Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker definitely gets five stars.
I’ve been reading Gregory Maguire’s novels since I was in high school. I picked up Wicked in a time when I was just starting rediscover a love of books that had been lost when I got “too old” for picture books. That feeling of being wholly absorbed in a fictional word was still new then. Since then, I’ve read almost all of the books that he’s published, but none had compared to the experience of reading Wicked until now when I picked up Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker.
In most of Maguire’s works, the protagonist was a side character or antagonist in an existing tale. In Hiddensee, it was Drosselmeier from the Nutcracker. The narrative begins when he was boy named Dirk with no surname. After dying in the forest and being brought back by a mystical being, he leaves his adopted family (who seem to be myths themselves) and sets out on the long adventure that becomes his life.
Dirk, who eventually becomes Dirk Drosselmeier, is a fascinating, frustratingly flawed character who I cheered for throughout the whole book, drawn in further by each of his mistakes and missed opporturnities.
While the magic didn’t play as large a role in this as it would a fantasy novel, myths and mysticism were forever in the background, not fully noticed by Drosselmeier, but not gone either. It gave the historic setting a layer of enchantment, further drawing me into the world Maguire built.
Sometimes I found myself frustrated, wishing he’d see the magic and beauty in front of him before it was too late, but that just pushed me to keep turning the pages.
It’s not an entirely new concept, but I loved how myths and Christianity intersected in this book. Early in the narrative, when Drosselmeier was freshly resurrected, he spent a few years working in a church where the voices of the mice and thrushes first went silent. Christianity, particularly the protest branch emerging in the time period, was a mystical force of it’s own, conquering and exiling the folklore that proceeded it. Neither is portrayed as inherently good or bad, but one is coming and the other is going, and like anytime something leaves, there is a sense of melancholy and grief that accompanies it.
Grief and loss were as constant presence in Hiddensee.
Drosselmeier’s relationships and romances, particularly with a man he first met while working in the kitchens at a wealthy family’s estate, were as heartbreaking as they were beautiful. I can’t say much more without giving away the plot. However, I warn you: if you decide to read this, keep the tissues near by.
Hiddensee is beautiful and sad and definitely worth reading, especially if you are looking for something enchanting to read around the holidays.
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hiddensee-gregory-maguire/1126007372#/
Indie Bound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780062684387