The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
By L. Frank Baum
Two readings published by Librivox
Read by Kristin LeMoine and jedopi (respectively)
I expected more of this tale although in retrospect I think I was expecting too much, or maybe I was equating the works of L. Frank Baum with the movie versions of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and other books in the series and their derivatives. Baum’s writing is imaginative and interesting on its own merits, but a lot of liberties have always been taken when adapting his work to the screen. I should not have made this error as I have read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and some of the other books so was acquainted with his style. That style is closer to the norm of the Nineteenth Century than it is to that of the Twentieth and as a man born in 1856, this should not be surprising, so it is my fault for forgetting.
On its own merits The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is a fun rewrite of the entire Santa Claus myth. It was written two years after The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and has been adapted into graphic novels, animated movies and mentioned in various Oz-related stories, and yet it remains relatively unknown in the canon of Christmas stories we are subjected to every year. The reason for this may be that, Baum cut his Santa from entirely whole cloth, neither relying on the folk-tale origins of Santa Claus (aka Kris Kringle, aka Pere Noel, aka Papa Noel, aka Father Christmas, aka Babbo Natale, aka Santa no ojisan, etc… Maybe Arlo Guthrie had it right in The Pause of Mister Claus, with that many aliases he seems a shifty character – LOL) nor the historical reasons for various Christmas practices. No, Mister Baum, in his incredibly imaginative way, made up a tale that is as utterly original as possible while still actually including a character named Santa Claus.
The story starts out with the baby (to be named Neclaus or Claus for short) rescued by Ak the Master Woodsman of the World from the lioness Shiegra… in whose care he then places him. He is eventually adopted by the wood nymph Necile who cares for him with Shiegra. Apparently Santa Claus grew up drinking lion’s milk until he was old enough to forage for nuts and berries on his own. That raises some interesting questions, which, since this is a children’s story, are completely ignored.
He is educated by the various immortals of the Forest of Burzee, but on attaining manhood he chooses to go out into the world and after a tour of the world with Ak, settles just beyond the Forest in the Singing Valley. It turns out the Claus invented the very concept of toys one day while whittling and made a model, in wood, of his pet cat. Amazingly, children, who until this time have never had toys or even the concept of them, knew immediately that they are supposed to play with them. In a later day, I suspect, Claus would have either had to teach them how to play with inanimate objects or else shown them these were far more fun than the pebbles and twigs they used to play with, but this is a simple tale and one should not over-think it.
Word spreads about his toys and children visit him to ask for ones of their own, prompting Claus to travel around giving toys away.
Well, no good deed goes unpunished and in this case the bad guys are the Awgwas who guide misbehavior and vow to stop Claus because his toys are causing the children to behave well. They try to kidnap Cause a couple of times and after Claus is rescued by his immortal friends, they try to kill him, which eventually ends in the absolute destruction of all Awgwas by the immortals.
After that, Claus is assisted by two deer (Glossie and Flossie) who happily agree to pull a specially made sledge. They are only allowed to aid him if they return to the forest by dawn and owing to one thing or another, they make it back one minute late, raising the ire of their guardian Wil Knook. Wil is eventually convinced to allow Claus to use them again (he is allowed to use ten, in fact. None, by the way, are named Dasher, Dancer, Comet Cupid or any of the usual names we hear and definitely no Rudolph) on the condition that they only do so once each year on Christmas Eve.
This is an interesting point, because up to that point there was no connection to Christmas at all and the only reason, in this story, that Christmas is chosen as the one day each year is because it is only two weeks away and Wil believes it will mean Santa can’t use them that year. Well, I won’t tell how Santa gets to travel that year.
As the story proceeds we see the invention of the Christmas tree and the tradition of hanging stockings and eventually Santa becomes so old he can no longer journey around the world, even with the help of the reindeer. The Immortals gather and vote unanimously to confer immortality on Santa just before the Spirit of Death can visit him.
Even revived as an immortal, the job of Santa is too much for one man, however, and he eventually recruits four deputies who both help with the toys and their delivery, especially after the invention of the stove when, for some reason there are no longer fireplaces in homes. Not sure how that followed since there certainly were fireplaces in homes in 1902 when the book was published, but perhaps he meant that the flues in chimneys were too small to crawl down and that Santa just went down the wrong one?
I have not read it, but there is a sequel short story, “A Kidnapped Santa.”
Well, it took two listenings, but I eventually decided that this is a fairly amusing story and a good one for children even if this is the not the Santa’s origin story we normally think of. So if you tire of The Night Before Christmas, A Christmas Carol, and especially It’s a Wonderful Life you might consider sharing this one with your children.
Kristin LeMoine and jedopi are two very different readers and both did, in my opinion, a fairly good job of reading the story. I hate to go out on a limb and try to guess the age of a reader, but Miss LeMoine is either a young lady (or was at the time she recorded this book) or else just has a naturally high-pitched voice that sounds girlish. That is not a criticism and the childish style of her reading seemed ideally suited to the nature of the story and made it all the more endearing to listen to.
Jedopi (obviously a nom-de-vocale… is that a real term? I doubt it. Did I even get the French sort of correct? Probably not. I suspect that chant is the actual word I want here… However, my talent with languages is so limited I am amazed I can actually write in English.) has a much more mature-sounding vocal style and her voice sounds, to me, at least somewhat more trained as well. My only complaint is that she not only resorted to a “Funny voice” when speaking Ak’s dialogue, but that the voice did not really fit my concept of what the Master Woodsman of the World should sound like. Rather than sounding like the sort of noble spirit who would save a foundling baby from a ravenous lioness, he more sounded like the sort who would have offered that lioness an after-dinner mint. It was a horribly, nasal and whining sort of voice.
Other than that, however, I very much enjoyed both readers and recommend both of them and by that I mean you really should listen to both. It is not a long story so listening to it twice will still not take too much of your time to soak in this rather novel take on an old Christmas myth.