Thursday, December 31, 2009


So, the past couple years, I set up resolutions for the coming year. And then the next year, I'd see what was done, and what wasn't, and what I'd try to work on for the next year.

Forget that!

Let's see what I plan to do next year...

There's something that's come up. With some careful saving (because my bills are quite reduced), this could be the year I'll finally attend an Oz convention.

Something I'm considering is to sell the podcasts on CD with bonus audio that I won't release online. While, yes, you could download and burn the podcasts to a CD yourself (I did not copy protect the mp3 files, and in my opinion, you're free to use them as you wish, except claiming them as your own), I'm looking into ways I can generate some revenue for hosting the podcast and other ventures I might have. The podcast currently costs $5 a month to host, and the web domain for the website (read on, dear reader!) will cost $9 a year. All in all, if I wanted this to pay for itself, I'd need to generate $69 a year somehow. While, yes, that is very affordable, it would be nice to be able to pay for this without out-of-pocket expenses.

Believe me, I fully intend to keep costs low on any merchandise I'd produce. (Does $7 for a CD sound reasonable?)

Very recently, I finally got a server for the new website I've been conceiving. Considering how easy the Ozmatron is to use for reading the Oz books, I am considering omitting any books that are on that site. I considered possibly designing some custom editions, putting them on for purchase or downloading as PDF, but then I considered that I already have enough to do.

Something else I considered for funding is possibly producing a DVD of one of the Oz silent films. If you're subscribed to my Ozian YouTube channel, you may know which one I'm talking about. As the footage is public domain, and the music I used was royalty-free (I even checked), I would have no legal issues producing it. To add additional value, I'm considering doing alternate audio tracks, so we could have a simple music score track, one with narration, and an audio commentary. And these DVDs, I could sell for as little as $8. (There is also another silent Oz movie I'd like to give this DVD treatment to, but it would involve some agreements.)

Now that I've said some of my intentions for the future, I'd like to hear your thoughts and opinions. Is there something you think I should be doing that I'm not already? Or anything. I'm open to your comments.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas! (2009 Santa Claus index)

Well, here it is Christmas day. I hope you've enjoyed our blogs about how Santa Claus was handled by the Royal Historians, and if you didn't get to read them, here is an index of all the blogs.

The stories
Little Bun Rabbit
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (Jared's blog) (Sam's blog)
A Kidnapped Santa Claus
How the Woggle-Bug and His Friends Visited Santa Claus (Podcast)
The Curious Cruise of Captain Santa
The Magic Sled

The Adaptations of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
The 1985 Rankin-Bass version (Jared's blog) (Sam's blog)
The 1992 graphic novel by Mike Ploog
The 1994 anime version
The 1996 video The Oz Kids: Who Stole Santa?
The 2000 animated version from Glen Hill (Jared's blog) (Sam's blog)

And here's an index to the blogs I've written in previous years:
A Holiday Tradition
The Tradition Is Shared!
Santa Talks
Ranking of Fairies?
More On Santa And The Immortals

A Universal Santa Claus

It's Christmas Day, and I have just finished watching the 2000 Universal animated musical of L. Frank Baum's "the Life and adventures of Santa Claus" - so Sony's "Lion of Oz" wasn't the only adaptation of a Baum/Oz book to be animusicalised.

This movie has yet to be released onto official DVD, but this film runs for 1 hr 15 mins, and spends its time well with the adaptation.

Since this is a more current adaptation, it is a more cartoonish approach, but also has a few changes from the book (I will try not to sound like I'm comparing it to the 1985 Rankin/Bass stop-motion version):
* It is (again) narrated by the Great Ak (voiced by Hal Holbrook - sounds familiar somehow) and in the beginning intro he mentions "before televison" - I liked the various panning shots of the beautiful Forest of Burzee.
* There is no Queen Zurline of the Fairies. Instead, Necile (Dixie Carter . . . who?) has two other nymph friends.
* the Pixie Wisk is a new character to join in on the adventure (I thought it was Whisk, and I prefer it with 'h') who can change his form (often into an Awgwa)and sometimes reminded me a bit of Yacko the Animaniac.
* the Baby is at first named Necileclaus/NecileClaus - an extension of the book's Neclaus.
* Just like Rankin/Bass version, Claus' life growing up in Burzee is thrown through a musical montage/
* Blinkie the kitten is introduced at the same time Claus wakes up to his new home - and is adorable.
* the Lord's daughter, Bessie Blithesome, is renamed Natalie and voiced by Kathy Sourcie (remember her? She's Lil from the "Rugrats" series, Narissa in W.I.T.C.H., the Weird Sisters from "Gargoyles" and many others!). I like how from her first introduction during Ak's guide her character is shown clearly, developed and is willing to help Claus with his gifts, even if it means giving up her "friend" that Claus gave her so long ago.
* the Knook Peter is renamed Will.
* Santa Claus is voiced by Robby Benson as a young man (Disney's Beast/Prince from "Beauty and the Beast" - didn't recognise him at first!) and by Jim Cummings as the white-bearded version (Darkwing Duck, Shocker from 90s "Spider-man: Animated Series", most of all Disney's bad guy Pete, and Many others!)
* The Awgwas/Awgawas are rock-like creatures with red eyes - and even have the ability to move through rocks. This wasn't too bad, but it did bring to mind the Rock Fairies known as the Nomes more - one scene even has a possible tribute to Disney's "Return to Oz" by having the King and his shorter, fat, dumb, comic relief "sidekick" (they're named Wagif and Mogorb) show their faces through a rocky wall, as did the Nome messenger (Pons Maar) through Claymation. Though I did like that.
* the best part is how some time of the movie shows young man Claus interacting with the people of the village, getting to known them and they him (I especially like how a big village man sees Claus make friends with Ethan the crippled boy - originally named Weekum - and prove how strong he really is, leading me to believe that he would trust Ethan to help with some work eventually).

