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The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum
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Here is an abiding classic of the richness of humanity, stretching well beyond the parameters of an ordinary Christmas novel. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is a celebration of the sweetness of youth as it flares brightly across our sky for a few brief moments before burning out. It is an all-encompassing love letter to the world's children here today as well as those who have faded into adulthood many years hence, the magic of those days when anything seemed possible but a sweetness of memory, when they were certain Santa Claus knew and loved them as if they were the only child on earth. This book is the love letter Santa would write, the message he would want known by all the world's children like they know the address of their own home: The love of Santa Claus is without condition or negotiation, and neither do his gifts spring from a motive of distracting young ones from making mischief or doing wrong, but as an expression of the undying affection Santa has for them, a love that strove so tirelessly and with such great devotion on the children's behalf for so long that it became his immortality. For who can adequately appraise the value of one who gives all he has and all he is for those who need love the most but are frequently ignored, set aside as unworthy of loving attention by all but a few responsible family members? This is the Santa Claus we don't stop loving our whole lives long, the one worth loving just as we did when first we recognized the meaning of his presence, the real Santa that hundreds of self-serving interpretations of his image and nature could never tarnish away completely. L. Frank Baum has taken great care polishing up the image of Santa Claus to set before us in this story, an old gift to new believers in the man whose only goal is to provide happiness to the world's children. So simple yet so ambitious Santa's goal is, but no opposition from human or immortal can stay him from achieving his goal, aided by the eternal spirits who know the work of Santa Claus is vital to the morale of our world. Who could abide a planet haunted by miserable, constantly dismissed children, without anyone to love them purely because their happiness and smiles are sweet to behold? "In all this world there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child," Claus declares in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. And, as the passage goes on to say, "...if he had his way the children would all be beautiful, for all would be happy."

Unlike many fables surrounding the origin of Santa Claus, the jolly big man isn't born an immortal or heir to a successive line of Santas, the position handed down from father to son through the generations. Claus's presence (for he is mostly just called Claus in this book) is first announced offhandedly by Ak the Woodsman, one of the three great natural spirits of the earth who wield power to control the goings-on of the globe. Ak mentions the abandoned infant he saw alone in the woods to help illustrate a point he's making, but a wood-nymph named Necile catches on to the import of the statement immediately, and is concerned for the baby left to the ravages of the wild without mother or father to shield it from harm. In quiet defiance of the laws of the immortals, Necile swoops down and rescues the stranded child, carrying him back to where Ak is speaking with the gathered immortals, and a standoff begins as to what should be done with the lusty babe. Surely wise Ak the Woodsman would not command Necile to leave her new baby to the lions and wolves, sentencing him as it were to death for no crime but having been left behind, for whatever reason, by his parents? The infant is granted asylum in the forest, but the arrangement cannot last forever as this mortal grows in its humanity, surrounded by nymphs and other spirits of the woods who are untouched by the passage of time. As Claus (for that is given to be the baby's name) eventually comes to understand he is different from the ageless beings he's grown to think of as family, he knows he must move out into the real world and claim his place among humans, living off the land and what it gives in return for hard work just as any other man must do.

But Ak has other plans for Claus. The boy has lived among the immortals, and is to be categorized as separate from the bulk of mankind. When Claus roams the nearby lands to introduce himself to the ways and systems of people, he draws special delight from the youngest humans, children, whose good humor and willingness to shed the light of their smile seems out of proportion to the meager happiness the world appears ready to allow them. It's the adults who make every important decision and claim all the glory, yet they seem more weary and less pleased with life than even the poorest and least-loved children, and Claus can't help but love the young ones all the more for their imperturbable attitude. It isn't any surprise, then, that Claus fills his days playing with the youngest humans, making them the center of his attention while others see them as nothing but seedlings meant to grow into future adults, without much value before that time. Claus appreciates being with the kids as they are now, before discontent and ill-humor breed to spoil the goodness of souls who don't yet know enough to covet what others have.

"But the helpless infants, the innocent children of men, have a right to be happy until they become full-grown and able to bear the trials of humanity."

