The Real Story Behind "The Nutcracker"

The Nutcracker has become an incredibly popular Christmas production—one that’s responsible for 40% of annual ticket sales at major American ballet companies. Crazy, right?

Even crazier? We give all the credit to Tchaikovsky.

Jen Adams here, ready to take you behind the scenes for the real story of The Nutcracker.

And Tchaikovsky isn’t in my story until the very, very end.

Instead, you’ll want to focus on Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann. He wrote under the pen name of E.T.A. Hoffmann … when he wasn’t composing music, working as a critic, teaching law, designing buildings, or getting into trouble for his caricatures of his bosses.

All his many talents were necessary for Hoffmann to earn a solid living, especially since frequent wars in the Prussian cities he called home made quick moves a part of his life.

But through it all, he wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. Even when bedridden and paralyzed in the last years of his life, he continued to write via dictation. Hard work … but good for us, since Hoffmann’s work is considered to be one of the best examples of the German Romantic style, and he’s credited as a pioneer in the fantasy genre.

It’s his fantastic imagination that made his novella, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, so very memorable. Published in 1816, the original story was a complex world of intrigue, adventure, and true love between a girl and her nutcracker doll.

It was translated into many other languages, spreading widely throughout Europe. In 1892, the story premiered on the Russian ballet stage as The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky. And thanks to the lush musical score, the story has lived on and thrives in our imaginations nearly 200 years after it was first published.

What can you learn from this story and the life of E.T.A. Hoffmann? First and foremost, commit to your craft. No matter what else happened, Hoffmann believed in his work and was committed to making a living with it.

Next, write everyday. Not only does this improve your writing skills, but you’ll find it’s easier to come up with new ideas when you’re in practice.

Finally, cultivate multiple streams of income. A part of what helped Hoffmann weather all the changes in his life were his many different income sources.

What other lessons do you see in his story? Let me know in the comments section … and tomorrow, I’ll show you a final Christmas writing secret about one of the most iconic Christmas books of all time.

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Published: December 26, 2013

2 Responses to “The Real Story Behind "The Nutcracker"”

  1. Jen, this is a perfect lesson. I have often thought that my varied passions of writing, teaching, directing and more have held me back. I constantly see 'find your niche' and worry I"m out of sync with the rest of the writing world. This article is inspiring! I'm printing it off and posting it where I can read it every time I feel down about my career.

    Shawn MausDecember 27, 2013 at 11:37 am

  2. Jen -

    Great story. Bet not many people know the real "Nutcracker" story (including me). But I learned 'way back in German class in college that the "A" in "E.T.A. Hoffmann" stood for "Amadeus," not "Wilhelm." Was my professor wrong?

    Chuck Wertalik

    P.S. Frohes neues Jahr!!

    Navy retiredDecember 28, 2013 at 3:19 pm


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