The Nutcracker is Revealed in Gregory Maguire’s “Hiddensee”

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Freelance journalist,

Published by: Costco’s magazine, The Connection

If you are among the millions whisked away to the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy each Christmas by the ballet inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic novella, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” prepare to hop a ride this fall to “Hiddensee” to explore the Nutcracker’s back-story.

Your guide is bestselling author Gregory Maguire, the fantasy writer who gave us a new perspective on the Wicked Witch of the West in “Wicked,” redrew Wonderland in “After Alice,” and introduced us to a distant relation of Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge in “Lost.”

In “Hiddensee,” we travel to the forest of Bavaria, circa 1808, to meet Dirk, the lad who grows up to the mysterious one-eyed toymaker, Herr Drosselmeier.

This beautifully crafted 281-pageturner will undoubtedly captivate readers. The story, rooted in 19th-century German Romanticism, teaches us how the entrancing Nutcracker came to be carved, and how it magically guided an ailing little girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a snowy Christmas Eve. 

But “Hiddensee” is not just the reimaging of a classic fairy tale, Maguire tells the Connection from his home in Concord, Massachusetts.

“The story ponders the profound question about how a person who is abused by life, short-changed and challenged, can access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless,” the author believes, insisting that Hiddensee offers a message of hope. “If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized on the eve of a winter holiday, has something precious to share.”

Maguire knows this from personal experience of his own.

His mother died from complications she suffered giving birth to him in 1954, landing him in an orphanage before his father remarried two years later and brought his four children home. While he was close with the woman he lovingly considered his second mom, his relationship with his father remained strained for decades.

The Albany Public Library was his salvation. “Reading is a great way to operate the safety valves and pressures in one’s own character. In the library, I was able to escape myself and become more myself. That’s why I’m a writer, so I can perform that therapeutic and missionary function for others that was so beneficial for me as a child.”

As in “Wicked” — Maguire’s first breakout book for adults that has sold more than 5 million copies — “Hiddensee” taps into the common language of the 21st century: fairy tales.

“If you start talking to adults about significant books in their childhoods, you find a lingua franca to which everyone responds,” says the former professor at Simmons College Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, who spent the first 14 years of his career writing children’s stories.

“One hundred years ago you’d have expected most people in the US to have a passing familiarity with the Old Testament; 150 years ago, even those with a limited education had knowledge of Greek myths. Because I want to talk to everybody, and everybody has the Grimm fairytales in their background, tapping into those memories is my strategy.”

Maguire admits that being trapped in one genre — regardless of how lucrative it has been for him — frustrates the father of three, who had one of the first gay marriages performed in the state of Massachusetts with painter Andy Newman in June 2004.

“I have actually written a lot of original stories over the last 40 years, and I would like to try my hand at theater and write a screenplay,” he says. But the self-deprecating dramatist recommends: “Don’t hold your breath for those things. They’ll come if they come, and if they don’t I think the world will be none the poorer.”

Hope Katz Gibbs is a freelance writer and children’s literature aficionado whose bookshelves in Washington, DC are filled with fairy tales, many by her literary hero, Gregory Maguire.