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Literature / The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus

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The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, originally published in 1902, is L. Frank Baum's take on the origin story of Santa Claus.

In the story, Claus was an orphaned baby discovered at the edge of the mystical Forest of Burzee (revealed to be located in one of the neighboring countries to the Land of Oz in later Baum books) by the Great Ak, Master Woodsman of the World and the ruler of the immortals dwelling within the woods and is placed in the care of the lioness Shiegra and the wood nymph Necile, who names the baby Neclaus, or Claus for short. When Neclaus comes of age, Ak takes him on a journey through the human world where he discovers the poor and miserable state of human society and the children. Resolving to make a positive impact on humanity, Claus finds his calling in bringing joy to children through toymaking. However, monsters called the Awgwas oppose Claus's efforts to bring joy to the children that they torment, leading to Ak and the immortals to intervene. The evil forces are successfully routed and Neclaus, now going by Santa Claus, is able to freely continue his work until old age begins to catch up with him. Recognizing the positive impact Claus has had on the world, Ak makes a case to his peers at the Council of Immortals to grant Santa Claus eternal life through the mystical Mantle of Immortality.

Baum also wrote a short sequel story, A Kidnapped Santa Claus, where a group of Daemons representing various sins frustrated with Claus's positive influence on children kidnap him, forcing his assistants to do the toy run for him and mixing up the deliveries in the process. After rescuing Santa and realizing these mistakes, they soon learn that the children were able to solve the issue by simply exchanging the gifts with each other to ensure everything got to its proper place.

The story is best known from two animated adaptations: A 1985 Rankin/Bass Christmas special that would be their last stop-motion Christmas project that used the Council of Immortals as a framing device and featured many voice actors from ThunderCats and a 2D animated film released in the year 2000 featuring Robby Benson and Jim Cummings playing the title character at different ages. Additionally, in 1996, there was a 24 episode Anime adaptation titled Shounen Santa no Daibouken, with a greater emphasis on the teenaged Santa Claus, though the series is poorly documented online.