What I Didn't Like:
* Why is 'Ryls' pronounced as "Reels", how did the people know of Claus' toys being stolen and WHAT was the necessity of adding an extra 'a' in Awgwas? (that I never noticed till Jared said so, I just thought that's how they were said)
* Most of the character designs and animation. Necile and the Wood Nymphs have wings like butterflies and costumes like fairies did not sit well with me. The Knooks are more like dwarves or gnomes, sometimes with accents - much too cartoonish. The Winged approach applies to Ak is well, but has more colour than before - at least he has Eagle-like feathered wings instead of the fluttery kind. Baum wrote "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" CLEARLY not to be connected with the winged fairy tales of Grimm, etc.
* It was a bit hard to tell whether Claus was a teenager or not - must have been the baggy sleeves - before leaving as a young man. His age is not as specific here.
* Quite a few times the animation wasn't to my liking (or approval). Good characters or Bad characters, it happened quite a bit here and there. I know I shouldn't expect perfection, but I don't like to be distracted by bits of sloppiness or parts lacking on solid body of fluid movement, and occasionally useless movements of the body/face.
* the King of the Awgawas was more simple cartoonish evil and not really wicked enough to me, unlike the stop-motion version.
* Shiegra pronounced "Sheegra" and credited as "Sheigra" (unless that's a typo), and doesn't look lionESS enough.
* I was never particularly keen on that scene where Claus' sculpture of Shiegra frightens the little brother and sister.
* Santa Claus having a white beard when the Awgwas attempt to stop him giving toys to the children - his beard could have been coloured, a cross between his youthful dark hair and elderly white strands.
* Santa Claus' song of his first sleigh ride - he is clearly a Voice Actor and Not a Singer. A few shots were repeated during the non-singing part, his face was animated too joyful, and the selection of shots used during those magical sleigh ride scenes could have been a bit more organised.
* Santa Claus delivers toys during the snowy winter, foot or flight of sleigh, and half the time he doesn't wear gloves? And didn't anyone on the team notice how his lower lip was incorrectly white instead of flesh-coloured (even for a cartoon)?

Don't think that despite my "criticism" I dislike this film, I do like it. I'm just, unfortunately, a perfectionist on some things, and wish this had been done better. Maybe if it had been a theatrical feature, the animation would be better.

If there was to be a new (live-action non musical) adaptation of Baum's "Life and Adventures of Santa Claus", I'd like some scenes with the human friends Claus has made to help him with making toys.

Hope you liked my Christmas Blogs, and have a Happy New Year:

And here's my Christmas video for Youtube (just wish I had taken out the 5 frames of Tyron about to turn around):

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Woggle-Bug Book is back!

A companion to the recently-released Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz, this rare tale of the Woggle-Bug by the original Royal Historian, L. Frank Baum himself is now finally available in full color glory. This large-format (roughly 9"x12") book contains all the original pages in photo-reproduction, including objectionable material that was considered acceptable at the time. This was done in an effort to preserve its historical relevance.

The tale tells of how the Woggle-Bug, continuing his adventures in America, gets his eye caught by a dress of Wagnerian plaid, and follows his many misadventures as he tries to obtain the garment. The text is unedited, and all the images from the original book have been restored to their original glory, removing the yellowing brought by the ravages of time.

To top it off, the book includes an informative introduction and insightful afterword by Oz scholars Jared Davis and Ruth Berman, respectively; as well as rare or never-before-seen additional images, including two work-in-progress pages. Easy-to-read, and a handsome volume, this book belongs in every Oz-scholar's collection! Visit the Pumpernickel Pickle Oz-shop to order your copy now. Available in hardcover and paperback. Please note: each book is manufactured at the time of order, and can take 2 to 3 weeks to arrive.

A Bonus Podcast!

For a special extra Christmas item, I'm sharing the raw audio of Mike Conway reading "How The Woggle-Bug And His Friends Visited Santa Claus."

When the project was originally conceived, I just wanted a simple reading. When multiple people volunteered, the idea of having multiple voices arose. Mike Conway was the first who volunteered, and instead of just narrating, he read the entire story, performing voices for each of the characters. Even though I had decided he could voice Santa Claus, I lowered the pitch in the edited version.

So you all can enjoy the story as Mike originally read it, I've decided to share this. Use the link above to go to the podcast site, or use the below player:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Santa Claus in Stop-Motion

(This Blog was made while listening to the 2 Royal Christmas Podcasts of Oz on Wednesday December 23, 2009)

I have just finished watching the 1985 stop-motion Rankin/Bass film of "the Life and Adventures of Santa Claus".

It runs for 50 minutes, and in that running time it conveys the story well without feeling too long or even rushed. Although I prefer stories in chronological order, I do like how Ak's recalling of finding "the babe" to the Immortals blends in with that same retelling to the Nymphs. I like how Shiegra the lioness stays alive with Claus as she does live in the Forest of Burzee, automatically (to me) making her immortal, and Tingler the Sound Imp is a lovable character who always gets his languages mixed up but always manages to answer properly in the end.

What I like best about this adaptation is the depiction of the Awgwas. They are monstrous beasts with hairy bodies, sometimes with horns and fangs and claws, some parts in armour - one moster funny enough looks like a "Wild Thing"! Not that it's relevant aside from the time, but the partially-hairy King Awgwa reminds me of Grizzlor from "She-Ra".
I don't mind how the Immortals are depicted, Ak has the best portrayal with moose-like horns, a white robe with cape and a long hard nose. And his voice is so fitting too. Necile and the other nymphs are fairy-like with antennas out of their heads and little wings and short costumes, but since this is a first adaptation of the story (if not, one of the earliest), I'm not fussed.

