It was the night before Christmas. Clarla and Fritz were sitting by the door of the kitchen. Their cheeks were red after throwing snowballs outside in the cold air. Their eyes shone brighter than the candles on the Christmas tree. They were chattering very excitedly about something.
And what were two children so excited about on Christmas Eve? You don’t have to be a genius to guess the answer to that question. For they were talking about –
And the presents for Clara and Fritz were wrapped up and waiting for them on the kitchen table, just on the other side of the door. But the children were forbidden to go through the door until it was time. Time for presents. And as they couldn’t see the presents, they talked about them instead.
“I bet, ” said Fritz, “That this year, Godfather Drosselmeyer has made a two entire armies of clockwork soldiers – thousands and thousands of them – Cavalry, and infantry, and artillery – and they’ll go to war with each other and fire cannons and guns like this BAAAMMMMM ! It is will be just like a Real Battle !”
“Oh NO! ” said Clara. “I do hope he’s made something more pretty than that. I think he’s made a toy theatre, with an orchestra that plays, and ballerinas who look like swans and dance on their tip-toes. In fact, Godfather Drosselmeyer has told me himself that he had been to see the Russian dancers – and that they were the most marvellous thing he had ever seen – and that’s why I think he’s making a magic theatre for us.”
“You’re such a silly nincompoop sometimes,” said Fritz. “Godfather Drosselmeyer doesn’t do magic. He makes clockwork that you can wind up.”
“Oh yes he does do magic,” said Clara. “And in any case, you’re the silly nincompoop – so there.”
And the children chattered on, until at last the door bell rang to announce that Godfather Drosselmeyer himself had arrived at the house. The children rushed to meet him in the hall.
“Oh Godfather do please come into the kitchen so we can open our presents,” begged Clara.
He was a funny-looking man, who wore a wig that sometimes slid half off his head. He had a faint mustache that had never grown very bushy, and his left eye was usually half closed. His hands and fingers were very tiny, but he was ever so clever with them – for Fritz was right; Godfather Drosselmeyer was a watch and clock maker and one of the cleverest who ever lived. But then perhaps Clara was right too. Maybe, just maybe he also could do a little magic. But in any case, his presents were always amazing and wonderful.
It took a while to gather the whole family including parents, children, aunts, uncles and godparents. But at last it was time to open the presents. Sweets, dolls,and tin soldiers all emerged out of the wrapping, and even a Sultan’s palace beautifully carved and painted. They were exciting, lovely presents – and at last they were all opened – except that they hadn’t yet found a gift from Godfather Drosselmeyer. Clara understood that he was keeping back an extra special surprise for them, but Fritz thought that their godfather such a strange man, that perhaps he had forgotten all about Christmas this year. Both children were too polite to ask – but Clara gave her Godfather a gift of her own – a picture of a sugar-plum fairy that she painted herself. The old man was clearly delighted with it, he said.
“And what have I got for dear Clara and Fritz this year? Ah yes, I remember now. It’s here in my waistcoat pocket.”
And he pulled out a very small present – no longer than his hand. “Which one of you two wants to open it this year?”
Fritz saw how small the present was and said : “Let Clara open it. She’s so excited about it because she’s still a baby.”
And Clara took the present and felt it. Yes here was its head – a little on the large size, and here were its legs. She smiled and said:
“It’s a doll. I bet it dances.”
And she carefully unwrapped it.
But it wasn’t just a doll. It was a nutcracker – painted to look like a soldier. The handles were legs, in bright red trousers, and with feet in shiny boots, and the part where you put the nuts to crack them looked like an oversized head with giant jaws. On top of its head it wore a tall fury hat. To tell you the truth, it was rather ugly.
“Why thank you,” said Clara.
“You’re not disappointed are you?” asked Godfather Drosselmeyer.
“No,” she said. “I love the nutcracker-soldier because he’s funny.” And she gave her godfather a hug and a kiss.
But Fritz did not like the nutcracker-soldier at all. He thought it was useless. Well almost, you could use it to crack nuts – and after dinner that’s what they did. Clara and Fritz sat under the Christmas tree and cracked walnuts in the mouth of the soldier.
