Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by beloved children’s book author L. Frank Baum is something of a forgotten classic of the yuletide season. Baum, best known for his timeless fantasy classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), published The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus in 1902, in which he transforms the legend of St. Nicholas into a story of truly epic proportions.

Abandoned as a baby, the infant Santa is found in the mythical Forest of Burzee by the immortal Ak; Master Woodsman of the World. Ak places the infant in the care of the lioness Shiegra and later the wood nymph Necile. It is Necile who names the child Neclaus or Nicholas, a term meaning “Necile’s little one” in old Burzee.

As time passes Nicholas grows up amongst the fairies, elves and sprites who instruct him in all kinds of magic. Upon reaching young adulthood Ak informs Nicolas that he is growing too old to stay amongst the magical beings of Burzee and must go and live amongst mortals once again. Nicholas settles in the nearby Laughing Valley of Hohaho, where he is visited frequently by the elves and fairies of the forest. To keep him company Necile gives her foster son a little kitten named Blinky.

Upon returning to the mortal world Nicholas soon encounters the horrors of war, brutality, poverty, child neglect and abuse. Upset by the cruelty and hate around him Nicholas decides to try and find someway of bringing joy into the world. One day a boy, named Weekum, from the village near Nicholas’ house gets lost in a snowstorm and blacks out. Nicholas finds the boy and takes him back to his cottage to recuperate. When the boy wakes he finds Nicholas carving of wooden model of Blinky. Enraptured by the toy cat Weekum asks Nicholas if he can have it, to which Nicholas naturally says yes. It is then that Nicholas realizes that a simple way to bring joy to the world is to make and deliver toys.

With the help of the fairies and elves, Nicholas begins creating toys for all the boys and girls in the village, secretly traveling by night and placing them in their homes. However, Nicholas’ plan to spread cheer is soon threatened by a group of evil beings called Awgwas (essentially Baum’s version of Orcs) who steal Nicholas’ toys so they can make children sad.

Nicholas complains to Ak about the Awgwas and Ak attempts to settle things with their leader through talk, however negotiations break down and war is declared. The Awgwas assemble an army of goblins, giants, demons and dragons to fight Ak and his band of fairies, elves and sprites.

You can watch this scene below as imagined by stop-motion animation studio Raskin-Bass who adapted The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus into a one hour television film in 1985:

Though outmatched in size, the fairies’ magic proves strong enough to defeat the Awgwas and their army, making it safe once again for Nicholas to deliver his toys.

As time passes, and Nicholas grows older, there are more and more children that have heard of him and wish to receive toys from him. To accommodate the growing number of children and the longer distances he must now travel, Nicholas acquires a team of reindeer from the sprite of the deer Wil Knook. However, Wil Knook fears that Nicholas will wear out the reindeer with his constant trips back and forth every night and threatens to take the reindeer away. To keep this from happening Nicholas agrees that he will do his work all on one night and allows Wil Knook to pick the night. Wil Knook picks December 25th since it is at the end of year and gives the reindeer a chance to go a whole year without working.

The story ends with Nicholas approaching the end of his mortal life. Ak calls a conferences with all the immortals of the world at which he petitions for Nicholas to be bestowed the “Mantel of Immortality” as a reward for his life of selflessness. After much debate the immortals eventually agree that Nicholas is indeed worthy of this great gift and bestow immortality upon him, transforming him into Santa Claus.

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