A delightful, mystical, mythical confection by zeitgeist whisperer Maguire (After Alice, 2015, etc.), who likes nothing more than to work at the dark edges of a fairy tale.
As evidenced especially in Wicked and its sequels, Maguire has a sharp appreciation for what struck Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm way back when: especially if they’re German, the stories we tell our children are marvels of mayhem, compressed slices of violence and bleakness gussied up with an occasional shiny poisoned apple. In them, death is always present. So it is with this latest foray, in which Maguire locates a perhaps unwilling hero in a young foundling, Dirk Drosselmeier, who, having courted death himself, proves to be inept enough with an ax at his adopted woodcutter father’s house to be packed off into the world—narrowly avoiding death, it seems, at the hands of the old man and his wicked-witchish wife. “He’s witnessed enough to be scared already, I can’t make it worse,” she cackles, and off he goes. But the world has plenty of terrors of its own to offer, including the fact that everyone he loves will die or otherwise leave him. He learns to live on his own wits and resources; “I’m more like a spider,” he says, “I cling with strings and hooks only to every passing day.” Improbably, in the face of all that sorrow and odd encounters with the likes of the quack Doctor Mesmer, he makes good; he wasn’t so handy with a hatchet, but with smaller blades he carves out a formidable nutcracker that evolves, in his hands, “from it to he.” Shades of Pinocchio! It’s at this juncture that, as if a mist lifting, the darkness of the story brightens and, magically, the familiar story that we know from Tchaikovsky’s Christmas classic, Klara and the King of Mice and all, resolves with brilliant clarity. It’s a fine bit of sorcery on Maguire’s part, but of course, as all things must, it ends darkly.
A splendid revisitation of folklore that takes us to and from familiar cultural touchstones into realms to make Freud blanch. Wonderful.