Monday, December 21, 2009

Little Bun Rabbit

There was one other L. Frank Baum story that dealt with Santa Claus. Although it is the last I'll be looking at this year, it was surprisingly one of Baum's first children's stories. The last chapter of "Mother Goose in Prose" was based on the verse "Little Bun Rabbit":

"Oh, Little Bun Rabbit, so soft and shy,
Say, what do you see with your big, round eye?"
"On Christmas we rabbits," says Bunny so shy,
"Keep watch to see Santa go galloping by."

The story opens with a little girl named Dorothy who lives on a farm.

Yep, I know what you're thinking.

It's not completely clear if Baum ever intended this Dorothy to be the same Dorothy we love from the Oz books. With a bit of a stretch of the imagination, she could be. She lives with her mother on the farm and all the animals have learned not to be afraid of her because she is so gentle. One could argue that this could be our Dorothy Gale living on the farm with her mother, sometime after Mr. Gale died, and somehow, Dorothy's mother died later on. Dorothy's ability to talk with the animals could be summed up with how she says she is able to talk with Toto: they just understand each other.

Whether or not "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" was the further adventures of this Dorothy we shall never know for certain, but when Baum reprinted the story in "L. Frank Baum's Juvenile Speaker" in 1910, the girl's name was changed to Doris. So, it seems Baum did not want these two Dorothys confused with each other. (Bit of a side note, the Juvenile Speaker was later re-issued as "Baum's Own Book For Children," then material from that book was produced into six small picture books called The Snuggle Tales in 1916 and 1917, and these books were reissued as "Oz-Man Tales" in 1920.)

Dorothy meets a little rabbit, and asks him the question posed in the verse. The rabbit replies with the answer in the verse as well, then, at Dorothy's behest, tells about he met Santa and got to visit his castle. "A Kidnapped Santa Claus" also mentions that Santa lives in a castle, but in "Little Bun Rabbit," the castle is on a hill, not in a valley. We are told that Mother Hubbard keeps house for Santa, and is his only assistant. The Rabbit tells Dorothy how Santa used him as a pattern to make toy rabbits and put a squeak inside, and how Santa loaned him a magic collar so no harm would come to him while he journeyed home.

I'm doubting this story can easily be reconciled with the Santa Claus we met in Baum's 1902 mythos, which Baum created later. Santa has no helpers (which he didn't have until after he became immortal in the later book), and he lives with Mother Hubbard. Odd. Also, the Rabbit is able to run home by itself from Santa's home, which if we assume Santa would have been in Laughing Valley and the farm was in Kansas or anywhere in America, there would have been large bodies of water to cross, and even if the magic collar made the Rabbit able to travel over water, that's still a very lengthy journey.

All the same, it's fascinating to see how Baum tackled Santa Claus before he wrote his biography.

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