[Above: When readers opened the cover of the first edition of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, these stunning endpapers were the first things they saw. The book was illustrated throughout, in both color and black and white, by Mary Cowles Clark, and her design here was -- literally and figuratively -- the perfect launch into L. Frank Baum’s original fantasy.]
With a ho-ho-ho! and a here-we-go! . . . into the (almost) annual holiday blog for the OZ Museum. Across the eight years since we began THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF OZ series here, I think at least five of the December writings have celebrated L. Frank Baum’s approach to Christmas -- whether professionally (in terms of his own holiday-related journalism) or personally (with regard to his own family traditions). This year, we’re throwing the spotlight on one of his most beautifully composed and evocative children’s stories, THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, first published in 1902.
Across the preceding five years, Baum had almost accidentally slid into his extraordinary career as an author – specifically for children. Consider his published output during that period: MOTHER GOOSE IN PROSE (1897), FATHER GOOSE: HIS BOOK (1899), A NEW WONDERLAND, THE ARMY ALPHABET, THE NAVY ALPHABET (all 1900), DOT AND TOT OF MERRYLAND, AMERICAN FAIRY TALES, THE MASTER KEY (all 1901), and especially THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900) and the wildly successful musical comedy extravaganza loosely built around it (1902). If largely – apart from the stage show – geared toward child readers, Baum’s work was praised for its appeal to all ages, and more than forty subsequent Baum books, through 1920, were conceived for youngsters or teens.
The fact that the author loved children is well-known to all who have heard of his gift for making up stories to entertain his four sons, their neighborhood compatriots (whether in Syracuse, Aberdeen, or Chicago), or any other assorted youthful listeners during his vacations in Michigan and California. Frank Baum was a born entertainer, and (as noted above) he eventually discovered that his communicative powers happily extended themselves to the printed word, as well. His sons would always and further recall their special family experiences; one of those events occurred annually circa December 24th or 25th, when they heard their father-- behind closed parlor doors -- exchanging brief greetings with the passing Santa Claus. The next thing they knew, Baum was opening the doors to reveal to the four boys their Christmas tree and presents (although Santa had already rushed away to his next stop).
[Above: In this color plate from THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, Mary Cowles Clark shows how Baum’s Santa eventually found a means of traveling great distances for his by-then-annual trek to gift children with toys.]
To segue from Oz, Merryland, Phunniland (et al) to Santa Claus was a supremely logical jaunt for Baum, and he fashioned an original tale about a mortal foundling, raised by Necile, a fairy wood nymph. Embraced by other immortals, young Claus grows up happily, and as a man, vows to bring joy to other mortal children. In the process, he invents toys, the first Christmas tree, the concept of the Christmas stocking – all of this thanks to the fairy deities who aid him in his heartfelt ambitions. These of his compatriots never age, of course, but in time, the human Claus grows old and frail. As he nears death, a “council of all the immortals” gathers and decides to convey upon him the only existing “Mantle of Immortality.” This ensures that Santa Claus will forever be able to do his work, for as he says, “In all this world, there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child.”
[Above: Another plate from Mary Cowles Clark: Three children who lived on a broad and barren plain exult in their first sight of a tree – left and decorated for them by Baum’s Santa Claus.]
The reviews for THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS were primarily warm and welcoming, for Baum’s body of composition (if only a few years old) had won him a ready and appreciative audience. The Chicago JOURNAL was typical in its response to the author’s new tome and found it “one of the best and most original Christmas books of the year. [Baum] has won a high and deserved reputation as an entertainer of children, but he has done nothing better than this, and there is a new and yet an old world flavor about this story.” In its first couple of decades, in editions from publishers Bowen-Merrill (later Bobbs-Merrill) and Donahue, SANTA CLAUS sold approximately forty thousand copies.
THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS includes some of Baum’s most tender and gentle prose. There is conflict, particularly in the sequences in which the evil Awgwas twice kidnap Santa and rob him of his toys in their efforts to make children miserable without him. (The Immortals ultimately come to his aid.) Beyond that, much of the story is comfortably episodic, as Claus is more and more inspired and continues to overcome any challenges to his avowed vocation.
