|I had the pleasure of spotting Cindy Who and the Grinch|
Just as Dr. Seuss's Grinch is now THE popular story for Christmas, over the years there's an old traditional tale of Santa Claus that goes beyond "A Visit from St. Nicholas"
-- the 1823 poem (complete with author controversy) and the popular 1881 illustration by Thomas Nast.
Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
was the best selling children's book of his time (1900 and 1901) and its popularity led to 13 nearly annual Oz creations. Before those sequels, however, in 1902 he published a very unusual look at The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
. It relates Santa's life, from childhood
as a foundling adopted by the wood nymph, Necile, through discovering his role in life that matches what we know, but is developed and done in ways unlike those you may know, and on into old age and how he gained immortality. I had heard about it for several years before I finally found my own copy. I also love the illustrations done by Mary Cowles Clark (1870-1950). She's not well-covered by online research, but since she was originally from Syracuse, New York, where Baum once lived, it's believed he met her on visits back to the town and chose her to illustrate the book. She didn't illustrate many books and this was her best known work, but here's a link to a few of examples of her charming work at a digital exhibit by the Nantucket Art Colony.
I was surprised to find the first edition contained 20 full color plates. By the second printing it only had 12 color plates and many black and white illustrations. My own paperback volume was less costly, with black and white illustrations to open the three "books" of Claus's life, along with charming openings and closings for each chapter, plus a dedication page to Baum's son. Dover Publications created a version that is now out of print. My own copy was a book club edition from the New American Library. Unfortunately my book would fall apart if I scanned it. Further unfortunately, the online digital publication from Project Gutenberg omits the illustrations. (P.G. even has audio downloads of the story.) To see any of those illustrations you will either have to purchase it or borrow it. That's the bad news. The good news is that Michael Hague, who does wonderful illustrations of Public Domain children's books, has done his own version while keeping the Baum text.
Another considerably abbreviated version, but with attractive illustrations, is by Janeen R. Adil. Perhaps you will find that version helpful if you wish to tell the Baum adventures, but I would strongly advise seeing the original text first. Storytelling literary tales often works best with careful editing, but first be sure you check to see if you are omitting too much. Speaking of an abbreviated version, I'm told there's a claymation movie version of the story that was a 1985 television special, but haven't seen it.
Baum's text is done in folklore style. His book creatively explores the connection between toys and gifts at Christmas and how the familiar elements like reindeer, stockings, and the tree became part of the holiday. Some other year I'd like to post how it says he became called Santa Claus. It is as close as the book comes to mentioning Saint Nicholas.
For a taste of Clark's style, I open "Chapter Eleventh -- How the First Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney" with partial scans of the opening illustration and at the end of the closing picture for the chapter. (Wish I could flatten the book without hurting it.) I'm giving the entire chapter as it gives a glimpse of some of those other Christmas elements, but the story actually matching the chapter title begins near the end of the chapter. I'll mark that spot for you.
How the First Stockings Were Hung by the Chimneys
When you remember that no child,
until Santa Claus began his travels, had ever known the pleasure of possessing
a toy, you will understand how joy crept into the homes of those who had been
favored with a visit from the good man, and how they talked of him day by day
in loving tones and were honestly grateful for his kindly deeds. 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 of a scholar's essay, because it spreads and leaves its mark on all
nature and endures through many generations.
The bargain made with the Knook
Prince changed the plans of Claus for all future time; for, being able to use
the reindeer on but one night of each year, he decided to devote all the other
days to the manufacture of playthings, and on Christmas Eve to carry them to
the children of the world.
But a year's work would, he knew,
result in a vast accumulation of toys, so he resolved to build a new sledge
that would be larger and stronger and better-fitted for swift travel than the
old and clumsy one.
His first act was to visit the Gnome
King, with whom he made a bargain to exchange three drums, a trumpet and two
dolls for a pair of fine steel runners, curled beautifully at the ends. For the
Gnome King had children of his own, who, living in the hollows under the earth,
in mines and caverns, needed something to amuse them.
