Title: The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.
Author: L. Frank Baum.
Genre: Fiction, literature, fantasy, children's lit, YA.
Publication Date: April 12, 1902.
Summary: Drawing on the attributes of Santa Claus from Clement Moore’s 1822 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (or The Night Before Christmas), Baum chronicles Santa’s life from his childhood in an enchanted forest — the same forest that is the source of all magic in the land of Oz — to his destiny of sharing gifts and spreading love to his fellow man. Along the way we witness him making his first toys, learn the origins of the Christmas tree and Christmas stockings, and discover the stories behind many Christmas secrets, like why Santa slides down chimneys, how he picks his reindeer, and how he delivers all his toys in one night.
My rating: 7.5/10
♥ “Then why, if man must perish, is he born?” demanded the boy.
“Everything perishes except the world itself and its keepers,” answered Ak. “But while life lasts everything on earth has its use. The wise seek ways to be helpful to the world, for helpful ones are sure to live again.”
♥ “If I am to supply the rich children as well as the poor ones,” he thought, “I shall not have a spare moment in the whole year! But is it right I should give to the rich? Surely I must go to Necile and talk with her about this matter.”
So when he had finished the toy deer, which was very like a deer he had known in the Forest glades, he walked into Burzee and made his way to the bower of the beautiful Nymph Necile, who had been his foster mother.
She greeted him tenderly and lovingly, listening with interest to his story of the visit of Bessie Blithesome.
“And now tell me,” said he, “shall I give toys to rich children?”
“We of the Forest know nothing of riches,” she replied. “It seems to me that one child is like another child, since they are all made of the same clay, and that riches are like a gown, which may be put on or taken away, leaving the child unchanged. But the Fairies are guardians of mankind, and know mortal children better than I. Let us call the Fairy Queen.”
This was done, and the Queen of the Fairies sat beside them and heard Claus relate his reasons for thinking the rich children could get along without his toys, and also what the Nymph had said.
“Necile is right,” declared the Queen; “for, whether it be rich or poor, a child’s longings for pretty playthings are but natural. Rich Bessie’s heart may suffer as much grief as poor Mayrie’s; she can be just as lonely and discontented, and just as gay and happy. I think, friend Claus, it is your duty to make all little ones glad, whether they chance to live in palaces or cottages.”
♥ It is true that great warriors and mighty kings and clever scholars of that day were often spoken of by the people; but no one of them was so greatly beloved as Santa Claus, because none other was so unselfish as to devote himself to making others happy. For a generous deed lives longer than a great battle or a king’s decree or a scholar’s essay, because it spreads and leaves its mark on all nature and endures through many generations.
From the Afterword by Max Apple:
♥ A child is a true pagan. In his pantheon all the heroes are equally enshrined - even parents are right up there with the immortals. The child’s one true measuring device is straightforward reality. The possible is the test of the true. So Santa Claus is a very big test. Children want to believe in that generous bringer of presents but they don’t want to be fooled. Every parent knows the great dignity that a child possesses, the deep humiliation that he feels if his willingness to believe is exploited.
To a believing child, Santa is sacred. Even as an unbeliever, I took him seriously. In kindergarten I met and vanquished him. He was my first hollow victory. I was the only Jewish child in my elementary school. Right after Thanksgiving I had to harden my heart. I could, with difficulty, turn away from the lovely window decorations, the fragrant tree, and the yards of tinsel, but when it came to Santa Claus I drew the line. He was not a decoration, he was a threat. If there was a Santa Claus then I was the one being fooled.
While my classmates made wish lists and hung stockings, I honed my arguments. Because of Santa I learned at an early age the rudiments of inductive reasoning. I learned that a being doesn’t have to exist in order to be powerful; a splendid lesson about the imagination, valuable indeed for a writer. But at five I was no writer and I would have traded all my rational and philosophic victories for a fire truck with turning wheels and a movable ladder.
I could and did overcome my classmates with cold reason. I told them there were no flying reindeer, no magical sleighs, no trips down the chimney. I was so right that I sat alone at my coloring table, the red-baiter of kindergarten.
♥ A folk character like Santa Claus or the Wizard of Oz is a narrative version of a security blanket. We don’t go from “once upon a time” directly to the Iliad. Folk heroes are rest stops on the way to enlightenment. They are physical exaggerations, enlargements, not changes in essence. All folk characters function as fairy godmothers, telling a child that someone like themselves, someone human, can do great things, where as a god is so powerful that he can hardly fit into a story. He always bursts out in miracles that don’t necessarily heighten the narrative. But a folk tale, like a life, is full of suspense. The hero is always at risk. He might even lose.
♥ From the midst of the fecund pagan world, the Forest of Burzee, the timeless world of innocence, comes Santa Claus, abandoned infant grown to immortal folk hero. And what he knows, above all, is the importance of toys. As Baum explains how difficult it is for Santa to bring the toys even for that one night, every child understands that one day a year, alas, is all you can hope for. This is the boundary of realism. Even Santa can’t deliver more than that.
What a story. If only someone had told me that toys, and not religious messages, were the essence of Santa Claus I might have let the old fellow into our classroom. I barred the doors of belief, but he won out anyway. I got his inventions for Chanukah and for birthdays and I was just as much his subject as other children. His message is a powerful one. Have some fun, even in the middle of winter. A toy delivered only once a year by a stranger in the middle of the night may also be enough to convince you that the invisible world, every once in a while, is on your side.