Last week, I did my annual re-reading of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, a Baum book I blogged about so much, I eventually ran out of things to say about it. (Check the Santa Claus tag.)
For our new blog readers who haven't seen those blogs, basically, this book tells Baum's own unique take on the Santa Claus mythos. He has no ties to St. Nicholas and would likely denounce the title "Father Christmas." Baum's Santa Claus is actually named Claus and "Santa" is just a form of the word "saint." (Likely intended to be how a child mispronounced it.)
Baum's Claus was raised by the immortal Wood-Nymphs of the Forest of Burzee, a forest later revealed to be south of the Land of Oz. When Claus grew up, he committed himself to bringing joy to children's lives, first by being their friend, and later by giving them gifts of toys he'd make from wood and clay and later other materials. Eventually, the Immortals decide to give him the Mantle of Immortality so he may continue his giving gifts (which has been limited to Christmas Eve) forever.
The book's tone is unique in Baum's juvenile work. When discussing the Immortals, Baum evokes a mystical tone, telling us much about how they live, but it feels more like he is letting us in on a wonderful secret.
The tone changes when discussing the life of Claus: suddenly here is the Baum we know, here's his classic fairy tale style, just now he's giving us a biography instead of his adventure or journey stories.
Something I did think of while reading it this time is that Claus' first toys are made of carved wood. Baum himself did woodwork, making a bit of furniture for his summer cottage in Macatawa Park, Michigan. He also carved the sign for his cottage that he called "The Sign of the Goose," which featured a wooden goose standing in a circle.
I almost wonder if one of Baum's sons (likely one of his latter two) saw him making the sign and asked if that was how Santa Claus made toys, and from that question came the spark of inspiration for this book.
Baum himself must have identified quite a bit with Santa Claus, and I almost feel as if Baum's Claus is Baum putting what he hoped were his best traits into a character. Quite likely, they were exaggerated. One of Baum's sons remembered how one year they had four Christmas trees, one for each of the four boys.