Posted on November 12 2006

I am something of a collector of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “Nutcracker” stories. Especially the illustrated children’s picture books. I have two criteria. One: The full Hoffmann text must be used in the text—no abridgements! Two: The illustrations must be fantastic—in every sense of the word.

The three very best, in no particular order:
1.Maurice Sendak’s version. Sendak designed the costumes and sets for the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker Suite. The designs were also used for Nutcracker:The Movie (which, sadly, is not available on DVD. hint!). It is filled with endless color sketches that communicate the strange atmosphere of Hoffmann’s text—and Tchaikovsky’s music.

2.Carter Goodrich’s version. Most notably known for his whimsical New Yorker cartoons, Goodrich’s soft, yet dream-like images give his imagination free-reign. The world of the Nutcracker has never been so accessible to young and old alike.

3.Gennady Spirin’s version. Jewel-like, yet with an old-world patina, each painting glitters with the magic of Christmas. Every image can (and should) be poured over to examine the breathless detail of Spirin’s baroque dollhouse universe.

There are too many uninspired or bowdlerized versions of this tale littering the market. If I may, I’d like to make some suggestions of others who would be worthy to take a “crack” at this Christmastime masterpiece:

Edward Sorel, of “The Saturday Kid” fame.
David Wiesner of “Sector 7”.
Peter Malone, who did an excellent job with “The Magic Flute”.
Brian Selznick of “The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins”.
Peter Sis, who created the haunting “The Three Golden Keys”.
and Marc Sutherland, who made the deliriously animistic “MacMurtrey’s Wall”.