Christmas Audiobook Review: L. Frank Baum’s “Life and Adventures of Santa Claus”

Christmas Audiobook Review: L. Frank Baum’s “Life and Adventures of Santa Claus”

About the book: Talk about a war on Christmas! In this 1902 fantasy, the Wizard of Oz author offers a complete pagan backstory for the man with all the toys.

Santa Claus, we learn was a foundling saved in an uncharacteristic burst of empathy by Ak, the Master Woodsman of the World. After a Tarzan-like childhood among the immortals, Claus decides that his mission in life will be to bring joy to the children of the world, “for the thought of his own helpless babyhood was strong within him and he yearned to give help to the innocent little ones of his race.”

Building a house for himself in the Laughing Valley of Hohaho (actually, he just chops the wood and the immortals take care of construction), Claus eventually invents toys and starts distributing them to kids — first to just a few, and eventually to every child in the world.

After the immortals help Claus kill off some pesky creatures called Awgwas, we learn the details of how he started working with deer (renamed reindeer for the purpose), how he started going down chimneys, where Christmas trees came from, why children started hanging stockings for his convenience, and how the immortals came to grant him eternal life. (It involves a magical cloak, natch.)

The real kicker is the story of how Santa came to make his rounds only once a year, on Christmas Eve. It turns out that’s the only night Will Knook, “the chief guardian of the deer,” will allow Claus to borrow his animals. The date isn’t chosen out of devotion, but out of spite: Christmas is around the corner when the decision is made, and Will Knook figures there’s no way Claus will be able to build a sleigh-load of toys in time for that year’s journey.

Does Claus figure out how to load his sleigh in just ten days? Of course he does. He’s motherfucking Santa Claus!

Least Christmasy moment: Speaking of mother-fucking, there’s a weird moment when Claus greets the Nymph who raised him as her own. (She didn’t give him her milk, though — there was a lioness for that.) After a visit to the Forest, Claus “bowed before the gracious Fairy and, kissing Necile’s red lips, went back into his Valley.”

So that’s how it is in their family.

The real distinction of least Christmasy moment, though, has to go to the war between the immortals and the Awgwas.

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.

When it comes to violent Santa stories, even Tolkien had nothing on Baum.

Most Christmasy moment: The scene where Claus first goes down a chimney is pretty magical. His first two reindeer are named Flossie and Glossie, making it pretty rich that Will Knook thinks “it would degrade my deer to labor for Claus.” Oh, you mean your majestic wild beasts named Flossie and Glossie? Anyway…

The snow was quite deep in that village, and just before them was a roof only a few feet above the sledge. A broad chimney, which seemed to Glossie big enough to admit Claus, was at the peak of the roof.

“Why don’t you climb down that chimney?” asked Glossie.

Claus looked at it.

“That would be easy enough if I were on top of the roof,” he answered.

“Then hold fast and we will take you there,” said the deer, and they gave one bound to the roof and landed beside the big chimney.

“Good!” cried Claus, well pleased, and he slung the pack of toys over his shoulder and got into the chimney.

There was plenty of soot on the bricks, but he did not mind that, and by placing his hands and knees against the sides he crept downward until he had reached the fireplace. Leaping lightly over the smoldering coals he found himself in a large sitting-room, where a dim light was burning.

From this room two doorways led into smaller chambers. In one a woman lay asleep, with a baby beside her in a crib.

Claus laughed, but he did not laugh aloud for fear of waking the baby. Then he slipped a big doll from his pack and laid it in the crib. The little one smiled, as if it dreamed of the pretty plaything it was to find on the morrow, and Claus crept softly from the room.

About the audiobook: I listened to the Cindy Hardin Killavey version, which is for the most part perfectly fine, although the recording’s a little tinny. Killavey certainly gets into the high fantasy tone, and lets it rip with her strong soprano when it comes time to sing. At the audiobook’s conclusion, she reads a “publisher’s note” that’s inadvertently hilarious.

“This book was written many years ago. Since that time, due to the growing number of children in the world, Santa decided to move his workshop to more spacious quarters at the North Pole — where he, his reindeer, and his helpers reside to this very day.”

Oh, that’s the only little matter that needs to be cleared up?

– Jay Gabler is listening his way through some of the season’s most festive audiobooks.