—Ak the Woodsman, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, P. 8

What can a man like Claus give his young friends that they do not possess and are not already happy without? How can he help bring brightness to their dark corners, making easier a life as second-class citizens where few regard them even that highly? A carving of a wooden cat starts Claus's experiments as a toymaker, and when his first few hand-carved wooden playthings bring wonderment and joy to the eyes of the children he knows, Claus realizes this toy-making business just may be the right line of work for him. Before Claus began carving them, there was no such thing as a toy in all the world, but Claus isn't about to let that continue any longer. With Claus's masterful creations now freely circulating, for the first time in human history there are entertaining diversions designed just for kids, the tender, patient labor of one whose creative nature saw to shape the wood into more than its natural usefulness. The world does have a place for children while they're still children, regardless of what the adults believe, and now the hours dance and sing with the melodious laughter of childlike voices in happy amusement, as much a gift to the weary world as to the young ones who receive Claus's presents.

"Childhood is the time of man's greatest content...'Tis during these years of innocent pleasure that the little ones are most free from care...Their joy is in being alive, and they do not stop to think. In after years the doom of mankind overtakes them, and they find they must struggle and worry, work and fret, to gain the wealth that is so dear to the hearts of men."

—Ak the Woodsman, P. 24

As the market for Claus's toys rapidly expands, creating a growing young clientele hopeful to be blessed with something as clever as a real toy, the workload for Claus grows unmanageable, but always there are ways around such trifles of inconvenience. Claus pitches to a few local deer the idea of drawing him and his bag of toys around on a sleigh, so even when the snowdrifts are high there will be no cause for disappointed children. When demons of the earth who don't care for Claus's ameliorating effect on the disposition and behavior of the world's youth decide to do away with the generous toymaker, Ak steps in and puts a halt to their menace, even at cost of a great war between the immortals. For who is more indispensable to the harmony of our world than Santa Claus? No matter the challenge, Claus ekes out a circumvention of it, because he loves all the kids of the world and can't bear to have them sad or feeling let down if they see their jolly old friend hasn't been able to remember them with a gift. It is always Claus's love for the children that ultimately provides him an avenue by which to work out the problems with his system, and this is why Ak does not mind intervening on his behalf in the affairs of mortals, as Ak rarely wants to do.

"Everything perishes except the world itself and its keepers...But while life lasts everything on earth has its use. The wise seek ways to be helpful to the world, for the helpful ones are sure to live again."

—Ak the Woodsman, P. 25

A human's life can only last so long, however, even when that human is as extraordinary as Santa Claus. As Claus's heart slows to a crawl and his body can no longer take the strain of fashioning new wooden toys for the world's children and delivering them using his custom-developed method, the immortals recognize the end is near for their faithful friend, who has gone to such incredible lengths to make happy those on earth who once had least reason to be so. As much as it saddens him to leave his children, Claus is almost set to depart this world following a lifetime of devoted service, but Ak the Woodsman does not wish to see it so, and he has power to choose otherwise, should all the immortals join in accord to recognize that the world would not be complete without Santa Claus in it. In a magical stroke of validation for the cause to which Santa Claus has committed his life, we see a renewal of body and spirit we may not all be so favored to receive in this lifetime, proving there are some individuals too important for the earth to relinquish to death. May Claus live forever to bring happiness and pleasure to the world's children, rich or poor, alone or with family, healthy or sick, and may we never forget the undying love that granted him power to do so in the first place.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is packed with fascinating observations and statements, deep truths we could all benefit from putting under the microscope not just as we're reading the book, but in the days and years after. When Claus first finds out he's human, not able to live forever with the immortals who raised him, he determines to set out among humanity and make his own way, even though the end of the road for mortals is death. "For I have looked upon man, finding him doomed to live for a brief space upon earth, to toil for the things he needs, to fade into old age, and then to pass away as the leaves in autumn. Yet every man has his mission, which is to leave the world better, in some way, than he found it. I am of the race of men, and man's lot is my lot." That Claus took this oath seriously is made manifest not in his noble words, but in the life he proceeds to live, one centered at all times around the needs and desires of others. And there is never any doubt of Claus's love for the world's children, love not earned or subject to revocation, but unchanging, constant, forever, and the kids recognize this much more quickly and readily than the adults. From page forty-one of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus: "(C)hildren were much neglected in those days and received little attention from their parents, so that it became to them a marvel that so goodly a man as Claus devoted his time to making them happy." Of all the wondrous affirmations in this book, words that make the heart soar in boundless elation, those lines may be the most wonderful. Claus doesn't just play with kids and help them have a fun time, personally engaging them as most adults are too haughty to even consider; he is giving them their sense of self-worth, teaching them they are special and lovable not through words that may or may not be sincere, but with his tenderly intimate actions. Claus demonstrates with every second he takes to play with the kids that they are worth his time, that Claus wants to take these moments to play with them, and he isn't the least bit sorry for having done so. How much more does this mean than any encouragement Claus could have spoken to them, or even anything their parents could say? Claus gives the children the gift of himself, and there is no greater present than oneself.