These works provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Claus's adoptive wood-nymph mother Necile as he ages but she doesn't. She's still as youthful and beautiful as ever when Claus is an old man.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: In the Rankin-Bass special, Peter Knook never explains why Claus is only allowed to use the reindeer to deliver toys on Christmas Eve, which causes conflict since that date means Claus only has ten days to make enough toys for the journey. In the book it's a deliberate attempt by the Knook King to sabotage Claus' efforts.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • The 2000 animated film changes the names of a few minor characters:
      • Weekum, the first child to receive a toy from Claus, is called Ethan
      • Glossie and Flossie, Claus' first two reindeer, are called Mistletoe and Holly (they're nameless in the Rankin/Bass version)
      • Bessie Blithsome, a nobleman's daughter given a doll, is re-named Natalie
    • In the book and the 2000 animated version, the future Santa Claus is named Neclaus, meaning "Necile's little one," which is why mortals came to call him "St. Nicholas": he's just called Claus ("little one") for short. In the Rankin/Bass version, he's simply named Claus.
  • Ascended Extra: Shiegra the Lioness has a much bigger role in the Rankin-Bass special than in the original book.
  • Battle Discretion Shot: While the fight with the Awgwas' allies is shown (though bloodless), the scene cuts before we can actually see the final battle with the Awgwas themselves. In the Rankin-Bass version it looks like the Angwas actually legged it when the immortals made their charge, but Ak confirms later they're all dead.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: Though only briefly summarized, the battle between the Burzee fae and the Awgwa's evil army is far larger in scope then the budgets of either adaptation would allow. For instance, the Awgwas invited 300 dragons to help them out.
  • Big Good: Great Ak, Master Woodsman of the World
  • Born as an Adult: This is the nature of all Immortals. They came into being as adults, never age, and have no children among them until Necile adopts the human baby Claus.
  • Broken-Window Warning: In the Rankin-Bass special, the Awgwas' harassment of Claus begins with a threatening note tied to a rock and hurled through a window.
  • Canon Foreigner: Tingler the Sound Imp was a new character created for the Rankin Bass adaptation to provide some comic relief in what would otherwise be a rather adult Christmas special.
  • Cessation of Existence: The book states that this is the fate of the Awgwas after death, since they are neither mortals (who go on to an afterlife of some kind) or immortals (who literally cannot be killed).
  • Composite Character: Peter Knook in the special plays the roles of Will Knook, Peter Knook, and the Knook King from the book.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: When Santa's friends fight the massed Awgwas and monstrous allies their magic tilts the balance so far the monsters never even get a shot in.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to other Rankin-Bass specials, it's a good deal darker, moodier, and more serious. Just about the only comedy is provided by Tingler speaking various languages in quick succession.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In the book, Will Knook threatens to torment the deer who pulled Claus' sledge with stinging gnats for the "heinous" crime of returning to the forest one minute after the curfew he set.
  • End of an Era: This was the final Rankin-Bass special made using stop-motion, as well as the final Rankin-Bass special before the company's production arm shut down on March 4, 1987.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: In the battle with the Awgwas in the Rankin/Bass special, Necile magically repels the dragon's fiery breath so it incinerates the dragon himself, an Awgwa is magically melted by a Ryl and transformed into a black flower that promptly wilts, and a ray from Great Ak's silver axe sends flashes of lightening through another Awgwa's body until he finally explodes.
  • The Fair Folk: Fairies, nymphs, Knooks, Sound Imps, water spirits, wind demons, light elves, Awgwas, Ryls, whatever-the-heck-Ak-is... thankfully for Claus, all of them save the Awgwas are benevolent.
  • Fairy Companion: Tingler in the Rankin-Bass special and Wisk in the 2000 animated film
  • Framing Device: In the Rankin-Bass special, the meeting with the immortals serves as this, as Ak relates Claus' story to try to convince the other immortals that Claus deserves immortality.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Claus gets along with humans, immortals, and animals. Only the Awgwas are antagonistic toward him.
  • Good Wings, Evil Wings: Subverted in the stop-motion adaptation. The Knooks have bat wings and are allies of Santa.
  • Gratuitous Latin: "Ora e Sempre (Today and Forever)," the opening musical number. Ora e Sempre literally translates to "the edge of the measured." Could be a borderline case of Ominous Latin Chanting.
  • Gratuitous Princess: The 2000 animated version throws in a princess for... some reason. (She was a nobleman's daughter in the book and Rankin-Bass special.)
  • Happily Adopted: Claus shows absolutely no curiosity about his birth parents. Possibly justified seeing as he was abandoned as a baby and he had a happy childhood with Necile and Shiegra.
  • Invisibility: An ability of the Awgwas in the Rankin/Bass special... which somehow lets them pass through solid walls too.
    • Ak can grant this ability, and uses it to show Claus how mortals live without them being observed.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Most of the Knooks in the book save Peter Knook, who's simply kind without being a Jerkass. The "jerk" part is toned down in the special.