Clara wasn’t quite strong enough to break the shells, but Fritz found it easy. Until he tried to break open an extra hard nut. He squeezed and squeezed and squeezed until eventually – the nutcracker broke. One of its jaws came off, leaving the poor solider with half a mouth.
“Oh no!” squealed Clara. “Why did you do that?” And she grabbed the nutcracker and the broken-off piece its jaw and ran off to find their mother.
But what could her mother do? All she could do was to hug Clara and promise that Godfather Drosselmeyer would make the nutcracker as good as new in the morning. It was funny, but now that the nutcracker-soldier was damaged, Clara felt sorry for it, and even though it had an ugly face, she began to love it as much as if it were the most beautiful doll in the world.
And when Clara went to lay it under the Christmas tree, she felt so sad that she lay down and held the broken solider closely to her. She cried a little, and soon she fell asleep among the presents. And if you came into the room just then, you might have thought that Clara herself was a big doll, like the others flopped under the tree.
At midnight, the 12 chimes of the grandfather clock roused Clara from her sleep. She sat up and wondered for a where she was. And as she looked up she saw Godfather Drosselmeyer sitting on the very top of the tree in the place of the angel.
“Godfather ! What are you doing up there? ” she said.
But he did not answer, because he was just a doll.
And then she saw the nutcracker. Oh, how sad it looked, lying there with a piece missing. But then the nutcracker-soldier turned over… and it smiled at her with its broken face.
She screamed and started to run for the door. But she had only taken a few steps when she saw that the whole floor in front of her was covered with mice – only they weren’t ordinary mice because they were dressed as soldiers and they had swords and rifles. Out in front they were lead by a terrible rodent with seven heads, each with a golden crown on it.
I think that anyone can get a fright from a mouse – they are so small and squeaky, but at the same time they appear out of holes and cracks so suddenly that they catch us by surprise. But an army of mice! And a Seven-headed Mouse-King. This was a terrible sight indeed ! Perhaps I don’t need to tell you that Clara let out a scream !
But before she could scream, or cry , or run, the Nutcracker Doll rushed forward followed by his own army of dolls and tin soldiers, and the battle between the toys and the mice broke out all around Clara’s feet. The mice squeaked and guns and cannons fired on both sides. Clara wondered why the whole family was not awoken by the noise. Toys and mice lay wounded on all sides, and the nutcracker was fighting with the Mouse King. The Mouse King was biting the nutcracker with his seven heads, but the nutracker fought on – if only he was not broken he could have caught the Mouse King in his jaws, but as it was, all he could do was to dance, jump, and kick with his long legs. He was winning the fight with the King, but losing the battle, for he was surrounded by mice solders who caught him by the feet and started to drag him away.
“Oh no you don’t !” screamed Clara, “and she took off her shoe and threw it as hard as she could at the Mouse King. She just missed him, but he took fright and started to run. When the army of mice saw their king running from a giant girl and her flying shoes they turned and fled in terror. In a moment they had vanished into the cracks between the floor boards, leaving their prisoner, the nutcracker, behind them. All the toys cheered and began to dance, until at least, when the first light came through the window they crept back into the toy box, or went back to sleep under the Christmas tree.
And Clara pulled herself back to her own room and fell into a deep sleep.
She awoke late on Christmas Morning. When she went downstairs, she found Godfather Drosselmeyer. He had already fixed the nutcracker doll so that he was as good as new …
“Thank you so much dear Godfather,” said Clara. “He’s the best present I ever had.” And then she told him all about her strange dream.
And her Godfather put his head on one side, while he listened to her dream, and when she had finished telling him, he said.
“Interesting. Very interesting indeed. Your dream reminds me of a story. Let me tell it too you now”
And this is the story that he told Clara.
One Christmas some bad mice crept into the Royal Palace and gobbled up all the sausage meat that was meant for the King’s special Christmas lunch. The king was furious, and he summoned his special inventor – whose name was Drosselmeyer and who made many wonderful things. He ordered him to make some mousetraps – which he did – and these were left in the palace kitchens. Soon they had caught lots of mice. The Queen of the Mice was furious – for the mice that lay in the traps were her children. A She climbed up onto the Human Queen’s dressing room table, and just as the Queen was going to bed, the Queen Mouse said:
“So you dared to kill my children did you? Well I’ll have my revenge, I will. I’ll make your little Princess turn quite ugly”
The Queen screamed, and her guards rushed in to the room with drawn swords – but the Mouse Queen had disappeared behind the skirting board.
