Crossroads in Oz

My travels through L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels continued with book five, The Road to Oz. Dorothy and Uncle Henry have returned to Kansas by the time the story opens. A hobo called the Shaggy Man comes by the farm and asks Dorothy for directions to the town of Butterfield. He seems scattered and Dorothy decides to take him to the road that will lead to the town. As they walk, the surroundings become unfamiliar and they soon come to a place where many roads intersect. Dorothy is confused because she would remember such a place so near home. They decide to follow one of the roads and soon meet a young boy who calls himself Button-Bright. A little while later, they meet Polychrome, daughter of the rainbow king who is light and joyful and enjoys dancing through life. I couldn’t help but think about the famous song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in all her scenes. Our group soon comes to Foxville, a kingdom of talking foxes and we learn that Princess Ozma will be having a birthday party soon! Of course Dorothy and her new friends will make it to the birthday party, but what makes this party special is that many of the guests come from Baum’s other novels!

The Road to Oz and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

I love it when an author can find a good reason for characters from different books they’ve written to meet. I’ve done it a couple of times. The vampire Mercedes Rodriguez has a cameo in my novel Owl Dance. The Scarlet Order Vampires come into more direct contact with the Clockwork Legion in the story “Fountains of Blood” which appears in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, edited by David Boop.

Princess Ozma’s birthday party proves to be a great excuse to bring together characters from Baum’s other fantasy novels. Among the guests are Queen Zixi of Ix from the novel of the same name, John Dough from the novel John Dough and the Cherub, and the Queen of Merryland from the novel Dot and Tot in Merryland. Of course, the true star guest is none other than the protagonist of Baum’s Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Not only is Santa there, but he brings some of friends, the Knooks and Ryls from the Forest of Burzee.

Admittedly, I’ve jumped ahead a bit. On their way to the party, Dorothy, Toto (who is back for only the second time in the Oz novels), Polychrome, the Shaggy Man, and Button-Bright have their share of adventures. Most are actually rather tame and for the most part, the people they encounter just want an invite to the big shindig in Oz. The exception is when they cross paths with the Scoodlers. If we ever play Oz poker, I’ll take your Flying Monkeys and raise you a Scoodler. The Scoodlers are two-sided with a face looking forward and a face looking backward. Their only desire is to turn our heroes into soup! What’s more, they can take off their heads and throw them at you! Fortunately, the Shaggy Man saves the day and they are able to get away.

Eventually we come to the deadly desert surrounding Oz, but because the Shaggy Man has connections, they get a boat that can cross the sand. I was delighted when they reached Oz and the first familiar people they meet are Billina the Hen and Tik-Tok the Mechanical man from Ozma of Oz. We also get some time with the tin woodsman, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion.

In a way, The Road to Oz feels like a nice tame road trip (with the exception of the Scoodlers!) designed to give fans of the books so far a chance to spend time with old friends. And yet, Baum sneaks in some subversive politics as the tin man lets us know without a doubt that no one would be so uncouth as to use money in utopia like Oz.

Looking forward to my next trip to the land of Oz. In the meantime, you can learn a little more about my novel Owl Dance at http://davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html. You can learn more about Straight Outta Tombstone at http://davidleesummers.com/shorts.html. What’s more, the Scarlet Order Vampires are experiencing an adventure in a brand new comic book over at my Patreon site: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

Santa Claus, A Century Ago

Born in the 1960s, I was in the prime audience for Rankin/Bass Studio’s stop motion animation productions. For me, movies like 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1970’s Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, and 1974’s The Year Without a Santa Claus defined what I knew about the guy in a red suit who delivered toys on Christmas Eve. In fact, even though I was in college by the time it came out, it was a 1985 Rankin/Bass production that opened my eyes to a wider world of Santa lore. That year they released a production of L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. This was the first time I’d learned that the guy who created The Wizard of Oz actually wrote a Santa story. It also struck me that the Santa portrayed was somewhat different than the one portrayed in those earlier Rankin/Bass productions. He lived in a magical land, not at the North Pole, and he had a whole assortment of magical helpers and foes, not just the little elves I’d known from the shows I’d grown up with.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus was published in 1902. As it turns out, this was during the era when the popularity of Santa Claus really began taking off, not only in the United States but around the world. It’s also the era when Santa really began to take on his most familiar characteristics. As you can see in the book cover, when The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus was published, the publisher didn’t feel the need the put Santa in his now-iconic red suit. Here we see Santa in a black suit with leopard fur and red pants. Up until this point, the most iconic Santa had been the version popularized by Thomas Nast, who portrayed Santa in a number of different colored coats (when he appeared in color) and often with a hat that was more fur or holly sprigs than red with a white pom-pom.

Curious about how the modern Santa developed from the beginning of the twentieth century through World War I, I started looking for images online. I found a wonderful article tracing the development of Santa Claus in illustration at The Public Domain Review, which is the source of the illustrations in this post. Go there if you want to see even more about Santa’s development.

Our modern, iconic image of Santa is often credited to a series of advertisements painted by Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola beginning in 1931. However, the article at The Public Domain Review suggests that Santa in his modern form first appeared on the cover of Puck magazine in 1902, illustrated by Frank A. Nankivell. This is also the earliest illustration I can recall with ladies showing their appreciation for Santa’s gifts. As a bearded man who had grown somewhat broader around the mid-section as I’ve grown older, I must admit a certain appreciation for this trope.

Puck, Christmas 1902

As I continued my explorations of Santa Claus’s development through the early part of the twentieth century, I came to the blog “A Signal from Mars,” which discusses material from the Lowell Observatory archives. In it, I found a wonderful post depicting several photos of Percival Lowell, the man who popularized the idea of Martian canals, dressed as Santa on the observatory grounds in 1911. You can view the images at: https://asignalfrommars.wordpress.com/2018/12/03/up-on-the-rooftop/

Public Domain Review shares evidence of Santa’s growing worldwide appeal with the following 1914 illustration of Santa from Japan. We also see that Santa’s now-iconic image is making its way around the world a few years before the Coca-Cola ads.

Santa Claus visits a child in 1914 Japan.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself wondering how Santa fared during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. I couldn’t find many photos from that period, but I did find an account of a visit by Santa to western Nebraska. Santa arrived in town by Union Pacific Railroad on December 2 and was immediately mobbed by children. Unfortunately, this put Santa in violation of a public gathering ordinance. The police soon arrived and stripped poor Santa of his hat and beard and put him in jail. The kids came together, though, and raised Santa’s bail money.

US Food Administration Poster

I’ll wrap up with this poster produced by the US Food Administration in 1918 showing Santa, Uncle Sam, and a soldier. It’s message “Peace: Your Gift to the Nation” seems especially apt today in the wake of a contentious election. I hope as COVID-19 vaccines roll out and a new year dawns, our nation can once again find peace and unity. Wishing you all a happy and peaceful holiday season!