The Nutcracker, the Mouse King, and the Puella Magi

The following is the record of a conversation I had with 01d55 regarding further resonances between E.A. Hoffman’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. 

[14:55] <Froborr> You wanted to talk Nutcracker and Rebellion?
[14:55] <Arrlaari> Yeah
[14:55] <Froborr> Is it okay if I log this and use it for Wednesday’s post?
[14:55] == FoME [442704d2@gateway/web/freenode/ip.68.39.4.210] has quit [Quit: Page closed]
[14:55] <Arrlaari> Of course
[14:55] <Froborr> Cool.
[14:55] <Arrlaari> I think I’ll start by talking about Pirlipat and Marie, but first  I gotta look up how to spell Pirlipat correctly
[14:56] <Froborr> lol
[14:58] <Arrlaari> Dang, I got it right by memory this time. Here’s the translation I’m using http://www.springhole.net/writing/the_nutcracker_and_the_mouse_king/index.html
[14:59] <Froborr> Okay.
[14:59] <Arrlaari> So, I’m going to call the Nutcracker “Prince Drosselmeier,” and his uncle “Judge Drosselmeier”, because Prince Drosselmeier is not the only Nutcracker in the story. Princess Pirlipat, like her destined prince, was a Nutcracker.
[14:59] <Froborr> *nods*
[14:59] <Arrlaari> She was born with a full set of teeth, and the clue that led Judge Drosselmeier to the ritual to remove her curse was how happy she was cracking nuts
[15:00] <Arrlaari> So Mouserinks’ curse didn’t turn either of them into Nutcrackers – they both always were and remained that – but it made them ugly, giving them the appearance of a toy Nutcracker
[15:01] <Arrlaari> When the curse is transferred to Prince Drosselmeier, Princess Pirlipat is repulsed by his ugliness and her father reneges on the promised reward (marriage into the royal family) and instead punishes Judge Drosselmeier, Prince Drosselmeier, and Gilder Drosselmeier with banishment
[15:01] <Froborr> Now, when you say they were Nutcrackers, do you mean the physical object, or do you just mean that they enjoyed cracking nuts?
[15:02] <Arrlaari> They were Crackers of Nuts
[15:02] <Froborr> Okay.
[15:02] <Arrlaari> Not simply that they enjoyed it, but they had notable talent for it
[15:03] <Froborr> Okay.
[15:03] <Arrlaari> Even though it was the King who decided to punish them instead of compelling them to accept a different reward, the story rather problematically condemns Pirlipat for rejecting Prince Drosselmeier and aggressively contrasts her with Marie
[15:04] <Froborr> *nod*
[15:04] <Arrlaari> In particular, Prince Drosselmeier himself asks the princesses of the Kingdom of Sweets if Pirlipat can compare to Marie, and they all immediately agree that Marie is way better
[15:05] <Froborr> Yes, it’s the “how dare you have physical standards, person whose entire society treats ugliness as a terrible curse” thing.
[15:05] <Arrlaari> This website deliberately makes it hard to copy and paste from it
[15:06] <Arrlaari> The last time Pirlipat is spoken of, it is the Prince calling her “the cruel Princess Pirlipat for whose sake I became ugly”
[15:07] <Froborr> Urgh.
[15:08] <Arrlaari> But there’s something interesting that happens much earlier: Marie sees a face looking up at her from the water of a lake in the Kingdom of Sweets and says that it is Pirlipat, smiling up at her. Prince Drosselmeier tells her that it is not Pirlipat, but Marie’s reflection
[15:09] <Arrlaari> And Judge Drosselmeier tells Marie that she was born a princess like Pirlipat, to which her mother replies that she thinks she knows what the Judge is talking about, but can’t explain why
[15:10] <Froborr> Huh.
[15:11] <Arrlaari> A buddhist reading is clear: Marie is Pirlipat’s reincarnation (it is implied that a great time passes between the tale of the hard nut and the events of the story), but Prince Drosselmeier does not want to forgive Pirlipat and therefore committs himself to the illusion that they are different people
[15:12] <Froborr> Wait, when did Pirlipat die?
[15:13] <Arrlaari> It’s not explicitly said, but it’s implied that Judge Drosselmeier, a wizard, outlives all the other characters in the Tale of the Hard Nut except the Prince, who is ageless as a Nutcracker doll
[15:13] <Arrlaari> This might be a tenditious reading but I think it works
[15:13] <Froborr> All right.
[15:14] <Froborr> (I am no stranger to tenuous readings, you may have noticed.)
