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!

GENOCIDE

Yep, straight up genocide -- although, of course, it wasn'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 it called "not aging well."

RACISM
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.

DEFORESTATION
This last one is actually pretty innocent compared to the first two (ignoring, if you will, the whole end-of-the-inhabitable-world thing). Men start chopping down all the forests in the world, which you think would irritate the Master Woodman, but never fear: "I have but guarded the forests until men needed them for their use" (194).

A major premise of modern environmentalists, of course, is that the idea that nature exists for human use is immensely destructive.

None of these, mind you, are called "evil." You know what Baum does call "one [last] evil following in the path of civilization" (196)? Stoves. You heard me right. Apparently, the then-modern prevalence of stoves was causing people to build fewer chimneys, which was making Claus's job of entering households much more difficult. Luckily, Claus has some helper fairies. Glad we got that cleared up!

No comments:

Post a Comment