Monday, December 19, 2005

Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

L. Frank Baum is overrated as a writer. Wizard of Oz is highly imaginative but the prose is fluid as a tub of molasses. Or clunky as a bag of junk repeatedly kicked down the stairs. It's as leaden as a big fat chunk of lead. Pick your metaphor.

Possibly his greatest abomination is The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. I'm surprised Coca-Cola didn't sue his ass for besmirching the corporate image of their Santa.

I'll try to summarize: An infant is found by the wood-nymph, Necile. She reports to the Queen Zurline. She, along with the other immortals - Fairies, Knooks, and Ryls, were servants of the Great Ak. Necile raises the human child. One day Ak flies Claus around the world to acquaint him with other mortals. Claus decides to devote himself to the care of children and leaves the enchanted woods; but with the blessing of Ak and the promise that all beings will assist him. There's playing with children, making of toys, etc., etc,.... He borrows magic reindeer from the Knooks, however, he returns them later than agreed. After some negotiation, the Knooks agree to let Claus use the reindeer, but for only one night a year. Eventually, the Great Ak, pleased with the work Claus has performed, grants him immortality.

And that's pretty much it. One of the oddest parts occurs about halfway through the book. There are these Awgwas, who are neither mortal nor immortal. For some reason, they dislike Claus and steal the toys:
One of the principal sports of the Awgwas was to inspire angry passions in the hearts of little children, so that they quarreled and fought with one another. They would tempt boys to eat of unripe fruit, and then delight in the pain they suffered; they urged little girls to disobey their parents, and then would laugh when the children were punished. I do not know what causes a child to be naughty in these days, but when the Awgwas were on earth naughty children were usually under their influence.

After they attack Claus, the Great Ak grows angry:
It is your conceit that misleads you!" said Ak, sternly. "You are a transient race, passing from life into nothingness. We, who live forever, pity but despise you. On earth you are scorned by all, and in Heaven you have no place! Even the mortals, after their earth life, enter another existence for all time, and so are your superiors. How then dare you, who are neither mortal nor immortal, refuse to obey my wish?"

Then the Awgwas threaten to kill Claus. Oh, it's on. Might want to make the kids step out of the room for this next part.
But it is the Law that while Evil, unopposed, may accomplish terrible deeds, the powers of Good can never be overthrown when opposed to Evil. Well had it been for the King Awgwa had he known the Law!

His ignorance cost him his existence, for one flash of the ax borne by the Master Woodsman of the World cleft the wicked King in twain and rid the earth of the vilest creature it contained.

Greatly marveled the Tatary Giants when the spears of the little Knooks pierced their thick walls of flesh and sent them reeling to the ground with howls of agony.

Woe came upon the sharp-taloned Goblins when the thorns of the Ryls reached their savage hearts and let their life-blood
sprinkle all the plain. And afterward from every drop a thistle grew.

The Dragons paused astonished before the Fairy wands, from whence rushed a power that caused their fiery breaths to flow
back on themselves so that they shriveled away and died.

As for the Awgwas, they had scant time to realize how they were destroyed, for the ash switches of the Nymphs bore a
charm unknown to any Awgwa, and turned their foes into clods of earth at the slightest touch!

When Ak leaned upon his gleaming ax and turned to look over the field of battle he saw the few Giants who were able to run
disappearing over the distant hills on their return to Tatary. The Goblins had perished every one, as had the terrible Dragons, while all that remained of the wicked Awgwas was a great number of earthen hillocks dotting the plain.

And now the immortals melted from the Valley like dew at sunrise, to resume their duties in the Forest, while Ak walked
slowly and thoughtfully to the house of Claus and entered.

"You have many toys ready for the children," said the Woodsman, "and now you may carry them across the plain to the
dwellings and the villages without fear."

"Will not the Awgwas harm me?" asked Claus, eagerly.

"The Awgwas," said Ak, "have perished!"

And that is the charming story of the Christmas massacre. Moral: don't piss off immortals. And, yes, Rankin & Bass made a Christmas special.

Luckily I found this site with the complete text. Saved me from having to type all that. Read it, you'll be sure to regret it.

12/14/2007 update: previous link no longer seems to work. However, the entire work is at Project Gutenberg: Project Gutenberg link


Blogger reader_iam said...

Dissin' ol Frank, eh?

And here I was all set to start reading the original 14 Oz books to my little boy starting in the new year.

I loved them all in second grade! Are you suggesting this is going to be an interminable experience?

12/20/2005 06:22:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

I've read some of the Wizard and it isn't nearly as bad as Santa Claus. Baum's pregnant writing isn't that much different from other writers of the turn of the century, just a little more so. If his settings hadn't been so imaginative - Oz, Mars - I doubt he'd still have an audience.

So, by all means read him, though I expect much of it will be a chore.

Follow the link and read some Santa Claus.

12/20/2005 06:54:00 PM  

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