[15:14] <Arrlaari> And now I turn to Madoka magica. Madoka is Pirlipat and Marie (who are the same), and the moment Homura “becomes ugly for her sake” is when she, at roughly the same time, reverts the timeline in which Madoka killed Mami but killing Madoka herself.
[15:15] <Froborr> *nods*
[15:15] <Arrlaari> Where the Prince commits himself to the illusion that Marie is not Pirlipat, Homura commits herself to the illusion that Madoka is blameless for the self-loathing that she feels for this
[15:16] <Froborr> Ahhhh I think I’m starting to get it.
[15:16] <Arrlaari> The idea of Madoka’s innocince (I know I mispelled that) becomes next to sacred for her
[15:17] <Arrlaari> Note that this moment is when Homura suddenly changes her self-presentation, which subsequent iterations of Madoka finds frightening and off-putting
[15:18] <Froborr> yep!
[15:18] <Arrlaari> The last episode of the series, when Madoka suddenly rescues Homura from defeat at the hands of Walpurgisnacht, parallels the end of the battle between the Nutcracker & dolls against the Mouse King and his army – in the book, this is not when the Mouse King dies, and in the series, Kyubey basically escapes unscathed
[15:20] <Arrlaari> Afterwards, Marie is bedridden because she cut herself putting her had through the glass doors of the toy cabinet (nitpick time: in Against Homura you write that Prince Drosselmeier leads that battle from a clockwork castle. In the book, the Nutcracker and Dolls sally from the toy cabinet, and all but Drosselmeier retreat to the cabinet by the end)
[15:20] <Arrlaari> While Madoka becomes an existence outside of time and space
[15:21] <Arrlaari> Judge Drosselmeier tells Marie the story of the hard nut while she is convalescing, and also repairs the Prince’s jaw. Madoka can see Homura’s past from outside space and time.
[15:22] <Arrlaari> But shortly after she recovers, Marie wakes up in a state of sleep paralysis, and the Mouse King emerges to threaten the Nutcracker’s life, demanding Marie’s candy in return
[15:23] <Arrlaari> The Mouse King’s mother, Mouserinks, came into conflict with Pirlipat’s family over fat (which was to be used in sausage), and the Mouse King demands candy. Sugar and Fat are known for being more or less “pure calories” – and calories are a unit of energy. The mice want energy, just as Kyubey does.
[15:24] <Froborr> Bit of a stretch, but I’ll go with it.
[15:24] <Arrlaari> And so Kyubey threatens Homura’s life (or afterlife), effectively demanding additional energy from converting magical girls into witches
[15:27] <Arrlaari> Marie gives into two nights’ worth of the Mouse King’s demands before the Prince asks that she instead give him a sword, and he uses it to slay the Mouse King off camera. As he reports his victory to Marie, he invites her to tour his Kingdom. Madoka gives Kyubey nothing, instead breaking Homura out of the seal. Homura takes Madoka to her own Kingdom of Sweets (named by the signage in the last shot before the credits) without
[15:27] <Arrlaari> while the universe is being rewritten, conqueres Kyubey decisively
[15:28] <Arrlaari> It’s a little bit out of order but basically fits
[15:28] <Froborr> A bit, yes.
[15:28] <Froborr> And arguably Madoka actually does give Kyubey something–the Incubators still get to collect their energy in Madoka’s new timeline, it’s only after Homura resets it that they’re cut of.
[15:29] <Froborr> *off
[15:29] <Arrlaari> The Incubator’s decide to cut themselves off (too dangerous!), but Homura insists that they continue to collect the curses that have been spread about the world – so she isn’t yet cutting them off
[15:30] <Arrlaari> Although she later implies that Maju, and hence the cubes, are finite
[15:30] <Arrlaari> It is significant that the movie ends on this note, because The Nutcracker does not. The death of the Mouse King does not break Mouserinks’ curse, and Homura’s triumph over Kyubey does not break the self-loathing that is her curse.
[15:32] <Arrlaari> After the tour, Marie returns to her home, and it is from there that she does break Mouserinks’ curse, whereafter Prince Drosselmeier appears in his true form to ask to be engaged to marry her. Only after that, plus an unspecified delay (Marie is nine years old) does Marie come to permanently reside in the Prince’s kingdom.
[15:33] <Arrlaari> Reading Homura’s life as a retelling of Prince Drosselmeier’s therefore leads us to predict that Madoka will indeed escape as she threatened to do in the hall scene, but also suggests that there is hope that this could lead to a true healing experience for Homura.
