L. Frank Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
Book review by Sabine Algur
Ages 8 - 12
The fascinating origins and the art of the wonder-workings of Santa Claus remain an inscrutable mystery to many of us.
While research will, no doubt, produce a great many versions of his story, we would grow weary from the numerous pages of monotonousness in deciding which one story to follow and share with others.
Then I chanced upon The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum… L. Frank Baum! Who would know better about magic, good deeds and kindness rewarded than the author of The Wizard of Oz?
And being the master storyteller that he is, the quaint and extraordinary mythical characters that he introduces into the history of Father Christmas imbue the plot with a charm that fills the reader, and the listener, with warmth, and inspires our hearts with tenderness and goodwill toward every living creature.
It also teaches us the importance of facing our challenges with a cheerful disposition, which introduces blessings in everything we do and in turn, the world around us as well.
Published in 1902, this delightful tale follows the early life of Santa Claus, from being orphaned as an infant in the Forest of Burzee, to being found by Ak (the Master Woodsman of the World) and then adopted by the sweet immortals of the wood, to making and delivering the very first toys.
Supposedly, the Forest of Burzee is located close to the southernmost point of the Land of Oz!
These sweet immortals of the forest, besides Ak himself, primarily consist of fairies (who watch over humans), the wood nymphs (who guard the trees), the knooks (who protect the animals) and the ryls (who take care of the flowers). It is among these noble creatures that Claus grows up, imbibing their benevolent qualities. And it is in this way, that Claus comes to be so good and so kind in nature.
The book also infuses the realities of mortality. In fact, the book is divided into three sections: Childhood, Manhood and Old Age. On attaining manhood, Ak reveals to Claus that he is of the human race. He takes Claus on a tour of the various hardships humanity faces, especially the children, who are neglected by their parents, live in poverty and do not know happiness in their lives. His own mortality becomes painfully apparent to Claus as he continues to grow older while the immortals don’t age at all. Necile, the beautiful wood-nymph who adopted him as her foster son when he was an infant, now looks more like his sister instead of his mother. Later, she will appear to be his daughter.
So, Claus decides to leave the sheltered life of the forest
and bids farewell to its kindly residents, so he may minister to bringing joy
to children everywhere. But having been adopted as the child of the Forest,
Claus has gained a distinction which forever separates him from his kind: as he
goes forth into the world of men, he would retain the protection of the Forest,
as well as the powers he enjoyed there to assist him in his labours. He builds
his new home in the Laughing Valley of Hohaho, just outside the Forest of
Burzee, so that he may seek the guidance of the immortals nearby whenever he
needs it. This home later becomes his toy workshop when he discovers the
immense pleasure his carved creations bring to all children.
The book may not follow the traditions of Santa exactly as we know them, but Baum has weaved the elements of the story so wittily that the cunning twists and evidences of Santa’s rise seem at once amusing and wonderful to us. It answers questions as to how he got his name, how he came up with toys, why we hang up stockings, the idea of the Christmas tree, why he climbs down chimneys, the difference between deer and reindeer, and how Santa adapts to the growing demands as the world grows older and the population increases year after year.
Like in The Wizard of Oz, Santa’s path to serving humanity is not without risks and perils. For instance, there are the wicked Awgwas, a terrible race of creatures that are neither mortal nor immortal, who torment good Claus to such an extent that it seemed inevitable that children of the world would be robbed of their earliest and best friend. But parents can reassure the little ones not to fear, for “it is the Law that while Evil, unopposed, may accomplish terrible deeds, the powers of Good can never be overthrown when opposed to Evil.”
The last section of the book, Old Age, is the most touching and will most probably leave you teary-eyed. After many years of his noble hard work, Santa, being mortal, grows old till at last his strength is exhausted. Fearful of the fate that threatens the saint and the lasting grief it would surely bring the world and everyone in it, Ak summons a council of the immortals of the world to meet with him. This is, indeed, the most spectacular and wondrous scene, where for the first time in many centuries, the supreme immortals of earth gather together to discuss the future of its greatest friend, Santa. It is what happens here and how these fantastic beings come to pronounce their unanimous judgement that will fill you with tender emotions for the rest of the story.
This clever and enchanting account, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, will certainly provide a wonderful bedtime reading experience for both adults and children.
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