It so happened that the King and Queen had a beautiful daughter called Princess Pirlpat. When The king heard about the threats of the Mouse-Queen, he ordered bed of the princess must be guarded by seven fierce cats so that no mouse could get near her. But even cats must sleep. And when they were curled up and purring softly, the Queen Mouse crept past them and climbed up on to the end of Princess Pirlpat’s cot. There she said an evil magic spell, and in the morning, when she looked in the mirror, she saw that her face had been turned quite, quite ugly. Her nose was long and had a wart on the end of it, her eyes were small and squinty, her hair was standing up on end and would not settle down, she had spots on her chin. In fact, she wasn’t just ugly. She was hideous.
As you can imagine, the Queen was utterly distraught – and the King, well he was beside himself. He summoned Drosselmeyer again and gave him just four weeks to find a cure for the princesse’s ugliness – or else.
But Drosselmeyer was an inventor, not a magician. He did not know any spells or anti-spells. He did not know what to do, and so he asked the Court Astrologer for his advice. And the advice he received was that Princess Pirlpat must eat a nut called a Crakatook. But first the Nut must be cracked by a boy who had never shaved, and he must do it without opening his eyes, and then he must take seven steps backwards without stumbling.
Well Drosselmeyer searched the land for a Crakatook nut, and eventually, after almost four weeks were up, he found one in a small shop. He brought it before the King.
“This nut sire, ” he said, “is the cure for your daughter’s ugliness. She must eat it. But first the nut must be cracked by a boy who has never shaved, and he must do it with his eyes closed, and then he must take seven steps backwards without stumbling”.
The King was pleased that the cure for his daughter was so straight forward. He made a law that that any boy who fulfilled the conditions and cured his daughter of ugliness would have the hand in marriage of the princess.
And many boys came to the palace and tried to crack the nut. But not one could succeed.
Until one day, Drosselmeyer’s own nephew was visiting his uncle in the palace. His face was still smooth, he had not quite reached the age when he needed to shave, and his uncle asked if he would like to try his hand at cracking the nut.
And the nephew held the nut between his teeth. And he closed his eyes. And he cracked it. Then he took seven steps backwards, and on the seventh step — he stumbled.
And although Princess Pirlpat was cured of her ugliness, and was beautiful once more- Drosselmeyer’s nephew caught the spell – and his face became ugly. In place of his nice kind mouth, he wore a stupid grin, and his smooth cheeks grew a white curly beard. And his head grew too large for his shoulders. And he looked not only ugly, but stupid too.
And although the King had promised that his daughter would marry the boy who cured her, his daughter refused to marry one who was so ugly. And the king had to agree that it would not be proper for the princess to marry such an ugly, stupid-looking boy.
And as Drosselmeyer’s nephew went home, people pointed and laughed at him. His teacher said he could no longer come to school because he looked so stupid. And so he stayed at home, all alone.
And that was the story that Godfather Drosselmeyer told to Clara. And she thanked her Godfather for telling her such an interesting story, but she had to admit that it had made her feel rather sad.
That night Clara was thinking about the strange tale, and she could not fall asleep. After a long while of laying awake, she heard a voice whispering in her ear.
It was the mouse king who had come back. And he said to her:
“Feed me your sweets, or I will bite off the head of your precious nutcracker, and I will spit it out where nobody will find it again, not even your ingenious godfather.”
And Clara was so afraid for the nutcracker that she got up and found some sweets for the Mouse king. He gobbled them up with this seven heads in an instance, and then he demanded more. And she went down the the pantry and found some cake – and he ate all of that too – and the Christmas pudding – and the newly baked biscuits. And still he wanted more.
“How much more shall I give you?” Asked Clara. And the Mouse King said:
“It is for me to say when to stop. Give me more. More I say !”
And Clara began to cry – for what would her mother say in the morning when she found that all the sweets, cake and biscuits in the house had been eaten?