[15:34] <Arrlaari> So I got this far and I haven’t even mentioned Sin, which is a big part of my thinking on this
[15:34] <Froborr> Okay. So let’s talk sin.
[15:36] <Arrlaari> You’ve associated Homura with a form of Care Ethics, as that’s the system that justifies Homura’s decisions. For exactly that reason, Care Ethics cannot be the system to which Homura conciously subscribes. Homura does not believe herself to be justified, even before she declares himself a demon and the embodiment of evil.
[15:36] <Froborr> An excellent point.
[15:37] <Arrlaari> Homura appears to subscribe to the Christian value system in which Virtue is opposed to Sin. When thinking about the illusory world she has been trapped in, she thinks, in regard to forsaking their duty to hunt Maju, “such a sin should be unforgivable”
[15:39] <Arrlaari> One of the key elements of the idea of Sin is expressed, imprecisely, in “whosoever lusts after his neighbor’s wife, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The idea can be clarified with a story about stealing an apple.
[15:40] <Arrlaari> Four people pass by an unguarded apple cart. The first is not hungry, and gives the cart little notice.
[15:40] <Arrlaari> The second is hungry, and thinks “I would like to take one of those apples and eat it, but they do not belong to me, therefore I have no right to take one.”
[15:41] <Arrlaari> The third is likewise hungry, and thinks “I would like to take one of those apples and it eat, but I may be caught and punished as a thief”
[15:41] <Arrlaari> The fourth thinks “I would like to take one of those apples and eat it”, and then does so
[15:42] <Arrlaari> The first man is innocent. The fourth man is guilty of theft. The second man has resisted temptation through virtue, and the third is no less a thief than the fourth – he has stolen the apple in his heart.
[15:44] <Arrlaari> And so even though Homura has reversed the timeline in which she shot and killed Madoka, she still believes that she carries the sin of murder in her heart. In Rebellion, there is a scene where she says that “she thought she could bear any sin” – and because she is willing to do anything for Madoka’s sake, she has, “in her heart” already done everything
[15:44] <Arrlaari> Including, for example, murdering  Sayaka in cold blood.
[15:45] <Froborr> Wait, when’d she do that?
[15:45] <Arrlaari> She didn’t – but only because Kyouko prevented her from doing it
[15:46] <Arrlaari> Therefore, by the standards she believes in, she had already killed Sayaka “in her heart”
[15:47] <Froborr> Ah.
[15:50] <Arrlaari> On the other hand, Homura thinks of Madoka as being purely innocent – she not only would refrain from murder (or any other bad act), she would not even think of it. Only the horrible circumstances of being a magical girl could spoil that innocence and cause her to kill Mami, and Homura believes she erased that timeline
[15:51] <Arrlaari> But after her ascension, Madoka can percieve that the distinction between things that did and did not happen is an illusion – as a Goddess she is no less the person who killed Mami than the person who merely witnessed Mami’s death, or the person who never met her
[15:52] <Arrlaari> That is something Homura, so far as I can tell, never processes. She thinks of Madoka Law of Cycles as being sacred like a god, especially pure.
[15:53] <Froborr> It likely helps that Madoka is not Christian and therefore has not been subjected to this particular brand of bullshit.
[15:53] <Arrlaari> More importantly, Madoka is the person who asked Homura to kill her even though that timeline was about to be reverted. She is cruel Princess Pirlipat, for whose sake Homura became Sinful.
[15:54] <Froborr> Ahhh, that’s how we get back to the Nutcracker.
[15:57] <Arrlaari> And if Homura’s curse is to be broken, it will have to be through forgiving Madoka – but that cannot happen while Homura denies Madoka’s responsibility, and therefore also her agency.
[15:58] <Arrlaari> And that also leads to the prediction that before that, Madoka will escape her current circumstance.
[15:59] <Arrlaari> As far as I can remember, that’s all, except for a very tenuous reading of Judge Drosselmeier
[15:59] <Arrlaari> Which is tangential to the themes
[16:00] <Froborr> Go for it, though, this is very interesting stuff.
