About the book: Gregory Maguire is the guy who wrote Wicked, the 1995 book that inspired the Broadway musical. Adult mythopoetic re-imaginings of classic tales, from the perspective of their seemingly least sympathetic characters, is basically his thing. He’s also penned the likes of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (1999), After Alice (2015), and the Christmas Carol riff Lost (2001).
Hiddensee is his most recent novel, delving into the history of Dirk Drosselmeyer: Clara’s mysterious godfather in The Nutcracker. Although he’s ultimately a positive force in Tchaikovsky’s ballet, in most productions Drosselmeyer gives off a creepy vibe. Who’s this conspicuously single old guy lavishing all sorts of special attention on a tween girl in pointe shoes?
Maguire, always on-brand, takes the story back further to the ballet’s inspiration: E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1916 story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” From this, he imagines Drosselmeyer as a character who’s had one foot in the physical realm and one foot in the spirit world since a seemingly near-death incident as a child.
Like Elphaba in Wicked, Dirk Drosselmeyer is desperately lonely — in part, we learn, because he’s confused about his own sexuality. Clara, when she arrives, turns out to be descended from the man with whom Drosselmeyer came closer to intimacy than with anyone else in his life.
About the audiobook: Audiobook narrator Steven Crossley is precisely what you’d expect: deliberate, melancholy, and very British. At the production’s conclusion, we’re informed the book was recorded in London. Oh, really?
Most Christmasy moment: Maguire reminds us how wonderfully strange a Christmas tree is for children — who love Christmas in part because of what a departure from the norm its various activities are. He considers how kids end up tying trees to toys in their imaginations.
“The toys live in the Tannenbaum,” reasons Clara, “because it’s Christmas and the tree is magic now. If the mice win and swarm the tree, overrun it, how horrible! It will become brown and die. But the toys need it, so they will fight to the death to save their own home.”
Least Christmasy moment: Most of the book has nothing to do with Christmas, and it’s tough going early on as the itinerant young Dirk makes his introverted way across early 19th-century Germany. The book gains momentum in the second half, though, as we approach the familiar family where Drosselmeyer will finally find a home for his strong-jawed soldier.
The book’s poetic epilogue is set by the seaside, a final dream-encounter between Drosselmeyer and Clara that sees their roles reversed, and Maguire’s symbolic schemes elegantly united. It gives new meaning to the idea of Christmas all year ’round.