In three days the steel runners were
ready, and when Claus brought the playthings to the Gnome King, his Majesty was
so greatly pleased with them that he presented Claus with a string of
sweet-toned sleigh-bells, in addition to the runners.
"These will please Glossie and
Flossie," said Claus, as he jingled the bells and listened to their merry
sound. "But I should have two strings of bells, one for each deer."
"Bring me another trumpet and a
toy cat," replied the King, "and you shall have a second string of
bells like the first."
"It is a bargain!" cried
Claus, and he went home again for the toys.
The new sledge was carefully built,
the Knooks bringing plenty of strong but thin boards to use in its
construction. Claus made a high, rounding dash-board to keep off the snow cast
behind by the fleet hoofs of the deer; and he made high sides to the platform
so that many toys could be carried, and finally he mounted the sledge upon the
slender steel runners made by the Gnome King.
It was certainly a handsome sledge,
and big and roomy. Claus painted it in bright colors, although no one was
likely to see it during his midnight journeys, and when all was finished he
sent for Glossie and Flossie to come and look at it.
The deer admired the sledge, but
gravely declared it was too big and heavy for them to draw.
"We might pull it over the
snow, to be sure," said Glossie; "but we would not pull it fast
enough to enable us to visit the far-away cities and villages and return to the
Forest by daybreak."
"Then I must add two more deer
to my team," declared Claus, after a moment's thought.
"The Knook Prince allowed you
as many as ten. Why not use them all?" asked Flossie. "Then we could
speed like the lightning and leap to the highest roofs with ease."
"A team of ten reindeer!"
cried Claus, delightedly. "That will be splendid. Please return to the
Forest at once and select eight other deer as like yourselves as possible. And
you must all eat of the casa plant, to become strong, and of the grawle plant,
to become fleet of foot, and of the marbon plant, that you may live long to
accompany me on my journeys. Likewise it will be well for you to bathe in the
Pool of Nares, which the lovely Queen Zurline declares will render you rarely
beautiful. Should you perform these duties faithfully there is no doubt that on
next Christmas Eve my ten reindeer will be the most powerful and beautiful
steeds the world has ever seen!"
So Glossie and Flossie went to the
Forest to choose their mates, and Claus began to consider the question of a
harness for them all.
In the end he called upon Peter
Knook for assistance, for Peter's heart is as kind as his body is crooked, and
he is remarkably shrewd, as well. And Peter agreed to furnish strips of tough
leather for the harness.
This leather was cut from the skins
of lions that had reached such an advanced age that they died naturally, and on
one side was tawny hair while the other side was cured to the softness of
velvet by the deft Knooks. When Claus received these strips of leather he sewed
them neatly into a harness for the ten reindeer, and it proved strong and
serviceable and lasted him for many years.
The harness and sledge were prepared
at odd times, for Claus devoted most of his days to the making of toys. These
were now much better than the first ones had been, for the immortals often came
to his house to watch him work and to offer suggestions. It was Necile's idea
to make some of the dolls say "papa" and "mama." It was a
thought of the Knooks to put a squeak inside the lambs, so that when a child
squeezed them they would say "baa-a-a-a!" And the Fairy Queen advised
Claus to put whistles in the birds, so they could be made to sing, and wheels
on the horses, so children could draw them around. Many animals perished in the
Forest, from one cause or another, and their fur was brought to Claus that he
might cover with it the small images of beasts he made for playthings. A merry
Ryl suggested that Claus make a donkey with a nodding head, which he did, and
afterward found that it amused the little ones immensely. And so the toys grew
in beauty and attractiveness every day, until they were the wonder of even the
When another Christmas Eve drew near
there was a monster load of beautiful gifts for the children ready to be loaded
upon the big sledge. Claus filled three sacks to the brim, and tucked every
corner of the sledge-box full of toys besides.