[16:01] <Arrlaari> Alright. It’s hard to map the Judge to any of the characters who appear in Madoka Magica or Rebellion. As the one who leads Prince Drosselmeier to get into trouble in an attempt to rescue Pirlipat, he lines up with Kyubey, but afterwards he works to get the Prince out of his predicament – and Kyubey is already the Mice.
[16:02] <Arrlaari> Furthermore, he’s a blood relative to the Prince, but Homura appears to have no relatives.
[16:03] <Arrlaari> However, there is a figure who is metaphorically related to Homura. To contrast Madoka and Homura, Gen Urobuchi once said that Madoka is an “Ume Aoki character”, while Homura is a “Gen Urobuchi character.”
[16:05] <Froborr> Hmm.
[16:05] <Arrlaari> Judge Drosselmeier is described as a clockmaker as well as a judge, but it’s clear that Judging pays the bills and clockmaking is a passion – he’s simply a gear geek. There is a clockwork castle in the book, but rather than being the Prince’s castle, it’s one of the Judge’s works of art
[16:05] <Froborr> So the Judge is Urobuchi?
[16:06] <Arrlaari> When Fritz and Marie ask him to make the people in the castle move differently, he tells them that “once it has been put together, it only goes one way” and when they lose interest, he sulks until their mother asks him to show her how it works, which cheers him up.
[16:07] <Arrlaari> And yes, The Judge is Urobuchi – when he is about to begin telling Marie the story of the hard nut, their mother says “I hope, dear Mr. Drosselmeier, that your story won’t be as horrible as the ones you usually tell.”
[16:08] <Froborr> Heheh, which of course draws this and Princess Tutu inexorably closer together.
[16:09] <Arrlaari> The Judge is the one who brings the Prince to Marie, but he also brings the Mouse King to the both of them – he stops the Grandfather clock from striking twelve, which is implied to have either summoned the Mouse King or prevented the chime from warding him away
[16:10] <Arrlaari> Also notable: The Prince clearly resents the Judge. When Marie tells him that the Judge will fix his jaw, his eyes shoot green sparks. During the tour, when Marie recognizes the lake as being like one the Judge once promised her, the Prince dismissively says that she is as likely to make such a lake as the Judge
[16:13] <Arrlaari> The Judge knows that only Marie can break the curse on the Prince, and manipulates the circumstances to bring that about, just as Urobuchi knew that only Madoka could break the curse on his works, represented by Homura
[16:15] <Froborr> Innnteresting.
[16:16] <Froborr> And again, the fact that Drosselmeyer is the main villain of Princess Tutu and his primary motivation is a preference for stories that end in tragedy makes this whole interpretation hilarious in the best way possible.
[16:16] <Arrlaari> I didn’t know that about Princess Tutu, which I haven’t seen, but that is pretty great.
[16:17] <Arrlaari> I brought up the Judge’s gear geekery for two points – one, Urobuchi is evidently a firearms geek, two, the line about “once it has been put together, it only goes one way” suggests fatalism.
[16:17] <Froborr> You should! Drosselmeyer is the main villain. He is more than a little bit implied to be the same character as from the Nutcracker, though more the ballet than the book.
[16:18] <Froborr> Plus there’s all the clockwork imagery associated with Homura.
[16:18] <Arrlaari> Yeah. In the book, the clockwork castle goes on the top shelf of the toy cabinet, with the rest of Drosselmeier’s “works of art”
[16:19] <Arrlaari> I found that element of his characterization quite endearing
[16:19] <Arrlaari> Perhaps mostly because I am favorably inclined towards geeks, even of things for which I am not myself geeky
[16:23] <Arrlaari> But I think it’s really cute how this man, who is an ancient wizard, goes into a childish sulk when children don’t appreciate his clockwork castle, and then cheers up as soon as he’s asked to explain it
[16:24] <Froborr> Fair enough.
[16:26] <Arrlaari> I think that’s all I’ve got. Do you have questions?
[16:26] <Froborr> Nope. This was a really interesting interpretation.
[16:26] <Froborr> I clearly need to actually read the Nutcracker now.
[16:27] <Arrlaari> Oh, one observation: When Kyubey is explaining the experiment to Homura, she is standing in a glass cabinet
[16:28] <Arrlaari> After reading the translation I linked above, I was able to see several visual callbacks that I hadn’t associated before.