Since this feature is under an hour, there are many moments from the book that are shortened, combined or abandoned.
* the rich lord's daughter from the book, Bessie Blithesome, is unnamed and an extra. She doesn't appear other than dining at the table as a little girl during the sequence where Ak shows Claus the world. She does not visit Claus, but while making the toys he does say that he will give the toy to her, whether she is rich or poor, for all children need toys.
* the little black kitten Blinkie is described by Claus in passing how it came to live with them - Necile's gift in teaching them to live together.
* the hanging Stockings (for drying) are put together with Claus making his first trip down the Chimney.
* Unlike the book, this film does help show what age Claus is throughout the years. He is a teenager (of sorts) when he leaves Burzee, and from then (through a good-looking bearded 20s/30s man) till like 45 is him helping the children with more reading, making friends and toys, along with the conflict of the Awgwas. After delivering toys for 15 years, he is granted Immortality (and ends the film) at 60.
* Peter the Knook is unpleased at the reindeer being late at dawn (even by a minute), but he does not appear to have woken up Claus, and he is easily persuaded by the others (not Ak) to allow the reindeer to be used "for the children", but it is he who determines the date.

The songs featured here are few, but fun and memorable. They fit the story, are sometimes touching, and do not sound out of place or unnecessary.

I like stop-motion animation. It may be much harder to make one character and background than it is in hand-drawn animation, but I believe it is a perfect connection between the traditional hand-drawn animation and the live-action, and certainly much more physical and real than CGI, of which you cannot do anything other than save on the computer and/or print images. With hand-drawn animation you can still see the sheets of which you've used to make the film.

I was able to watch this film thanks to Jared Davis, who did a home-made DVD rip for me as well as the other animated film. Noting the remastered picture, I would like to get the official DVD soon.

My next blog will be on Universal's hand-drawn / digitally-painted animated musical from 2000.

Till then . . . !

New Podcasts!

Yes, so today saw the premiere of two podcasts. One is very overdue, where Shawn Maldonado and Nathan DeHoff and I discuss illustrations from The Lost Princess of Oz. It was recorded in September, and because a move happened inbetween and I guess I had some other commitments, it didn't get finished until last Friday.

Also finished on Friday is a new podcast that ties in with my recent blogs, it's a reading of "How The Woggle-Bug And His Friends Visted Santa Claus," where I managed to get some other people to record the narration and dialogue, then I spliced it together to sound like a complete reading, also mixing in some Christmas music. (Sadly, my headset has died since the previous podcast, so I had to record my introduction and outro using my old microphone. The difference in audio quality there is noticeable.)

You can click those links to go to the podcast site, or use the player down below:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Baum's Santa Claus, Sam's Take

This is the second time I have read L. Frank Baum's "the Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" book, thanks to Jared, and I too will devote a blog to each of the adaptations done based on this book, only 3 because that is all I have seen. Upon rereading the book this time, I did not read the Introduction and/or Afterword, just the story itself. Aside from "Queen Zixi of Ix; the Story of the Magic Cloak" and "Animal Fairy-Tales", this is the only Non-Oz book by L. Frank Baum I have read.

I like this book; I had only read this once before, back when Jared first sent it to me last year (2008), and reading it a second time the story is (a bit) better than I remember.

I like how the book is divided into the 3-Act structure: Youth (Beginning; Set-Up), Manhood (Middle; Conflict) and Old Age (End;Resolution). And many of the chapters are short too, like a page or so, which makes for faster reading and a quicker passing through the book. I enjoy reading, but not if it's long, slow and uninteresting. I think it may be the lack of detail in describing characters that makes me think this, reminding me of C. S Lewis and his Chronicles of Narnia.

I like how Baum writes this story of Santa Claus as if it's a true magic story of 'Jolly Old Saint Nicholas' and how he came to be, despite not being in the North Pole with Elves for workers and such. This one seems more real and less cartoony than the other.

Aside from a few small scans on the internet, I have not seen the original hardcover book with all the original illustrations, so I'm curious as to how the characters were drawn when Baum first wrote this. The paperback Jared sent me does have illustrations but they are only the ones that begin and end the chapters (the black-and-white ones) as well as the 3-act full-page plates (also in b&w), so I have to rely heavily on my own imagination. I can have an idea from the brief illustrations by John R Neill in "the Road to Oz" and by Eric Shanower for the Christmas Cards in the "Adventures in Oz" deluxe hardcover collection edition, but still it doesn't always help much.
The characters I am particularly interested in are the wicked Awgwas. Like the original Wicked Witch of the West from 1900, Baum does not go into much detail about how the Awgwas look, though the one illustration I have for reference is like that of a cave man's head. The only other illustration of the Awgwas I have seen are by Michael Hague (he too did "Wizard of Oz" one time, during the 80s?) and there he did the Awgwas as ragged creatures with skinny arms and legs with long fingers, pointy ears and noses and toes . . . like imps or "traditional" goblins. How I find the Awgwas depicted in other adaptations I will go into in later blogs.

Despite the lack of illustrations and occasional detail, I still like this book, and will probably like it more in coming years.

I do wish there was another adaptation of this book, this time in Live-Action, again faithfully following the book like the previous films I have seen, but not a musical, except for the one or few songs played during the End Credits inspired by the similar ones from the book. For this adaptation I don't think I know or love the story well enough to be the director, but maybe I would try a bit of concept art, definitely write the story, some parts of the script with a few ideas, some I would definitely like to be used but others with a bit more discussion:
* Instead of Ak recalling how he protects the baby from Shiegra and leaves him in her care, this would be seen in chronological order instead of flashback - in some film-making terms, this would be known as "B, A, C, D Storytelling". Maybe Necile could have her part slightly magnified in this bit.
* The name 'Neclaus' would be used at first for the babe, until years pass and in the outside World the people would misinterpret his name 'Neclaus' as 'Nicholas'.
* Ak would advise Neclaus to hold onto his hand firmly (like Dorothy played by Fairuza Balk and Princess Mombi/Nurse Wilson in "Return to Oz" 80s style) during the guide across the world, and here the wicked acts and influence of the Awgwas would be witnessed and learned. During this guide . . . . a possible glimpse at the Gale farm pre-Cyclone to Oz?
* When the Awgwas have captured Santa Claus while he was on duty, the Immortals learn of this and then make their War against the vile creatures in an attempt to (successfully) rescue their friend, as well as the stolen toys.
* And it would definitely help the film if this movie had some artistic detail, both in the moments described and barely described, like patterns on clothing, material, etc.

