Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ploog's Claus

1992 brought a graphic novel adaptation of Baum's The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus by Michael Ploog, who had previously had a brush with Baum in doing concept artwork for Disney's Return to Oz. (I would love to interview this guy on my podcast...)

***Major spoilers***

Opening the book, even those familiar with Baum's book will know they are in for some surprises. The Master Woodsman Ark (Ark? Yep...) leads a procession of Immortals to the mountain of the Gnome King, to beg that Santa Claus, who is unconscious with them, be made immortal. The Gnome King is upset that the Immortals have dealt with a mortal, when he has forbidden all Immortals to deal with mortals. Ark explains how they came to be involved with Claus.

The story goes into flashback, narrated by Ark. He is walking to the Forest of Burzee when he finds human footprints, and in a hollow log, an abandoned baby. He leaves it in the care of the lioness Shiegra, ordering her not to harm the baby. Ark continues into Burzee, where it is revealed that soon Zurline will give her throne as Queen of the Wood Nymphs to Necile. (A little confusingly, only two Nymphs are shown at a time, almost leading one to think there are only two: Necile and Zurline. However, more careful examination shows there are indeed more.) During the ceremony and party, Ark tells of his finding of the baby. Necile sneaks out and takes the baby back to Burzee with her. All the Ryls, Knooks, and even Ark object to this defiance of the Gnome King's law, but eventually, they decide to let Necile raise the baby in Burzee.

While Ark says he will consult with the Gnome King, he is struck by the idea that perhaps the baby, who Necile names Claus, will help the Immortals understand mortals. Claus grows up in Burzee, and is soon given a pet by Pogan the Knook: a little monkey named Toy. Soon, Ark takes Claus to see humanity. On the journey back, they are attacked by the Awgwas, who are led by Swine. Claus use's Ark's axe to chop off Swine's tail, and this makes them stop.

Ark explains that the Awgwas spread "demon seed" to mankind to make them do evil. It is because of this that Claus decides he must take part in humanity somehow. He moves to the Laughing Valley, where the Immortals build him a home. As it is winter, he waits until Spring, and takes to making small images of the nymphs and animals as gifts for his friends in Burzee. He makes one of Toy that works like a jumping jack. But when he finds a lost child in the snow, he gives the toy Toy to the child, and the child is so pleased, Claus brings a large load of toys and food back to the child's home. He begins to give out the other toy and even decides, when approached by a baron, that even rich children need toys as much as poor ones. This upsets the Awgwas, for now the children are promising to be good.

The wood elves (who are mentioned to have just finished working in the Emerald City) are offered to help Claus make his toys for the children. To go faster, Shosta the deer pulls a sleigh of toys to children in a nearby village. However, when Claus attempts another journey, the Awgwas attack and steal the toys. When Claus is not swayed, he makes another, but returns to find the toys and Toy stolen, and his home burned down.

Ark tries to reason with the Awgwas, but they defy him, so war is declared. Ark, Claus, and the Immortals manage to cut the leaders of the opposing armies from their respective armies. Claus himself dispatches Swine, leaving the Awgwas without a leader. The Wood Nymphs and Pogan find Toy with the toys, but sadly, it seems the little monkey has starved to death. Toy is buried in Laughing Valley, a Christmas tree as his memorial. Claus decides to go back to Burzee.

Finally, Claus returns to the Laughing Valley, building a better workshop, and soon refines his travel plans. One delivery, he arrives late at night and uses chimneys to deliver the toys, which makes the people call him a Saint at his determination, giving him the title Santa Claus. Deciding this may be the best way to work, Pogan lets Claus use more deer (Clement C. Moore's eight), and the Wind Demon allows them to use a wind to fly on, limiting Claus to deliver one night on Christmas Eve.

After many years, the Angel of Death appears, and the Elves beg that it lets Claus live the few more days he is allotted. This brings the Immortals to the Gnome King.

Ark convinces the Gnome King that mankind can do good, but they are mighty, and need someone to keep them respectful of the Immortals. The Gnome King is convinced that, if made immortal, Santa Claus could be the one they need.

Honestly, though Ploog loosely adapted Baum's book, it wasn't a case where I'd find the purist in me throwing the book into a corner. Rather, in cases like this, it feels respectful to the source to change the story so. The story is organic, so it can change and grow into a story that will work in another medium. And really, most of the book's story and it's alterations does feel like Baum's story.

And this week, we'll look at some other adaptations of the tale.

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