L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902)
Illus. Mary Cowles Clark
Dover Publications, 1976

Of course when I was young, I would read this any time of year. But as an adult, I revisit it on the holidays. The way that other readers turn to Dickens reliably and festively. This is my favoured holiday tale.

Here is how it begins:

“Have you heard of the great Forest of Burzee? Nurse used to sing of it when I was a child. She sang of the big tree-trunks, standing close together, with their roots intertwining below the earth and their branches intertwining above it; of their rough coating of bark and queer, gnarled limbs; of the bushy foliage that roofed the entire forest, save where the sunbeams found a path through which to touch the ground in little spots and to cast weird and curious shadows over the mosses, the lichens and the drifts of dried leaves.”

So, yes, it’s old-fashioned. And that’s partly why I love it. (Though most of all it strikes the nostalgia nerve, so that numerating reasons seems impossible.)

But the spirit of the story is inherently appealing. “He will not cut a living tree to make his dwelling, will not lay on flowers to rest because the weight of his body would crush them.”

And the interweaving of the timelessness of a fairy tale with a contemporary relevance works for me. As a child, opening presents wasn’t about boxes of socks and underwear, disguised as interesting presents, but about toys. And there’s some of that here, too. “I believe the children will love the wooden cats almost as well as the real ones,and they can’t hurt them by pulling their tails and ears. I’ll make another.”

It’s not all sweetness and light. “Now I will gladly have done with wicked spirits and with fighting and bloodshed. It was not from choice that I told of the Awgwas and their allies, and of their great battle with the immortals. They were part of this history, and could not be avoided.”  But it is a lovely tale. And perfect for this time of year.

How do you feel about L. Frank Baum’s tales? Is there a story you traditionally revisit this time of year?