That's as far as I can talk about the book, having just finished reading it after 3 or 4 days, so I will see the two cartoon adaptations - both thanks to Jared Davis in ripping onto DVD and sending to me in the past months - in the coming days before Christmas Day to make my Blogs on them.

Tell then . . . !

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.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Kids, Meet Santa ClOZ

Often overlooked, the Oz Kids video "Who Stole Santa?" is based on "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus." In the United States, the series was only released to VHS tapes, while in some other countries, it was aired on television.

The story opens with the Oz Kids looking forward to Christmas, Neddie (Dorothy's son) asking to hear the story of Santa. Dorothy tells her children and her friends an abbreviated version of Santa Claus' life story from Baum's book, omitting the Awgwas, Shiegra, Claus' helpers, and Ak plays a smaller role in Claus' life. Queen Zurline grants Claus immortality.

As the kids head to bed, over in the Laughing Valley, Santa's helpers discover he has been kidnapped by the Awgwas, beings who want people to be miserable because they are. Sneaking into the Awgwa's ice cave, Boris (the Cowardly Lion's son) is the first to find Santa Claus, and the other kids manage to rescue them from the Awgwa's mountain. Outrunning and outwitting the Awgwas, the kids find themselves and Santa being chased on an ice floe, stranding the Awgwas on the ice. Santa Claus and the kids offer the Awgwas rescue, but when they turn against them, the Awgwas are sent over the falls.

Santa Claus later appears in the Oz Kids video "Christmas in Oz," where he arrives in a big bubble, a reference to his departure in "The Road To Oz."

Overall, I'm just going to say the Oz Kids videos are entertaining and should enjoy a second life on DVD or streaming video.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Japanese Claus?

There was also another adaptation of Baum's story of Santa Claus, this time, it was expanded into an anime television series in Japan. Called Shounen Santa no daibôken it aired in 1994.

While I'd love to go over this adaptation and see how it was derived from the book, the sad thing is it was never released to home video, and Oz fans and Baum enthusiasts have yet to find anyone who may have recorded it to video cassette.

A bit of hope to finally see this series arose this year when someone uploaded the opening and closing credits to YouTube:

A new CG-animated adaptation is expected in 2010. We'll see how that one turns out.

Santa Claus Y2K

The year 2000 brought another adaptation of Baum's Santa Claus mythos. This time, it was fully animated with traditional animation, and released direct-to-video, though Cartoon Network showed it on television for a few years.

The movie is narrated by Ak, who introduces the Forest of Burzee, the Immortal people (ryls, knooks, wood nymphs), and then we go to the celebration of Spring in Burzee, where Necile presents Ak with the first nectar. Ak's tasting predicts that the year will be very significant, and there will be a new source of joy.

That night, Ak tells the wood nymphs of the sufferings of humanity, and tells them of how he found a baby outside of Burzee. Realizing it had a strange life force, he left it in the keeping of Shiegra the lioness, and ordered that the baby should not be harmed. Necile takes interest and goes to see the baby. Taking it with her, Shiegra warns Necile that she should not try to hide the baby from Ak and tell him. While Ak seems to be upset that one of his laws was broken, he allows Necile to keep the baby.

As Necile and the wood nymphs care for the baby, they are joined by the pixie Wisk, who has just escaped from some Awgawas. (No, not a typo, there's an extra "a" here.) Noticing the baby, he asks of the name. At first, the baby is named Claus, then Neciloclaus, but Wisk, finding that hard to pronounce, suggests the name Nicholas. (This is based on a footnote in the book that explains that Claus' longer name Neclaus was often mistaken as Nicholas.)

As Nicholas grows up, he realizes he is different from the other residents of Burzee, and finally, Ak takes him on a trip to see humanity, giving him a sash that makes him invisible. Claus feels compassion for the children, and decides he will move out of Burzee so he can help humanity. His visits to befriend children are successful in making them happy.

When winter comes, Nicholas cannot make his visits. He hears a cry for help, and finds Ethan, a crippled boy he befriended, who wanted to bring him a "leaning stick," or a crutch. As Ethan recovers from the cold, Wisk notices a piece of firewood that bears a resemblance to the cat Blinkie, so Nicholas carves it into a wooden cat as a return gift for Ethan. Noticing how much Ethan likes it, Nicholas makes more wooden cats to give to children. Soon, Nicholas' range of toys expand to wooden animals, dolls based on Necile, and more. (However, an incident where a carved image of the late Shiegra scares children teaches him to only make toys of gentle animals.) When a rich girl named Natalie visits, Necile advises Nicholas that even rich children need happiness.

The happiness Nicholas brings angers the Awgawas, so they try to kidnap him and send him to a far-off jungle, but the Ryls there are able to send him home. Nicholas, in his older age, cannot travel during winter, and borrows reindeer from the Knooks and uses them to make deliveries by night. But when he returns late, he is forced to travel by foot again, but he is attacked by Awgawas who steal his toys. When an adult Natalie visits, she is attacked by Awgawas who scare her horse and almost injures her. She gives Nicholas her first toy, asking him to pass it on to another needy child.

Touched by Natalie's goodwill and angered by the attack of the Awgawas, Nicholas goes to Ak and tells him that he needs the reindeer to make deliveries. Will Knook agrees that Nicholas can use the reindeer one night a year, and Ak suggests Christmas Eve as the night. While Nicholas and Wisk go to make more toys, Ak and the Ryls and Knooks prepare to fight the Awgawas. Using their magic powers, they defeat the Awgawas and their allies, and then the wood-nymphs look for the stolen toys. They find them and bring them to Nicholas, so he can make his first Christmas Eve deliveries.

