Eolyn's childhood, and her journey in magic are, in some deep and perhaps untraceable way, an elaborate permutation of my version of Tchaikovsky's version of Petipa's interpretation of Hoffman's The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King. (And who knows where Hoffman first got his ideas?)

Eolyn, like Klara, inherits a rich tradition of magic from an eccentric and mysterious old practitioner.  Eolyn also falls in love with an ugly prince -- though he's not exactly ugly, and for a good part of the story there's some doubt as to whether he's really a 'Nutcracker Prince' or whether he is, in fact, a 'Seven Headed Mouse King'.  

The resemblance probably ends here, but in any case there you have it:  Another seed -- however obscure --that helped me build a novel. 

What are the fairy tales that have inspired you, in your life and in your imagination?  Do you have your own version of some classic legend?  If so, tell me about it -- I'm always up for a good story.

In honor of Christmas, E.T.A. Hoffman, and Tchaikovsky, I've posted a scene I wrote once based on this classic tale on my Other Works page.  Click HERE if you'd like to read it!