Then, at twilight, the ten reindeer
appeared and Flossie introduced them all to Claus. They were Racer and Pacer,
Reckless and Speckless, Fearless and Peerless, and Ready and Steady, who, with
Glossie and Flossie, made up the ten who have traversed the world these
hundreds of years with their generous master. They were all exceedingly
beautiful, with slender limbs, spreading antlers, velvety dark eyes and smooth
coats of fawn color spotted with white.
Claus loved them at once, and has
loved them ever since, for they are loyal friends and have rendered him
The new harness fitted them nicely
and soon they were all fastened to the sledge by twos, with Glossie and Flossie
in the lead. These wore the strings of sleigh-bells, and were so delighted with
the music they made that they kept prancing up and down to make the bells ring.
Claus now seated himself in the
sledge, drew a warm robe over his knees and his fur cap over his ears, and
cracked his long whip as a signal to start.
Instantly the ten leaped forward and
were away like the wind, while jolly Claus laughed gleefully to see them run
and shouted a song in his big, hearty voice:
"With a ho, ho, ho!
And a ha, ha, ha!
And a ho, ho, ha, ha, hee!
Now away we go
O'er the frozen snow,
As merry as we can be!
There are many joys
In our load of toys,
As many a child will know;
We'll scatter them wide
On our wild night ride
O'er the crisp and sparkling snow!"
(The part of the story about The First Stockings)
Now it was on this same Christmas
Eve that little Margot and her brother Dick and her cousins Ned and Sara, who
were visiting at Margot's house, came in from making a snow man, with their
clothes damp, their mittens dripping and their shoes and stockings wet through
and through. They were not scolded, for Margot's mother knew the snow was
melting, but they were sent early to bed that their clothes might be hung over
chairs to dry. The shoes were placed on the red tiles of the hearth, where the
heat from the hot embers would strike them, and the stockings were carefully
hung in a row by the chimney, directly over the fireplace. That was the reason
Santa Claus noticed them when he came down the chimney that night and all the
household were fast asleep. He was in a tremendous hurry and seeing the
stockings all belonged to children he quickly stuffed his toys into them and
dashed up the chimney again, appearing on the roof so suddenly that the
reindeer were astonished at his agility.
"I wish they would all hang up
their stockings," he thought, as he drove to the next chimney. "It
would save me a lot of time and I could then visit more children before
When Margot and Dick and Ned and
Sara jumped out of bed next morning and ran downstairs to get their stockings
from the fireplace they were filled with delight to find the toys from Santa
Claus inside them. In face, I think they found more presents in their stockings
than any other children of that city had received, for Santa Claus was in a
hurry and did not stop to count the toys.
Of course they told all their little
friends about it, and of course every one of them decided to hang his own stockings
by the fireplace the next Christmas Eve. Even Bessie Blithesome, who made a
visit to that city with her father, the great Lord of Lerd, heard the story
from the children and hung her own pretty stockings by the chimney when she
returned home at Christmas time.
On his next trip Santa Claus found
so many stockings hung up in anticipation of his visit that he could fill them
in a jiffy and be away again in half the time required to hunt the children up
and place the toys by their bedsides.
The custom grew year after year, and
has always been a great help to Santa Claus. And, with so many children to
visit, he surely needs all the help we are able to give him.
May your Christmas be merry and the coming New Year be filled with Storytelling (and, yes, Research).
This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in
Public Domain." The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our
cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were
compensated. I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent
on works of the 20th century. My own library of folklore includes
so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from
them. I hope you enjoy discovering new
At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring
research as part of my
sharing stories with an audience. Whenever that research needs to be
shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that
week. This is a return to my normal monthly posting of a
research project here. Response has convinced me that "Keeping the
Public in Public Domain" should continue along with
my monthly postings as often as I can manage it.
There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, none for
folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.
I recommended it earlier and want to continue to do so. Have fun discovering even more stories!