If it’s Christmas, there must be a “Nutcracker.” The Maine State Ballet’s 300-member version has come and gone, and lovers of Victorian sentimentality, lavish sets and good dancing have to wait until Dec. 23 for the Portland Ballet’s production, “The Victorian Nutcracker.”

Press releases and a “Maine Voices” article about “The Nutcracker” brought back memories of its author, Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, who altered his name to reflect his love of Mozart.

The author of the article, Michael Bachem, rightly points out that the tale, as translated by Alexandre Dumas and recommended to Tchaikovsky by the famous choreographer Maurice Petipa, was a sanitized version of Hoffmann’s original story, “The Mouse King,” which was written as a satire of Napoleon (the Mouse King) and his obsequious counselors.

Bachem’s contention, with which I agree heartily, is that the gritty original is more poetic — in Marianne Moore’s words, “an imaginary garden with real toads.”

E.T.A. Hoffman, one of the pivotal figures of German romanticism, was that period’s version of a renaissance man. With a day job in law, he wrote short stories, novellas and plays, composed music and, best of all, raised the art of music criticism to a higher level. He is also credited by some with writing the first detective story.

His influence on Robert Schumann was two-fold. Hoffman’s stories inspired piano compositions, while his journalism influenced Schumann’s style as a critic.

Hoffman has always been one of my favorite writers. As a boy, I devoured his complete works from cover to cover — not because of “Nutcracker,” which I had only seen Disneyfied, but because of the great movie “The Tales of Hoffman,” produced by the same artists that gave us “The Red Shoes.”

Offenbach’s “Contes d’Hoffmann,” in which the poet is the hero, is still one of my favorite operas of all time. Add an English translation of the libretto by Dr. Seuss to the movie version, and you have a region of the imagination that is painful to leave. The ballet “Copelia,” based on the same story of a mechanical doll passed off as a human with which a young man falls in love, is also one of my favorites in that genre.

Hoffman continues to inspire to this day. One of the principals in the Portland Ballet’s production will be Derek Clifford, who danced “The Hard Nut” to Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” score. “The Hard Nut,” written by Mark Morris and premiered in 1991, is closer to the original, with Ken and Barbie and a platoon of G.I. Joes battling a pack of rats.

The heroine remains ugly until her rescuer can crack a hard nut with his teeth. Which, as essays are supposed to do, brings us full circle. Hoffman, like Anton Bruckner, had a predilection for young girls, but was sensitive about his looks — hence Olivia, Drosselmayer and the ugly nutcracker, who after all, is Napoleon (not much of a looker either, but all-powerful).

Another reason to see “The Victorian Nutcracker,” at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 23 at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium, will be a live orchestra under the direction of Sean Newhouse, assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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