FLIGHTS OF FANCY AND IMAGINATION

FRANCINE PAINO AKA F. Della Notte

Thanks to Hollywood and TV-land, most of us are tired of Christmas and we aren’t even in the official Advent season. The bombardment of mostly silly movies centered on Christmas themes that have little to do with this holy Christian holiday sucks the meaning out of Christmas and starts earlier every year.

Thus, it seems a good time to reprint Flights of Fancy and Imagination, reminding everyone that PBS television’s 2021 presentation of the musical production by Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award winner John Mauceri: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, written in 1816, is still available, and will be through December 13, 2024.

Mauceri conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, with Tony Award-winning Alan Cumming narrating this original tale in three parts..

The story, written by E.T.A. Hoffman, is about a young girl who saves a prince, contrary to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White, where the prince rescues the girl. Perhaps Hoffman’s inspiration for this particular flight of fancy was the popularity of embellished nutcrackers, which appeared in Germany in the early 1800s.  

The Nutcracker’s story begins with a young boy who stays home alone daily while his parents go to work. The little boy was lonely and afraid, so his father carved a special toy, a nutcracker in the form of a soldier with big sharp teeth and fierce-looking eyes, and told him that this unique Nutcracker would protect him while his parents were gone. It did the trick. The boy loved and enjoyed that Nutcracker and felt secure by its presence, so his father continued to carve new ones for him. When the boy grew up, he married and had a son to whom he gave all the nutcrackers made by his father. 

Over time in early 19th century Germany, the lure of decorative nutcrackers grew, and so did a legend. They came to represent power, strength, and the protection of families from danger and evil spirits. Nutcrackers were given as gifts and keepsakes to bring good luck.  

E.T.A. Hoffman was a prolific writer of gothic tales, fantasy, and the supernatural – most of them dark, including segments of his Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Alexander Dumas, the 19th-century French author, translated Hoffman’s work in 1845, propelling it beyond the written word. Mauceri explains that Dumas, the grandson of the French aristocrat and African Haitian slave, was drawn to the story because Hoffman concluded the tale with the girl growing up to become the queen of a land of tolerance and imagination. It was the Dumas version that Peter Illich Tchaikovsky adopted in 1892 when he composed the score. 

While this production does not target children, it is appropriate for those youngsters who can sit still for a narrative without pictures or characters to hold their interest. Cumming reads the narrative with emotion and even injects moments of humor without straying from the story.

The orchestra gives a stirring performance. Bold and rousing where appropriate, mysterious, sensual, and nerve-wracking also when appropriate. In addition to the lush Tchaikovsky score, compositions from Tchaikovsky’s tone poems and orchestral suites, are included.   

Mauceri’s reimagined Nutcracker and the Mouse King fill the mind’s eye with characters, places, and emotions generated by the performances of artists of the highest caliber. If you didn’t experience this fantastic flight of fancy and imagination last year, you might still enjoy it by accessing https://www.pbs.org/video/the-nutcracker-and-the-mouse-king-meabwt/.

Enjoy it for the first time, or once again, with friends, family, children, and grown-ups. And in the spirit of the upcoming season, I wish you all a truly thankful Thanksgiving, and in the true spirit of Christmas, I wish you all love, kindness, respect, and caring.

First published December, 2021

Libraries and “Merry Library Murder”

By N. M. Cedeño

The fact that the victim in my upcoming story entitled “Merry Library Murder” is a librarian is not a sign of hidden hostility or wishful thinking. Rather, the opposite is true. I set the story in a library because I spend a lot of time in libraries. Most of my reading material comes from the library, and I am a long-term library volunteer.

Of the many volunteering opportunities available in my children’s schools, the one to which I always gravitate is the assisting in the library. At one point, when I had an elementary, middle, and high school student in the house, I volunteered in all three libraries on a rotating basis each month. I started volunteering in school libraries about fifteen years ago and am still volunteering at the local high school library.

While volunteering, I’ve labeled, weeded, discarded, scanned into inventory, removed from inventory, added genre stickers to, added series number stickers to, shelved, checked-in, checked-out, magnetized, and demagnetized books. The books I’ve inventoried probably number well over 100,000. I’ve unpacked boxes of new books, packed boxes of old books, and shifted books on shelves. I’ve helped rescue books from a termite invasion and assembled and mounted signage. I once went through almost every picture book in an elementary school library to place red stickers on the spines of the ones with reading tests available for them. That meant looking up every single book on the computer to see if it had an associated test before placing or not placing a sticker on it. In order to raise funds for libraries, I’ve operated registers at more Scholastic Book Fairs than I can remember.

Last year, I helped genre-fy the entire fiction section of a high school library. How does one genre-fy a library? One separates the books by genre and creates sections: adventure, horror, science fiction, mystery, suspense, supernatural, fantasy, realistic, romance, historical, sports, humor, and classics. Graphic novels get their own section and genres, as do the books in languages other than English. This process required me to shift all the non-fiction books to make space. Consequently, I may be the only one in the entire community who has held almost every single book in the local high school library in my hands. That’s over 30,000 books.  

By far the most painful library duty I’ve ever performed is weeding fiction books. Removing fiction books from the collection that have sat on a shelf for years, untouched and unread, is a sad thing to do. But it’s something that has to be done. Shelf space is limited and new books are coming out every day.

Weeding non-fiction books that haven’t been read in years is less painful. If the material in the book is obsolete, it deserves to be removed from the library to make room for more current material. Who wants to read “How to Build a Webpage” out of a manual written in 1996? Books on teen pregnancy resources from the 1980s aren’t likely to be helpful to anyone today either. The oldest books I pulled from the shelves were from the early 1950s. They may have been useful in an archive somewhere, but not a high school library. After a day of weeding books, my hands are usually black with grime from decades of accumulated dust.

So to reiterate: I love libraries. And librarians. And Library Assistants, too. Many thanks to all the library staff I’ve worked with over the years. Sara, Becky, Maureen, Sarah, Ronda, Charity, Christina, Carole, Alyson, and all the rest, you are the best!

However, the victim in my upcoming short story, entitled “Merry Library Murder,” is a librarian. And yes, she is murdered in her own library during her town’s holiday festival. But this story is a holiday who-dunnit. Which means that justice will be served. If you’re looking for a quick holiday mystery, watch for Black Cat Weekly #68, coming out in late December. Or subscribe to Black Cat Weekly and get great reading delivered to your inbox every Sunday.

*All pictures by Pixabay.

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N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com