Lord of the Nutcracker Men

"Lord of the Nutcracker Men" is a children's novel by Canadian author Iain Lawrence that takes place in England during the first year of World War I. The book was first published in October 2001 by the Delacorte Press, and it was later reprinted in May 2003 by Dell-Laurel Leaf, an imprint of a division of Random House, Inc. The book has become a bestseller, and is included in the required reading lists of many American high schools.

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*Johnny Briggs: The protagonist and narrator of the story, who thinks that the battles of World War I reflect the ones he enacts with his toy nutcracker soldiers
*Mrs. Briggs: The unnamed mother of the protagonist, who moves to Woolwich to work in an Arsenal
*James Briggs: The father of the protagonist, a cheery toymaker, who sends his son wooden soldier men that he carves and paints in the trenches
*Auntie Ivy: After Johnny's father enlists, his mother sends him to live with his aunt, a caring, self-professed lonely woman.
*Hubert Tuttle: Johnny's schoolteacher, an intelligent, ethical man who threatens to leave Cliffe after Johnny damages his roses for his Guy.
*Sarah: A girl from Johnny's school who engages with him in their battles, and the daughter of a lieutenant.
*Murdoch Simms: A soldier in the war who shot him self to escape from the tragic sights. Later is scared to come home and face his father. Lives in the woods by Aunt Ivy's house and talks to Johnny.
*Storey Simms: The father of several fallen soldiers, who comes from a long line of soldiers. Murdoch is afraid to come home to him after escaping.

Plot summary

The story is told in first-person by the 10-year old protagonist, Johnny Briggs, who receives an army of toy nutcracker men from his father, a toymaker. The battles that take place during the first World War seem eerily close to the battles that Johnny enacts with his nutcracker soldiers, and Johnny eventually comes to think that he is controlling the outcome of the war with every battle that he plays out.

The part of the story taking place in France where Johnny's father has enlisted is told mainly through letters sent back home to his family. Through the letters it is possible to tell that the novel takes place from around October 25 until December 26 1914. At the beginning of the book Johnny and his family live in London, however Johnny is sent to live with his Aunt Ivy in the town of Cliffe soon after his father enlists. His mother moves to the town of Woolwich, also sending letters to Johnny every chapter, to help support the war by getting a job making weaponry in a factory.

A main theme of the book is the pointlessness and irrationality of war. After the protagonist, Johnny Briggs, misses school for two days in order to have more time to build his Guy Fawkes, he is forced to spend every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon at his teacher's house. There, his teacher, Mr. Tuttle, tutors him on classic literature, mainly the Iliad. They both draw direct parallels between the events of World War I and the events of Homer's novel.

At the beginning of the book, Johnny's father appears enthusiastic about going to war, so much that at the beginning he is frustrated that he lacks the half-inch of height required to enlist. After the required height is lowered, he joins the war and is moved to the front line afterward. As the war continues, it takes its toll on Johnny's father's health, physique, and mentality. Johnny's father sends his son a newly whittled and painted soldier with every letter, but his creations appear increasingly grotesque throughout the book. This is reflected in the model of himself that he had sent. The brown paint of his clothes turns a moldy green, the wide grin on its face fades to a grim, mournful expression, and a knothole begins to form in its stomach.

The book comes to a close when Johnny stops playing with his nutcracker soldiers, and brings them together for the Christmas Truce of 1914. The war continues without Johnny's interference, and his father returns four years later in 1918. Johnny's mother dies from sulfur poisoning in 1923, demonstrating that some of the most valiant sacrifices of World War I came not from the front lines, but from the work force at home.


While gathering material for his Guy Fawkes, Johnny stuffs his with most of Mr. Tuttle's prized roses and severely damages those that are left. Because his wife had greatly cared for her roses before she died, they were all that Mr. Tuttle had left of her. Mr. Tuttle goes to such great lengths to protect her most prized rose, Old Glory, that when an airplane seems like it is about to bomb the town of Cliffe, he chooses to stay outside and shield it rather than come inside for protection.

When playing with his nutcracker men, Johnny symbolizes Kaiser Wilhelm II and King George V during World War I, effectively playing God.


The author's grandfather enlisted in the Great War when he was seventeen and was wounded by shrapnel, after which he went back to battle and lost an arm. In the book, the author recalls seeing veterans with no legs, sitting on platforms with wheels, moving by pushing themselves, selling pencils. He greatly drew from a short story, D.H. Lawrence's "The Rocking-Horse Winner." He also was influenced by All Quiet on the Western Front and its German point of view. On the British side, the poetry and lives of John Masefield, Wilfred Owen, and Siegfried Sassoon affected his work.


Lawrence, Iain. "Lord of the Nutcracker Men" (Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2001). Paperback edition, ISBN 0-440-41812-7.

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