However, Nicholas grows even older, and Wisk is concerned about how much longer he will live. Going to talk with Necile, he sees the Angel of Death coming for Nicholas. However, it seems Ak foresaw Wisk's request and has the Immortals gather and they vote to make Nicholas immortal. Ak and Necile give the Mantle of Immortality to Nicholas just as the Angel of Death is about to take him. (Seemingly, this also affects Blinkie.) Feeling reinvigorated, Nicholas gets back to making toys and continues his work as usual.

This version has recieved a lot of flack since it debuted. Some compare it unfavorably with the Rankin-Bass version, though the obscurity of that adaptation seems to make it unlikely that it was in the minds of the creators of this one. Others tend to point out where it strayed from the book, especially changing Claus to Nicholas, and adding an extra "a" to the Awgwas. To be sure, there are some rather thematic changes from the book. There, Claus knows that the Immortals would prefer that mortals do not know of them, but Nicholas tells children of them quite freely. In the Rankin-Bass adaptation, Claus is aware that Ak is fighting the Awgwas, while in the book, Baum notes that he was making toys at the time, but is told the Awgwas perished. Here, Necile tells Ak that Nicholas shouldn't know, and Ak says it is best that he doesn't know of the Immortal's powers, though it is odd that he wouldn't know, since he grew up with them. Nicholas just assumes that Ak and Necile reasoned with the Awgawas. Also, many names are changed from the book: Ethan was originally Weekum, Flossie and Glossie the reindeer are now Mistletoe and Holly. In both the book and the Rankin-Bass adaptation, Claus is aware of the Mantle of Immortality, while here, Nicholas has no idea why he is living on, and he doesn't seem to care.

Like the Rankin-Bass adaptation, Nicholas has an immortal helper. Rankin-Bass created the sound imp Tingler and also made Shiegra immortal, in this, he has Wisk, who is one of Claus' helpers from the end of the book. (Neither includes all three helpers.) Also, this version has songs, but much less than Rankin-Bass' adaptation. Necile sings "In The World To Come" over a montage of Nicholas growing from baby to young man, and there is another song sequence, "Building A House," as the ryls, knooks, and wood nymphs build a house for Nicholas. Finally, Santa Claus sings a song called "Santa's First Annual Christmas Sleigh Ride" as he makes his first annual Christmas ... well, that sums it up. Most of the music is very Celtic-inspired, and works very well.

I've always been one to be open to multiple adaptations, and as we've seen, changing story elements for an adaptation isn't exactly a bad thing. (Remember Ploog's graphic novel.) I enjoy this adaptation, despite its changes.

Sadly, the movie is no longer available new. It was never released on DVD, and seeing as it was only a couple years after that format began to pick up, I thought it was surprising that a DVD was not simulataneously released with the VHS. It is not aired on television, so only video captures that people have shared online remain the only way outside of VHS for people to see this excellent adaptation of Baum's tale.

EDIT: 12/2011 - It is now on DVD!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ora E Sempre...

Born in our present state
Never were babies we
Live where no mortal has lived
With a nobility
Yet none humanity
We have no children or kin
Ora e sempre
Today and Forever
For ages and ages to come
'Till the last trumpet sounds
To the first cracking of Doom!

I can see the scene now. It's 1985, and the family's sitting down to watch the new Rankin-Bass special The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus. It's the folks who gave us Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Little Drummer Boy, and it's based on a story by the author of The Wizard of Oz? Well, there was that Return to Oz movie earlier this year, but this is about Santa Claus, so of course it's going to be sweet.

The special starts and we see Santa flying across the sky, singing about bringing toys to children, then we see the title and hear a voice say "In all this world, there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child." Then, we go to the Forest of Burzee, an age ago? And there's this little guy running around announcing the arrival of the Immortals? Isn't this about Santa Claus? Who's this guy with antlers on his head? And why is he saying that tonight will be Santa Claus' last sleigh ride?

Yeah, I'll bet a lot of families were confused.

So, the story begins with Ak calling the Immortals to decide if they will give Claus the Mantle of Immortality. To lay out his request, he tells them of the life of Claus, how he had found Claus as a baby outside of Burzee, how Necile decided to adopt Claus, how he had exposed Claus to humanity, and how Claus decided to help humanity and moved to the Laughing Valley of Hohaho (where it is always winter in this version). He goes on to tell how Claus invented toys and befriended children, how the Awgwas tried to stop Claus before Ak intervened and destroyed them, and of Claus' journeys with the reindeer.

So, the story does stay very close to the book, with some changes. Tingler (a sound imp and a new character) and Shiegra accompany Claus to Laughing Valley, and Shiegra does not die. The Christmas Tree is not Baum's symbol of charity, but a memorial to Claus.

In addition, there are songs, including the song of the Immortals (typed above), the catchy "Big Surprise" sung by children at seeing the first toy cat, "A Child" sung by Necile upon seeing Claus, "Babe in the Woods" sung by the Wood Nymphs as Claus grows from baby to young man, and songs by Santa Claus which are directly from the book.

The stop-motion animation is perfect. Of course, it is Rankin-Bass, so we do have characters with oversized heads, but it's charming in its own way. The voice acting is excellent as well, and all the voices fit their characters well, when the target audience is considered.

This is worth checking out, however, it is only aired during a low-viewing period on ABC Family and edited down to half an hour. It was available on VHS, but went out of print before that format died. I managed to get a copy and do a VHS to DV transfer, but I was delighted to discover it has finally been officially released to DVD. (Click here to buy it!)

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.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Snow's Magic Sled

Just the year before he died, Jack Snow published a Christmas story in a magazine called "Inside AHS." Snow is mainly remembered for his two Oz novels The Magical Mimics in Oz and The Shaggy Man of Oz, as well as Who's Who In Oz. It is rumored that he had a third Oz story in the works. However, he wrote a wide variety of tales, some rather horrific and disturbing, and some very whimsical.

