Thank you to the wonderful people at William Morrow Books for gifting me this copy of Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire. All thoughts and images are my own.
Synopsis: (as told by the back of the book)
Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked and to wonderland in After Alice, Maguire now takes us to the realms of the Brothers Grimm and E.T.A. Hoffmann – the enchanted Black Forest of Bavaria and the salons of Munich. Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann’s mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier – the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s ballet – who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.
But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism a migrating strain of Hellenic mystery-cult and ponders a profound question: How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and the powerless? Ultimately, Hiddensee offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress on a dark winter evening, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized, has something precious to share.
I picked up Wicked when I was nine; I had just seen the musical and my dad had somehow gotten us backstage. Idina Menzel, face wiped clean of her Elphaba makeup, painted my hand green and Kristin Chenoweth gave me a wand and pink sugar cookies. It was an unbelievable night and started me down the track I am still on of a deep love for live theater.
Being the nerdy bookworm that I was (even then), I scrambled to get my hands on any and all things connected to this story, and so my parents bought me a copy of Wicked by Gregory Maguire. Neither of them had read it, but I was a pretty mature kid and they weren’t in the habit of asking about whether or not the books I read were appropriate, so I just dove on in. I’m pretty sure it was the first book I’d ever read with a sex scene – I’m not even sure if it was a full fledged sex scene but to my nine year old brain, it was as scandalous as it could possibly get. I remember nothing else about the book besides that scene.
This just goes to show that I was probably not ready for Gregory Maguire the last time l cracked open one of his books. But this time, I was. I truly enjoyed Hiddensee. Maguire begins his story in an unlikely location – in a time and place long before the commonly known story of The Nutcracker begins. We follow Dirk Drosselmeier, the mysterious godfather gifts the nutcracker to Klara, through his life from his early years (they can’t quite be called a childhood) to his final breaths. Maguire has an incredible grasp on the history of storytelling and weaves in details of ancient traditions of this art form.
Don’t pick up this book if you are looking for a retelling of The Nutcracker; you will not find that here. Instead, you’ll find what I would like to call a reinvention, and a beautiful one at that. Reading this book is enriched if you are familiar with the original story, because the true magic is found in the details that Maguire has transformed or given entirely new meaning to. Part of the fun of reading this book is watching something that seems entirely unrelated when it is introduced become an entrancing part of the original story later on.
This book is dark – it is a grungy world Maguire immerses the reader in. Snuggle up with a mug of coffee and a warm blanket and prepare yourself for some chilly, wintery evenings in the world of Herr Drosselmeier.
Interested in this book? Buy it here on Amazon or find it at your local independent bookstore.