Even Claus needs some help in understanding the children he loves, however, and he does so humbly and perceptively, ever willing to grow more compassionate and wise for the sake of his youthful friends. When Claus seeks the wisdom of his wood-nymph foster mother, Necile, on the subject of making toys for the rich as well as the poor, she responds as follows: "It seems to me that one child is like another child, since they are all made of the same clay, and that riches are like a gown, which may be put on or taken away, leaving the child unchanged." Is the happiness of Claus's toys only to be shared with those children too poor to own any amusements at all, or are rich young ones, too, deserving of Claus's attention? Claus debates this issue for some time, but it is Necile's words that illuminate the truth of the matter for him, that all kids are in need of loving attention, not just the most unfortunate among them. Moral struggles continue in much more straightforward fashion when demon spirits go to war to prevent Santa Claus from spreading cheer to the world's youth, but in the words of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, "(I)t is the Law that while Evil, unopposed, may accomplish terrible deeds, the powers of Good can never be overthrown when opposed to Evil." While we all sense this deep down, I believe, it's reassuring to see it so stated by a wise author such as L. Frank Baum.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the aside about Claus's gift-giving ideology, on page ninety-four. After a common sort of warning by parents to their kids that Santa Claus "...does not like naughty children, and, unless you repent, he will bring you no more pretty toys" is quoted, the reader is let in on the truth of the matter. "But Santa Claus himself would not have approved this speech. He brought toys to the children because they were little and helpless, and because he loved them. He knew that the best of children were sometimes naughty, and that the naughty ones were often good. It is the way with children, the world over, and he would not have changed their natures had he possessed the power to do so." Oh, how wonderful is such a statement. All along it was unconditional love the kids really needed, the toys Claus made for them a tangible sign that someone loved them enough to create a unique gift for them and them alone, and to award toys as incentive for good behavior would be completely missing the beauty of this message. Claus loved, and loves, the kids because of who they are, a love without stipulation or the threat of withdrawal. How lovely it is that someone would give to them for no other reason than to fill their hearts with joy and let them know they are loved. Indeed, even the adults come to at least respect Claus for his continual thinking of others before himself. "It is true that great warriors and mighty kings and clever scholars of that day were often spoken of by the people; but no one of them was so greatly beloved as Santa Claus, because none other was so unselfish as to devote himself to making others happy. For a generous deed lives longer than a great battle or a king's decree or a scholar's essay, because it spreads and leaves its mark on all nature and endures through many generations." Is it any wonder, then, that Santa Claus's life and adventures are still celebrated, while the legacies of many rich kings and learned intellects have gone back into the ground?

“It is possible for any man, by good deeds, to enshrine himself as a Saint in the hearts of the people.”

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, P. 95

If there were a story of Santa Claus all should hear and know, so as to become acquainted with the true identity of a man misunderstood by many, it is this insightful work of literature by L. Frank Baum. He reinvigorates the idea of Santa Claus so we are left not clinging to a shadow of an idea of a man, but to a human being of such strong character and conviction his example is one we all can emulate, in every way. Yet it is not Santa Claus we would follow, so much as the values he never forsook even when the world couldn't understand them: an unswerving love of children and the desire to offer it to them unconditionally, for no reason other than that they are sweet and lovable and there is no more rewarding experience than to let them know that. "In all this world there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child," Claus states, and it is the code by which he has lived and continues to live out his immortal existence among us here on earth, a banner worthy of hanging in all our hearts. I would easily give three and a half stars to The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, one of the best Christmas stories I've ever read and a little-known but spectacular commendation to the writing of L. Frank Baum. I will never stop loving this book.
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Quotes Josiah Liked

L. Frank Baum
“Everything perishes except the world itself and its keepers...But while life lasts everything on earth has its use. The wise seek ways to be helpful to the world, for the helpful ones are sure to live again.”
L. Frank Baum, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

L. Frank Baum
“It is possible for any man, by good deeds, to enshrine himself as a Saint in the hearts of the people.”
L. Frank Baum, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

L. Frank Baum
“In all this world there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child.”
L. Frank Baum, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus


Reading Progress

December 1, 2013 – Started Reading
December 1, 2013 – Shelved
December 1, 2013 –
page 33
21.85%
December 3, 2013 –
page 45
29.8%
December 3, 2013 –
page 93
61.59%
December 4, 2013 –
page 112
74.17%
December 4, 2013 – Finished Reading

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