Such a tale is The Magic Sled, originally published in Inside AHS, it was most recently made available in Oz-Story #5 in 1999 with illustrations by Eric Shanower.

In the story, a little boy named Bobby gets a sled for his birthday, which happens to fall on Christmas Eve. That night, he is visited by Santa Claus, who tells him that the sled is magical, being made with wood from a tree in the Forest of Burzee. Santa Claus must take the sled back, but he gives Bobby a ride on it. Tying it to the back of the sleigh, Bobby flies through the sky with Santa Claus. Finally, he must return home, so Santa Claus cuts the cord, promising that Bobby will find a replacement sled just like the magic one. Bobby lands and awakens in his bed on a snowy Christmas morning.

The story has to be one of the most beautifully done stories I've ever read, and even better, it seems to tie in with Baum's Santa Claus mythos. Or does it? While Santa Claus mentions the Forest of Burzee, he has eight reindeer, while in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, he has ten. In addition, Snow names six of the eight reindeer: Dancer, Prancer, Donner, Blitzen, Comet, and Vixen, names from The Night Before Christmas. Perhaps the other two are Flossie and Glossie, or Dasher and Cupid. We could guess that Santa has had to change out deer since he started making his annual Christmas deliveries, but that doesn't explain why he decided he needed two less reindeer.

Another idea is that it is very possible that Bobby's journey is just a dream he had. He goes to sleep, then awakes when he sees Santa Claus, and when he leaves the sleigh, he ends up in his bed. This makes me think it is a dream, and thus may explain why some of the details about the Santa Claus mythos (either from Moore or Baum) are a little mixed. Story-wise, that is. I believe I read that Snow had to sell off a lot of his Oz and Baum collection, so I wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't read Baum's Santa Claus tale in awhile.

All the same, I think this story has been largely overlooked and should be a true Christmas classic, just like it deserves to be.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Thompson's Claus

In 1926, Ruth Plumly Thompson published The Curious Cruise of Captain Santa. About half the size of one of her Oz books, it was illustrated by the wonderful John R. Neill.

Whether or not Thompson was aware of Baum's The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus is no issue, as Thompson did not tie her take on Santa Claus to Oz at all. Santa lives at the North Pole, with a boy he took in named Jimmy Christmas, a penguin named Penny (never mind that penguins live in the South Pole), the brownies who make the toys, and they have a friend at Snowshoe Mountain, Huggerumbo, a polar bear.

Santa builds a ship called the Chimneypot and with Hugger, Jim, and Penny, sets sail to tropical islands to find new Christmas presents, and they even go beyond the sunset, where there are live toys.

And honestly, that's the plot.

I just want to say that I don't feel this book should be counted in the same continuity as the Oz books. Thompson doesn't mention Oz, and her Santa is very different from Baum's Claus. Thompson's Santa is lively, spontaneous, and a little light-headed. Baum's Claus is wise, solemn, and quiet. While both Santa and Claus are fun to read about and both are excellent characters, I think Baum's Claus is the Santa Claus for Oz, as Baum, who created Oz, directly tied his version with Oz. Thompson never did, although John R. Neill had a barrel-bird (who help Santa load the Chimneypot) appear in Lucky Bucky in Oz. Whether barrel-birds also exist in Oz or somehow it crossed over is for individual readers to decide.

But all the same, I did enjoy Thompson's book, and can suggest that Oz fans would enjoy it. It's available in an inexpensive paperback from the International Wizard of Oz Club.

Next time, Jack Snow's short Santa story.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Kidnapped Santa Claus

1904 brought two short stories by L. Frank Baum that featured the return of his take on Santa Claus. Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz featured a story in which the visitors make toys of themselves and bring them to the Laughing Valley, but we'll get into that one later...

The other story was printed in The Delineator, and is much more commonly known, printed in many anthologies of short Christmas stories. The edition I've been reading it in the past three years is the International Wizard of Oz Club's The Collected Short Stories of L. Frank Baum. (It's also been included in The Complete Life & Adventures of Santa Claus, containing that book and this story, but I don't own that.)

The story tells how Claus' deliveries of toys greatly reduces the success of the Daemons of the Caves. Their Caves are purely metaphorical, and it's easy to see what each Daemon and their Cave represents by the name. There is the Daemon of Selfishness, the Daemon of Envy, the Daemon of Hatred, the Daemon of Malice, and the Daemon of Repentance. Simply, they make children do bad deeds by leading them through their caves. But at the end, they can repent and make good for the misdeed.

The Daemons try to get Claus to give into them, but he remains steadfast and true to the end. So, they try a different approach and kidnap him as he goes out on his Christmas Eve deliveries. Kilter, Nuter, and Wisk, Claus' assistants, finish the deliveries without him, with minimal errors that are later corrected.

Meanwhile, the Daemons take delight in their mischief, and they put Santa in the Cave of Repentance, while the others go to their Caves to await children. Claus and the Daemon of Repentance talk for a bit, the discussion quickly leading to the Daemon letting Claus escape, as he has done no wrong, and the mischief the Daemons did is done, so there is no point in keeping Claus there, and the Daemon of Repentance has himself repented of his part of the misdeed.

As Claus walks home, he comes across an army consisting of his assistants and his friends from the Forest of Burzee, ready to fight the Daemons, but he tells them to let the Daemons be.
"It is useless to pursue the Daemons," said Santa Claus to the army. "They have their place in the world, and can never be destroyed. But that is a great pity, nevertheless," he continued musingly.
And we are assured that the Daemons learned not to attempt to dissuade Santa again.

While this is a fun, easy reading story, it feels more like it's already been told. The Awgwas in The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus kidnapped Claus twice and both times, he was rescued. An army of Immortals did get involved in removing the threat from Claus' life.

All the same, it's interesting that Baum kept revisiting Santa Claus, and revealed that even after he was made an Immortal, he still had trouble.

