A Baumy Christmas
In preparation for this year’s ChristmaSFF read, I did a little bit of sifting around for information about L. Frank Baum, the author of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. He’s much more widely known as the writer of the Oz books, which were my early childhood introduction to the guy. I’ve written a little about him before, but never done a deep dive.
Baum was born in 1856 in upstate New York into a Methodist family, though later in life he seemed to have turned away from his Christian roots.
He spent a couple of his childhood years at a military school, but had to leave due to health reasons. I think this familiarity with the military, especially the pomp of it, subtly shows in some of his stories.
Baum never graduated high school (which was actually the norm back then) and didn’t think very much of higher education.
You see, in this country there are a number of youths who do not like to work, and the college is an excellent place for them.
Like a number of other famous writers, he stumbled through a variety of mostly unrelated jobs until at 40 he became America’s first successful children’s book author with The Wizard of Oz.
He went on to write a slew of Oz books and many other stories, including Sky Island, The Enchanted Island of Yew, and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.
Perhaps most noteworthy to me are the factoids falling under his Wikipedia page’s “Beliefs” heading:
1. His children’s stories were intended to be Americanized retellings of classic fairy tales with much reduced (or removed) violence and moral lessons. He basically wanted to delight children and didn’t care to inject messaging. This itself argues against the fallacious rumor that The Wizard of Oz is chock-full of populist allegory, with the Yellow Brick Road standing in for the gold standard and the Emerald City representing the greenback.
2. His mother-in-law, Matilda Gage (after whom the “Matilda Effect” is inexplicably named), had a great influence on him. Gage was essentially a radical suffragette. She was also a spiritualist, a Theosophist, and quite strongly anti-Christian (she viewed Christianity as being a tool of the Patriarchy, basically). This is all valuable when considering that many of the major characters in Baum’s works are female and that there is a glaring lack of Christian themes and elements in his stories, even when the subject matter (i.e. Santa Claus) is inherently Christian.
3. He may have been vehemently anti-Native American. Apparently he wrote two editorials, which may or may not have been serious, calling for the extermination of the Indians. I’m not sure how this squares with his decision to mostly exclude violence from his children’s stories, but hey.
Upsetting Fantasy Tradition
I’ve written before about how the common portrayal of elves and fairies used to be a lot more malign. I also wrote that the reversal of this trend, with elves anyway, may have started with Tolkien. Nope, it goes back further. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, written in 1902, is a prime example of this makeover.
Then there were the Fairies, the guardians of mankind, who were much interested in the adoption of Claus because their own laws forbade them to become familiar with their human charges. There are instances on record where the Fairies have shown themselves to human beings, and have even conversed with them; but they are supposed to guard the lives of mankind unseen and unknown, and if they favor some people more than others it is because these have won such distinction fairly, as the Fairies are very just and impartial. But the idea of adopting a child of men had never occurred to them because it was in every way opposed to their laws; so their curiosity was intense to behold the little stranger adopted by Necile and her sister nymphs.
Fairies in this story bear a strong resemblance in some respects to the Christian image of the guardian angel.
And it’s not only fairies that are friends and helpers here, but also nymphs, elves, sprites, wind demons, and invented creatures like knooks and ryls. Some evil mythological creatures do make a brief appearance, at least – dragons, giants, black demons, and goozle-goblins, all allies of the evil awgwas.
I’ll more about these fantastical folk and the overall story in Part 2. Stay tuned.