Christmas Critics

Alice McDermott

This year’s fuss over Harry Potter’s grand finale serves as a reminder of both our longing to glimpse some magic behind the veil of the familiar, and literature’s unquestioned right, and ability, to address that need. For all the children, and adults, who gorged themselves on the Potter tales this year, L. Frank Baum’s much neglected classic The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (Signet Classics, 192 pp.) might well serve to restore some magic to that all-too-familiar caricature of the jolly old pitchman in the red suit. In this delightful tale, first published in 1902, the author of The Wizard of Oz places the biography of Claus firmly in the world of folklore, of enchanted forests, Nymphs, Knooks, and Ryls, and of a time “so long ago our great-grandfathers could scarcely have heard it mentioned,” when an abandoned human infant, raised by immortals, invented the first toys and then, out of love and pity, sought to share them with all the children of the world, until he, for his goodness, becomes immortal himself.

This is not a mere secularization of the Santa tale (Claus comes to be called “saint,” Baum tells us, because “it is possible for any man, by good deeds, to enshrine himself as a saint in the hearts of his people”), but a retelling that takes into account both the...

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About the Author

William Storrar is director of the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey.