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Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Happy Tuesday, My Lovelies!  I hope your week is going well so far.  Recently I read Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire, "A tale of the once and future nutcracker."  Although my review will read as being very critical, I do recommend it strictly because Maguire is such a wordsmith.  

About Hiddensee

• Hardcover: 304 pages

• Publisher: William Morrow (October 31, 2017)

From the author of the beloved #1 New York Times bestseller Wicked, the magical story of a toymaker, a nutcracker, and a legend remade . . .

Gregory Maguire returns with an inventive novel inspired by a timeless holiday legend, intertwining the story of the famous Nutcracker with the life of the mysterious toy maker named Drosselmeier who carves him.

 Hiddensee: An island of white sandy beaches, salt marshes, steep cliffs, and pine forests north of Berlin in the Baltic Sea, an island that is an enchanting bohemian retreat and home to a large artists' colony-- a wellspring of inspiration for the Romantic imagination . . .

Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked and to Wonderland in After Alice, Maguire now takes us to the realms of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffmann-- the enchanted Black Forest of Bavaria and the salons of Munich. Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann's mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier-- the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky's fairy tale ballet-- who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.

But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism ties to Hellenic mystery-cults-- a fascination with death and the afterlife-- and ponders a profound question: How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless? Ultimately, Hiddensee offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress on a dark winter evening, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized, has something precious to share.


Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister; Lost; Mirror Mirror; and the Wicked Years, a series that includes Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz. Now a beloved classic, Wicked is the basis for a blockbuster Tony Award–winning Broadway musical. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts. Find out more about Maguire at his website and follow him on Facebook.

My Review:

Warning:  My review contains spoilers.

My first thought about the book is how the book blurb above is a bit misleading.  If you pick-up this book thinking that it's mostly about an old man, "Godfather Drosselmeier...the canny, one-eyed toy maker ...who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter..." then you are being misled.  Only the last 52 pages out of 238 depict Dirk Drosselmeier as an older man in his role as godfather to Klara and her brother.  The rest of the book is about Dirk's childhood and events in his early adulthood.  Klara is the granddaughter of Dirk's friend Felix (more on him later).

Dirk, a "foundling baby," grew-up at the end of the Napoleonic wars deep in a Bavarian forest with an older couple whom he thought to be married.  He finds out much later in life that they are Hansel and Gretel, and Gretel wants him dead when he becomes an adolescent.  Hansel takes him far from the cottage with the intent of killing him, but a tree Dirk fells kills him instead.  During his death or near-death experience, Dirk encounters the Pythia (the Oracle of Delphi), Pan, and a little brown bird.  While hacking at the tree, the ax accidentally flies from his hand and injures Hansel which saves his life.  He recovers for a few days back at the cottage, and he overhears Gretel telling a few of the fairytales she shared with Dirk during his childhood with a stranger.  He remembers that the Hansel and Gretel want him dead so he runs away from the only home he's ever known with only a creepy troll knife he pulled from the forrest floor when the tree fell on him and a walking staff he'd made for Hansel.

At the beginning of the story, this little brown bird (the wood nymph? the Pythia?) talks to Dirk and tries to get him to make choices, and the troll knife (Pan) always tells him the opposite. What I don't like about Dirk's character is he reacts to what life throws at him rather than directly making decisions for himself.  The little bird is a guiding leitmotif throughout the story Dirk ignores. He bumbles around at first working for a minister, then the wealthy von Koenig family for a summer who write him a letter of recommendation to a papermaker in Meersburg. Here he falls in love with the papermaker's wife, the beautiful Nastaran Pfeiffer who's clearly from the Middle East.  This part of the book is so weird (clearly Dirk has some sort of foot fetish) that I can only wonder why Maguire adds this character who seems completely out of place historically.

During Dirk's summer at the von Koenig's Dirk meets who will become is best friend in life, Felix. They have a couple of adventures (one includes Dr. Messmer) and there is a homosexual flirtation that doesn't amount to anything, and again, I have to ask:  Why?  Is Maguire attempting to make his book "relevant?"

The whole "Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism ties to Hellenic mystery-cults-- a fascination with death and the afterlife" isn't developed very well because Dirk ignores his connection to Pythia and Pan.  They "appear" to him in visions, but he chooses not to act on anything and prefers to dismiss and ignore anything related to his near-death experiences and everything he learns through being "mesmerized" by Dr. Messmer.  I don't understand Dirk's denial; actually his entire character arc is confusing.  Although I must say that Felix tries explaining the connection by telling Dirk that the Gutenberg Bible started the renewed interest in all things Hellenic as people wanted to learn ancient Greek to ensure that the Bible was translated into Latin properly in the first place.  This led to a renewed interest in ancient Greek culture, and Felix goes on to explain that the fairy godmothers in the Brothers Grimm fairy tells are actually "Athena herself," Odysseus's helper and guide on his voyage home.  The crux of the book is this...  Felix asks Dirk:

"What I'm interested in, Dirk--" He shifted his rump in the seat and looked at Dirk so intently that Dirk couldn't look away however much he wanted to.  Felix pulled off his grey leather gloves and took Dirk's face in his hands and pulled him within a few inches of his own nose.  "I want to know why the Pythia and the Pan would show themselves to you, who don't even know of their provenance, and who hardly care about it."

I hear you, Felix.  I'd like to know why, too.


I received a copy of Hiddensee from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill


  1. I appreciate your truthful review RJ and you always make them interesting. Dreary and raining here, perfect time to read!

  2. I like reading other peoples thoughts on books

  3. thank you for this review. Seems interesting. Did you paint that nutcracker? it's fantastic!

  4. Thanks for this. Very honest and well written. I am inclined to give this a pass, probably even before I read your review and based on the synopsis but that sealed the deal. Although I do love the cover!

  5. As much as I loved Wicked, this just sounds dark and too bizarre...I guess fantasy, fairy tales, and the surreal are not my thing...I do love your honest reviews and opening my eyes to so many different authors and genres.

  6. I’ve always loved how Maguire upends traditional fairy tale characters- villains become sympathetic and heroes become villainous. I’m intrigued by Hansel and Gretel growing up to be evil and seeing Herr Drosselmeier’s journey before the events of The Nutcracker.

  7. I've read a number of books Maguire has written, and I like his dark tones. I always wonder what he's working on next.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts as part of the tour.


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I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.

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