Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Adventures of Santa Claus [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel. Whatever you call him, he is a busy guy. Every year he has to make billions of toys and deliver them all in one night. When would Santa have time to have any adventures? Well, he gets around more than you'd think.

In 1901, L Frank Baum who had recently seen his book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz sell well was looking around for another idea. Why not the story of Santa Claus? What child could resist a tale of Old St. Nick? What Baum produced was The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902), a minor Fantasy classic in its own right, though it wasn't followed by multiple sequels like Dorothy's adventures in Oz.

Santa begins life as a foundling in the mythical forest of Burzee, home to Fairies, Knooks, Ryls and Nymphs. There, Ak the Master Woodsman rules and he allows the baby to be raised by the nymph Necile. He is given the name Claus, which means "little one", and "Ne" is added when he is adopted, "Ne-Claus" or Nicholas. In this way, Baum explains Christmas tradition after tradition, making up new and intriguing ways to explain everything from toys to mistletoe.

Now the plot could be pretty dull if Claus didn't have enemies to face. These are the Awgwas, creatures halfway between the fairy immortals and humans. They are giant in size and able to go from one place to another with magical speed. Their only agenda is to cause pain and suffering wherever they can. So, of course, they plan to steal Claus's toys that he makes to please the suffering masses of humanity.

This leads to a fantastic battle between Good and Evil (that Santa misses) with fire-breathing dragons, Goozle-Goblins, the Giants of Tartary, and many other fantastic monsters against Ak and his amazing ax. Baum doesn't give us Robert E Howard style blow-by-blow (the pity), but Good wins and Claus can go about his business of making toys.

The rest of the novel falls short of that great battle scene but Santa slowly figures out how to deliver the toys all in one night. When he reaches old age, Ak gives him immortality so he can go on lightening the hearts of humankind forever. The episodic tale does a good job of blending a new myth with an old holiday.

Baum had one last chance with Santa when the Jolly Old Elf made an appearance, accompanied by his friends, in The Road to Oz (1909). In this odd volume, Baum ties all of his series together in a multiverse worthy of Michael Moorcock. Children's books would now feature Santa on a more regular basis, since Baum had opened the door, but CS Lewis's The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1951) is probably the most memorable. His Father Christmas gives out swords and bows, not just tea cakes. Lewis's battle scene between Good and Evil is much more detailed, though St. Nick doesn't take part.

But the kids weren't having all the fun. In January 1938, Weird Tales' popular author who usually wrote of the occult detective Jules de Grandin, presented what many consider his masterpiece, "Roads." Seabury Quinn builds his story slowly, beginning at the birth of Christ and ends in the 16th century. The story was illustrated by Virgil Finlay, and these drawings were used in the 1948 Arkham House edition.

Quinn tells the story of Claus in three parts. In the first section, "The Road to Bethlehem," we meet Claudius, a gladiator in the time of King Herod, a blond giant of a warrior. He wins his freedom in the ring and then wishes to return home. Before he can do this, he saves a baby from the purge that Herod's men are making. This is the baby Jesus, who makes Klaus immortal and sets him on a road to a great destiny.

In the second section, "The Road to Calvary," Claus, now a Roman Centurian, witnesses the death of the baby, now grown to a man. At the passing of Christ there is an earthquake, and Claus rescues the love interest of the tale, a girl named Unna. Quinn's action sequences take a page from Robert E Howard's prose style and spirit. Howard had been dead just eighteen months when Quinn wrote "Roads" and his red-dipped pen was sorely missed.

In the last part of the tale, "The Long, Long Road," we follow Claus and Unna, both immortal, as they move through history. Fleeing humanity's ills, Claus finds the elves and begins the last transition to becoming Santa Claus. As the baby Jesus tells him, his fate is not to die in battle but to become a person whom all children love and adore. Like Baum before him, Quinn peppers his tale with explanations on how certain Christmas traditions came about. Sam Moskowitz said that "Roads" was  “the greatest adult Christmas story written by an American.” Quinn had achieved for adults what Baum had done for children.

The idea of an heroic Santa, sword-swinging and powerful, a Hyborian Claus if you will, appeals to me on so many levels. And I'm not alone. Sony Studios is producing a new version of Baum's novel (now in the public domain) called Winter's Knight, featuring an ax-wielding Santa like you've never seen. This isn't the quiet Rankin-Bass adaptation from 1985, nor the less interesting Robbie Benson cartoon of 2000. It's not even the boisterous Santa of William Joyces's Rise of the Guardians (which borrows the spirit of Baum). It's a Roadsian version, a Howardian version, filled with violence and magic and blood. I can't wait.

Viking Santa art above is by Caio Monteiro. Art below is by Jakob Eirich.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.



1 comment:

Caffeinated Joe said...

Quite interesting. Never knew of Baum's or Quinn's stories about Santa. Will look for them to read. The upcoming film sound great, as well. Fun post!

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