Now, next time, we'll begin looking at some stories about Santa Claus that were not by L. Frank Baum.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Santa Claus 2009

L. Frank Baum's The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus. If you're into Baum's interconnected fantasy world that centered on Oz, this book is always a treat. As usual, I've re-read around Christmastime, but unusually this year, I re-read it again afterward.

Here, the author of the Oz books drops his usual storytelling and creates a myth for Santa Claus, and by connecting it to Oz later, reveals the hierarchy of Immortal beings who could also exist in Oz.

There be spoilers ahead!

The book opens by introducing the Forest of Burzee, which Baum would use in later novels and short stories. (And by association, all of these would be connected to Oz.) Maps of Oz show it to be just across the Deadly Desert from the Quadling Country, so perhaps Glinda is familiar with some of the Immortals there?

Now, we begin meeting the Immortals: we have the nymphs, who care for trees, Ryls, who care for plants, especially flowers, then the Knooks who care for animals.

We focus on one nymph in particular: Necile. Having the responsibility of caring for certain trees in Burzee has grown tiresome for her, as her trees are now strong and need little protection. Now that she has little to do, Necile begins to long for something new to do.

The Great Ak, Master Woodsman of the World, visits Burzee for Budding Day and tells the nymphs about the lives of humans. He tells them how neglected children are and mentions he had found a baby just outside of Burzee. Leaving it with Shiegra the lioness, he commanded that no animal harm it.

Necile is fascinated by the story and goes to see the baby. She feels compassion for it and brings it back to Burzee with her. Ak eventually decides to let Necile care for the baby, who she names Claus, meaning "Little One."

Baum created with Ak and Necile and the Nymph Queen Zurline (not to be confused with Lurline) almost like gods from mythology, except now, they actually have compassion for mankind. Instead of interfering and causing pain for mankind, they help when they choose to (Ak tells about how he started a small bonfire to keep some freezing children warm until their parents returned home).

Claus' life in Burzee is related briefly, until he gets to be a responsible age. Then Ak takes him on a journey around the world so he can see his own kind first hand. Claus feels compassion for children and mankind in general, and the deepest conversation in all of Baum's fantasies ensues:
"Then why, if man must perish, is he born?" demanded the boy.

"Everything perishes except the world itself and its keepers," answered Ak. "But while life lasts everything on earth has its use. The wise seek ways to be helpful to the world, for the helpful ones are sure to live again."
After this journey, Claus determines to bring happiness to children. All the Immortals pledge their aid to him, and Ak guides him to the Laughing Valley, where he decides to make his home. However, being a friend of the Immortals has its benefits, for while Claus sleeps, they build him a home from logs he collected, and bring him food when he needs it so he can focus on what he has determined to do.

Claus visits nearby towns and plays with children. The joy he brings to children brings joy to their parents.

However, winter prevents Claus from making more visits, so he spends it at home with his cat, Blinkie. To pass the time, Claus begins whittling at a piece of wood and it ends up turning into an image of Blinkie.

Shortly afterward, Claus hears a cry for help outside, and finds a young boy in the snow. He brings him home and nurses him back to health. The boy, Weekum, wants to play with Blinkie, but Blinkie isn't a playful cat. So Claus lets him play with the wooden cat, and then lets him keep it. Seeing how much Weekum liked the cat, Claus decides to make more for children everywhere. The Ryls, when they visit, decide to give Claus paint to color the wooden cats with.

The toy cats become popular with the children, and Claus makes more. Shiegra the lioness visits in her old age (a reminder that Baum drops that mortal beings do grow old and die), and Claus carves a special image of her, looking fierce and proud. When he tries to give this to two children, they are scared and run, so he resolves only to make toys of friendly animals. Later, when a rich lord's daughter visits him, he realizes that even children in rich families were no happier than the poor, so he makes a doll of clay based on Necile for her. This gives Claus more toys to make, and the children become happier.

By protecting and aiding Claus, the Immortals have made him almost one of them. It is now Claus who will visibly assist mankind.

Now, Baum gives us the antagonists, which he states he wishes he could overlook. The Awgwas, cruel beings that are not immortal, and cannot be seen by humans, but they can influence them to do wrong. Claus' work with the children breaks their hold over them, and the Awgwas are not happy at all.

The Awgwas start interfering with Claus, and send him to a distant country. However, using the secret words of the Ryls, he is transported back home. He is kidnapped again and hidden in the mountains of the Awgwas (which are not depicted on any map, but I'd imagine them being a bit south of the Laughing Valley, near the shore; I later thought that maybe now certain Jackdaws make their home there), but again the fairies rescue him. So, they attack Claus when he attempts to visit children and steal the toys. Finally, Claus stays at home and makes toys and fills his shelves with them, but when the shelves are full, Claus becomes sad and visits Ak.

Ak tells the Awgwas to leave Claus alone, but they refuse, so Ak declares war. The Nymphs, Ryls, Knooks, and Fairies join Ak against the Awgwas, the Three-Eyed Giants of Tatary, Asiatic Dragons, Black Demons, and Goozzle-Goblins. Despite Ak's army being outnumbered, they win, because it is a law that the powers of Evil cannot withstand Good. Thus, Ak is happy to assure Claus (and likewise, Baum his readers) that Awgwas are dead and are no longer to be feared.

Once again, Claus is unable to visit children during winter, but when he notices how easily Flossie and Glossie the deer can walk over frozen snow, he sends them to ask Will Knook for permission to draw a sledge so they might carry Claus to homes of children. Peter agrees, only if the delivery is made at night and the deer return to the forest by day. On his journey, Claus finds doors locked, so he uses chimneys to enter.

When people find the toys, they call Claus a saint, which is how "Santa" became prefixed to his name. (Santa Claus, by Baum, means "Saint of Little One.") Will Knook, however, notices that his deer were exactly one minute late in returning, so Claus begs Ak that the deer not be punished. The Nymphs, Ryls, and Fairies offer gifts to any deer that will assist Claus if Will and the King of the Knooks will allow the deer to continue to assist Claus. They agree, on condition that Claus makes one annual trip, and they set it on Christmas Eve.

