The University Record, December 5, 1995

L. Frank Baum offers new perspective on Santa Claus

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Just when you were convinced that Santa Claus lived at the North Pole, there's a whole new perspective to the life and times of that familiar, jolly, gift-giving, toy-toting fellow with the long white beard and a "little round belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly."

The new, or in this case old, perspective of Santa Claus comes from author L. Frank Baum, creator of Dorothy, the Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and all the folk found in the Land of Oz. Baum's 1902 rendition of "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus," one of the holdings in the Clements Library, has the answers to the questions children of all ages have had about the sprightly spirit's origin and life---answered Baum-style.

Baum, who took his new bride to Kalamazoo while he was touring with a theatrical company, and who summered and wrote his first and most famous "Wizard of Oz" book in Macatawa Park on Black Lake near Holland, constructed a mythological world for Santa Claus where a god called the Supreme Master has a trio of lesser deities that include Ak, the Master Woodsman; Kern, the Master Husbandman; and Bo, the Master Mariner. And further down the hierarchy are Ryls, Knooks and Wood-Nymphs, each charged with the responsibility of watching over the flowers, animals or trees. But it was the Fairies in this world of Baum's who watched over humans.

"The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" reveals how the queen of the Wood-Nymphs adopted a baby that had been abandoned at the edge of the Forest of Burzee. She called him Claus---"little one," in her language.

The book's gentle language explains how Claus grew to manhood, convinced that he was charged with leaving the world better than he had found it. To accomplish this mission, he left Burzee and settled in Laughing Valley where he built a house using only logs from fallen trees. Gentle and compassionate, he would not even destroy a living tree.

Claus carved toys before his fireplace. The Ryls taught him to paint these toys, and Claus found he could bring smiles and laughter to poor children when he gave them his painted toys. So he traveled on foot farther and farther to distribute them. Seeing him struggle under the weight of a huge bag of toys slung over his back, two deer stepped forward and instructed him to make a sleigh which they promised to pull.

The reputation of the generous Claus spread. Some called him a saint, which when combined with Claus, becomes Santa Claus. The Gnome King gave him a larger sleigh and bells that jingled as he traveled the countryside.

Claus grew fat and old. His hair and beard turned white as snow. The end of his life was near when the council of the immortals voted unanimously to give him the Mantle of Immortality. His youthful spirit was restored, but his appearance did not change.

With more and more children around the world needing and wanting toys, Santa Claus took on four immortal assistants. And when the job became too big for Santa Claus and these helpers, he enlisted parents and toy stores to meet the demand.

Questioning whether he should give toys to both poor and rich children, Santa Claus conferred with the Queen of the Fairies, who told him, "for, whether it be rich or poor, a child's longing for pretty playthings are but natural...I think, friend Claus, it is your duty to make all little ones glad, whether they chance to live in palaces or in cottages."

While one of the original copies of this 1902 edition can be seen at Clements Library, "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" is also available in paperback from Dover Publications.

Baum aficionados can become members of the Escanaba-based International Wizard of Oz Club, attend conventions, and receive copies of "The Baum Eagle."