Book Review: The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
L. Frank Baum, 1902
Cross-posted at Blue Fairy's Bookshelf
This is a rather unique little... novella, I guess I would call it by the length. Probably one of the earliest attempts to really codify a “logical” life story for Santa Claus. I found it interesting, though, that even given a few animated specials that adapt this story directly, very little of this story has directly migrated into the popular conception of Santa. This could be one of the things that pulled the idea of Santa into the framework of “fairy tale” rather than “religious/mythic figure”, but I couldn't find out much about its original reception or effect.
Eschewing any references to Saint Nicholas, the historical figure, this Santa is a foundling raised by wood nymphs and fairies, called Claus because it means something like “small one”.
Most of the story is pretty cute: the fairies raise Claus, and since all manner of immortal spirits are his friends and protectors he befriends all plants and animals. Eventually he leaves home and discovers humans, loves children, invents toys (really) and discovers he likes making and giving them.
There's a really awkward, forced moral in here somewhere about how children with nice toys never wish to be naughty. Okay, if you say so.
Then there's a conflict. Some evil troll-like creatures appear to stop Claus, but his friends always help and protect him.
Then the story turns oddly bloodthirsty and violent for exactly one chapter. After which, the good immortals have killed all the evil beings. All of them. After mocking them for not being immortal, OR having an afterlife. Yeah, that made me a little uneasy.
Then Claus (who did not take part in the battle, and apparently slept right through it) goes back to discovering and inventing things. Sleighs! Deer! Chimneys! Stockings! Christmas Trees! It's more than a little ridiculous how much of this plays out. For example, eventually he can only go out once a year because the head animal spirit-herder-guy says he can only borrow deer on Christmas Eve, and only from sun-down to sun-up.
There are things that are really sweet about this story, but most of them are early on. Eventually it just started to feel really forced to me, as though Baum felt the need to explain in depth every single aspect of Christmas that he could think of, whether or not it makes sense to discuss it. The sequence in which the council of Immortals votes to make Claus immortal (not a spoiler, you knew this was coming) was pretty good, though.
And then there's the ending, when Baum tries to explain how even if parents put the toys in the stocking and bought them at the store, it's Santa who made them, really. Uh-huh. I don't think there was any time in my life I would have bought that one.
So in the end I guess I'm actually not surprised that more of this story hasn't filtered into the common story. It has ups and downs, but it's interesting, and I'm glad I read it.
3 Stars – A Good Book
PS: If you'd like to read a darker look at Santa's origin, with more moral qualms and more fantastic adventures, check out For Love of Children. This fantasy novel also delves into the secret origins of the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. E-editions on sale all December 2011 for just 99 cents!