7 thoughts on “The Nutcracker, the Mouse King, and the Puella Magi

  1. I kept my own copy of the chatlog. All the timestamps are different because timezones.

    I had to break up a long message at [15:27] for length, and it looks like the receiving limit is slightly shorter than sending. “without consent, and” got truncated to “without”.

    Having pointed out that Pirlipat is also a nutcracker, I totally forgot to follow up with a link to Madoka Magica. The paratext for Rebellion tells us that Homulilly's “gallant form … once cracked many nuts” which alludes to Homura's career as a Magical Girl, during which she defeated many witches. So Madoka, who was also a magical girl, was therefore also a nutcracker. Marie's ability to crack nuts is not tested in the story – by my reading, she ought to have the talent, but Prince Drosselmeier will always insist on cracking the nuts himself. Ostensibly because he is the one with the notable ability to do it, but his ulterior motive is to preserve his belief that Marie is not Pirlipat. Likewise, after the scene where Homura takes on her curse, Madoka's talent as a magical girl is only spoken of by the Incubator, not demonstrated.

    There is a twist here – because magical girls are witches, the nutcrackers are also nuts. And so it follows quite naturally that just as Prince Drosselmeier took Pirlipat's curse by cracking Crackatook, the hardest nut, Akemi takes on Madoka's curse by cracking Kriemhild Gretchen, the wickedest of all witches.

    Like

  2. Interesting little connection– in chapter 11, Marie wipes some blood off the Nutcracker's neck with her handkerchief, and he comes to life briefly, begging her not to sacrifice more of her precious things for him. But she's “no longer frightened or worried” because now she knows how to save him.

    It feels similar to the scene near the end of PMMM where Homura fails to beat Walpurgisnacht (again), and almost becomes a witch. And in the compilation movie version of the scene, they added something: Madoka pulls out a handkerchief and wipes the blood off Homura's face…

    Like

  3. The meet-the-maker part of the conversation reminds me of Shinbo’s “Le Portrait de Petit Cossette,” the OVA when Shinbo truly mastered his craft. Coincidentally, that OVA was also scored by Kajiura.

    Based on this conversation, it might just be your cup of tea.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s