  • Killed Offscreen: In the Rankin/Bass special, after two Awgwas and a dragon are killed onscreen, the rest of the Awgwas hightail it when the immortals advance on them, and the scene cuts away. They’re later confirmed to be dead, though, presumably killed with the axe.
  • Mama Bear: Well, lioness, but you don't mess with Claus when Shiegra's around. The Awgwas are only able to abduct Claus the first time because they ambush and tie her up first. Also Necile, Claus's adoptive mother, in the fight against the Awgwas, she face their Dragon head on and makes it eat its own fire.
  • Manly Tears: Shed by Claus when he sees the children's reactions to receiving their first toy, and later when he learns the immortals intend to fight on his behalf.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The Awgwa King is called Mogorb in the 2000 adaptation, when he was nameless in the original book, and in the Rankin/Bass version is named King Awgwa.
  • Narrator: This is the only Rankin-Bass Christmas special to not have a celebrity narrator, though Ak serves as one in-universe as he tells Claus' story to the rest of the immortals.
  • Never Say "Die": Both played straight and averted in the special. The Awgwa leader declares that Claus will be "done away with for good" (he flat-out states they'll kill him in the book). In a later scene, however, Ak informs Claus that the Awgwas have "perished," averting the trope.
  • Omniglot: Tingler in the Rankin-Bass version, being a Sound Imp, can speak any language, including animal languages.
  • Our Demons Are Different: The Wind Demons. We only see one (the Commander), but he looks like a cross between a bat and a mosquito, tends to cause bursts of wind before he speaks, and while not malicious, is the most vocal detractor toward Claus being made immortal. In the actual vote he's the first to say yes, suggesting he was playing Devil's Advocate.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Looks like an Asian-style dragon but breathes fire like a Western dragon.
  • Public Domain Character: Santa Claus, and indeed there are many differences in Baum's version of the character compared to popular conception—some of which contradict the previously released 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. This Santa does not live at the North Pole, but in the temperate Laughing Valley. Instead of an army of elves, he makes toys himself all year, with only a few immortal helpers, who also accompany him on his rides, using their magic to distribute gifts to houses without chimneys. He has ten reindeer instead of eight, with different names from the familiar ones, who don't fly but merely run fast and jump well, and he gives presents to every child he can reach, without regard to whether they are naughty or nice. The narrator notes that when mothers tell their children to be good or Santa won't visit, Claus doesn't approve of such talk, knowing that all children have their nice and naughty moments.
  • Raised by Wolves: Claus is nursed and raised by Shiegra, a lioness, until Necille takes over as his caretaker.
  • Recycled In Space: The story of Santa Claus as a High Fantasy
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The snake that threatens Claus and the dragon mook during the final battle share this trait
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The only animals that are malicious toward Claus or any other character are a giant cobra, a dragon, and a spider.
  • Reused Character Design: While most of the characters in the Rankin-Bass special have unique designs, some of the children look like they've been re-used from previous Christmas specials, and the peasant woman picking turnips during Claus and Great Ak's travels looks like Elisa's mother from Rankin Bass' Jack Frost.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Necile points out that since the Great Ak makes the laws of the Forest of Burzee, no one has the right to stop her from raising Claus if he grants her permission to do so.
  • Single Tear: Happens whenever a character cries in the Rankin/Bass version. Justified in that it's difficult to portray tears well in a stop-motion show.
  • Stock Sound Effects: The dragon the Agwas use to fight Santa's friends uses Rodan's roar. Another one of the Agwas uses Mothra's screech as well
  • Stop Motion: Rankin/Bass' last stop-motion Christmas special
  • Suddenly Speaking: Inverted. Shiegra the Lioness had lines in the book but only growls and roars in the Rankin-Bass version, which is unusual given her Ascended Extra status in the special. Likewise, the reindeer had lines in the book but are silent in the movie.
  • Time Abyss: The Immortals, as explained in "Ora e Sempre (Today and Forever)." They are destined to live until the end of the world.
  • Title Drop: At the beginning of the 1985 special, Ak says to the Immortals "How shall I begin the story of the life and adventures of Santa Claus?"
  • Too Awesome to Use: There is only one Mantle of Immortality, and the chief objection raised at the Council of the Immortals is that if they bestow it upon Claus, they can never give it to another should the need arise. Ak convinces his peers that if Santa Claus, the closest mortal ally of their kind, the Friend to All Children, the most selfless and generous human to ever live, doesn't deserve to join their ranks, no one ever will, and there may as well not be a Mantle of Immortality at all if they never use it.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: In the framing scenes of the Rankin/Bass special, Great Ak claims it was some sixty years ago that he found Claus as a baby, and later claims that Claus has been delivering toys for fifty years; yet in the story proper, Claus is portrayed as a middle-aged man when he invents toys and starts to deliver them, not a ten-year-old boy. Possibly justified, since Great Ak is immortal and may have little sense of mortal time.

Alternative Title(s): The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus