Saturday, December 16, 2017

Books that Didn't Age Well: L. Frank Baum's Life & Adventures of Santa Claus

The title says it all. I've been reading a lot of Baum books lately in prep for my short article, and I was recommended The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902) as a good introduction to many of Baum's fairy creatures. Well, the book's a bit dull and much too cloyingly sweet, but just imagine my horror when I discovered that Baum, with his customary flair for whimsy, decided to just up and insert genocide, racism, and a rationalization  for environmental destruction!


Yep, straight up genocide -- although, of course, it isn't called that. Claus gets kidnapped by a race of evil creatures called Angwas. He escapes, but Claus's friend Ak, the Master Huntsman, visits the Angwas and tells them to stop. His reasoning? "We immortals, no less than mortals like Claus, are superior to you. Do as I say!" The king of the Angwas, naturally enough, refuses, so all the immortals decide to wipe out this race of "evil" creatures from the face of the earth. And it only takes a single short chapter!

Of course, this book appeared well before the Holocaust and even the Armenian genocide of 1919, so clearly we can cut Baum some slack here. But still -- that's why we call it "not aging well."

Oh yes, the racism, this time against Native Americans. It's nothing that unusual for the time period, mind you, but it's still enough to make me wince.  For example, Santa Claus decides to bring toys to "three little children who lived beneath of rude tent of skins," and their "parents were ignorant people who neglected them sadly" (167). Baum never once mentions the word "Indians," but the pictures make the connection pretty clear. Anyway, Baum gives these kids a Christmas tree, which makes them immensely happy for the first time, cuz there's absolutely nothing offensive about that.

This last one is actually pretty innocent compared to the first two ( at least if we ignore the whole end-of-the-habitable-world thing). Here, men start chopping down all the world's forests. You'd think that would irritate the Master Woodman, but not so much cuz "I have but guarded the forests until men needed them for their use" (194).

Modern environmentalists, of course, often rail against the idea that nature is just there for humans to use as they will

None of these three things, mind you, are called "evil." You know what Baum does call evil -- or, more specifically, "one [last] evil following in the path of civilization" (196)?


You heard me right. Apparently, the then-modern prevalence of stoves was causing people to build fewer chimneys. That made Claus's job of entering households harder -- therefore, evil: Q. E. D. Luckily, Claus has some helper fairies. Glad we got that cleared up!

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