[Above: John R. Neill drew several pictures of Santa Claus, when “the Patron Saint of Children” attended Princess Ozma’s birthday party in Baum’s fifth Oz book, THE ROAD TO OZ (1909). Here, the jolly old soul departs for home from the festivities, traveling in a giant bubble invented by the Wizard of Oz himself. Preceding Santa in the air appear to be such Baumian discoveries as – among others -- Queen Zixi of Ix, King Bud of Noland, and Button-Bright of Philadelphia.]
Baum would write further about Santa. In his 1904-1905 Sunday newspaper comic series, QUEER VISITORS FROM THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ, the writer sent the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Sawhorse, Woggle-Bug, Gump, and Jack Pumpkinhead to visit Claus and provide Ozzy toys for his Christmas Eve distribution. (Episodes from the weekly installments, including the encounter with Santa, were later “modernized” by Jean Kellogg – though still credited to Baum – and issued in book form as THE VISITORS FROM OZ in 1960.) THE DELINEATOR magazine published Baum’s short story, “A Kidnapped Santa Claus,” in their December 1904 number, but the old gentleman’s most noteworthy reappearance came in THE ROAD TO OZ (1909), when he crowned the list of celebrity attendees at the August 21st birthday party of Princess Ozma.
In recent decades, Baum’s history of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS has been brought back into print on several occasions. There have been adaptations, abridgements, retellings, and translations -- even into Russian -- plus a 1992 graphic novel (i.e., comic book). In the 1960s, Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment established themselves on the success of their stop-motion, animated Christmas and holiday television specials. Following RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY, FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO TOWN, and THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS (among others), they offered a beautiful fifty-minute adaptation of the Baum book on CBS-TV on December 17, 1985. In 1995-1996, the Tokyo Broadcasting System presented, in twenty-four parts (!), a Japanese anime miniseries, THE GREAT ADVENTURES OF YOUNG SANTA. Preeminent Oz collector Willard Carroll created and (with partner Thomas L. Wilhite and John Bush) produced twenty-six animated adventures of THE OZ KIDS – progeny of Baum’s original characters. One of their twenty-three minute episodes drew on Baum’s Claus and was titled, “Who Stole Santa?” Finally, a full-length seventy-five minute animated retelling of THE LIFE & ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS was produced by Mike Young and released in 2000 by Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
[Above: A set-up for one of the penultimate scenes in the 1985 Rankin-Bass CBS-TV version of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS. At that time, I served as editor-in-chief of the International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc., publication, THE BAUM BUGLE, and reviewed the program as one of my assignments. This turned out to be a pleasure, for – even though Baum’s story had to be truncated due to time constraints – the adaptation itself was heart-warming, respectful, and faithful. Time and again, Baum’s dialogue was lifted directly from his 1902 book, which gave a wonderfully old-fashioned aura to the production. Only one comic character was (delightfully) added to Baum’s “original cast” – the multi-lingual Tingler, shown here with Santa and the lioness Shiegra. The one major change in the story-line is also reflected in this art when the poignant establishment of the first Christmas tree is revealed as a possible memorial to Santa on what is anticipated to be his final Christmas Eve.]
As I hope has been conveyed here, Baum’s THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS is well worth acquiring. Even after one-hundred-and-nineteen-years, it is ideal reading – or reading aloud -- for children and (as the saying goes) “for any of those who used to be children.”
As ever, I thank all who contributed to this month’s information and art: Chris Glasgow, OZ Museum curator/historian; Emma Hays of OZ Museum/Columbian Theatre Marketing; and Stephen J. Teller, whose “appreciation” of Baum’s SANTA CLAUS appeared in the Winter 2002 edition of THE BAUM BUGLE, journal of The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc. (ozclub.org)
The first edition cover above is from the copy carefully preserved in Wamego, KS. We hope you concur that it – and the book’s title page -- have well-coalesced here with the back-story of L. Frank Baum’s THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS. They’re our intended “happy holidays” greeting and conclusion to this year-long series about some of the “Treasures from the OZ Museum.”
Once more for the record: I’m sincerely grateful to all of you who “read” here. Your comments or questions are always welcome on the Museum’s Facebook page at the entries/links for either the monthly vlog or the monthly blog. (Or both!)
Next month, we launch a special, year-long, 2022 celebration: JUDY/100! – DOROTHY/120! Please look for the details about this – and the first month’s video and text – in January.
A blessed, healthy, happy, and peaceful season to one and all. 😊
Article by John Fricke