Claus attempts to make more toys in time for Christmas Eve, but cannot make many, but fortunately, the Fairies find the toys the Awgwas stole and bring them to Claus so he can distribute them.

In building his new sledge, Claus trades with the Gnome King (whether or not he is the same Nome King of Ozma of Oz is a matter of debate) for runners and strings of bells for the deer. The Fairies get candies and fruits to fill stockings with and to decorate Christmas trees with (both traditions get set up in the story).

And here, Baum did his first crossover. The Fairies bring the candy from Phunnyland, which Baum later re-wrote into the Valley of Mo. (Or maybe, in the terms of the fictional world, they changed their name.) When Oz became linked with Baum's version of Santa Claus (in Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz and The Road to Oz), so did Mo. (So was Queen Zixi of Ix.)

Claus continues his work for many years, until he ages and tires, and one day, he goes to lie down, and the Immortals realize he is about to die. Quickly calling all the Immortals, Ak proposes that Claus be given the Mantle of Immortality, which will make him Immortal. After a short conversation, all the Immortals agree, and they use the Mantle to drive the Spirit of Death away from him forever.

As Claus lives on, the world changes, and he finds chimneys have changed. Confused by stove chimneys, he brings along his three Immortal assistants, Kilter, Nuter, and Wisk, who'd been helping him make toys. They help him get into the homes of everyone, and soon, Santa must deputize every parent to help him.
So, to lighten his task, which was fast becoming very difficult indeed, old Santa decided to ask the parents to assist him.

"Get your Christmas trees all ready for my coming," he said to them; "and then I shall be able to leave the presents without loss of time, and you can put them on the trees when I am gone."

And to others he said: "See that the children's stockings are hung up in readiness for my coming, and then I can fill them as quick as a wink."

And often, when parents were kind and good-natured, Santa Claus would simply fling down his package of gifts and leave the fathers and mothers to fill the stockings after he had darted away in his sledge.

"I will make all loving parents my deputies!" cried the jolly old fellow, "and they shall help me do my work. For in this way I shall save many precious minutes and few children need be neglected for lack of time to visit them."
There are increasingly more children, but Santa doesn't mind as long as he has help.
"In all this world there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child," says good old Santa Claus...

Some critics have pointed out that for the titular character, Claus doesn't do much. Admittedly, this is true. It is the life of someone who took on a mighty task and how he accomplished it, and who assisted him. Rather than write thrilling adventures for Santa, Baum chose instead to build a mythology around the character and the symbols connected with him. Baum's pseudonymous work shows he was capable of thrilling adventures, but he decided to go for a quieter tale that felt magical.

And in the end, it works. Aside from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz, it is probably the most often-adapted book by Baum. There's been a television special, an anime television series, two animated movies on video, a graphic novel, and even this year an abridgement with new illustrations.

Baum made Santa Claus his own character, a kind man who took delight in pleasing children, a description that best fits this wonderful character, and the man who wrote the biography.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Calendar Contest WINNER!!!

I'm pleased to announce that Miss Amber Ruth is the winner of the calendar giveaway contest! Congratulations, Amber, and I hope you enjoy the calendar throughout 2010!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hey, guys...

Yeah, the move went well, but sadly, I've found little time to devote to my Oz projects. (That latest podcast I need to finish editing keeps looming at me... My guests on it have been very gracious...) I couldn't switch jobs, so my time to get to work and back greatly increased. (Two and a half times?) That might change soon, though.

Anyways, I do look around on the IMDb message board for the MGM movie, and one poster asked what the message of the movie was. Here was my reply:

The book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written simply to entertain children ("Modern education provides morality," noted Baum in the introduction, "therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales..."). There are many, many messages people have read into it, many of which work. Some people want to see LGBT messages, some anti-religious, some Theosophist, and some take the story at face value. My thought is Baum was more interested in telling a story than making a takeaway message. No one ever reads so deeply into his other books, though...

The movie definitely did stress the "There's no place like home" message (a concept only touched on in the book rather early on), but I think it shares the book's "multiple messages" trait.

Contest winner to be announced tomorrow... But there's still time to enter!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What I've decided...

SO... here's the Christmas lineup. While I'll do another blog about The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus, I'm also going to do one about A Kidnapped Santa Claus. We'll also look into adaptations of the story as well as other Santa Claus stories by the other authors of the Famous Forty Oz books.

Sam has said he might throw some blogs in, as he's read the book, and I invited him to offer his opinions on the adaptations he's seen.

If anyone out there has a copy of the anime Shounen Santa no daibôken (The Adventures of Young Santa Claus), PLEASE let me know!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Too early?

SO... yesterday, I started re-reading The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. I finished it today, and also read A Kidnapped Santa Claus. Now I'm re-reading Mike Ploog's graphic novel adaptation.

Is it too early to start blogging about it?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wizard of Oz Calendar Contest!

With the closing of the 70th Anniversary of MGM's "The Wizard of Oz," merchandise is still selling very well, and one may wonder about the next wall calendar to celebrate the classic film.

How do you make a calendar based on an iconic film that has probably had the best shots used on calendars years past?

The challenge has fallen to the capable hands of Andrews McMeel Publishing. Instead of using frames from the movie, they've instead used publicity images and photography from the film to create an eye-pleasing image for each month of the year. Each piece of art resembles a vintage poster but with a modern feel to it, which really feels Ozzy!

You can buy the poster from this link, or you can try your luck (and knowledge of Oz movies) to win one for free! Yep! I'm glad to actually sponsor a giveaway contest.

Contest will end when winner is selected or on November 28, 2009, whichever happens first. (There will be a notification of the winner on the blog.)
Answers posted in the comments will be deleted and not counted as an entry, even if they are correct.
Send your answers to the following questions to with the subject line "CONTEST ANSWERS."
Do NOT send your mailing address unless I request it. Only the winner's mailing address will be requested.
For safety reasons, if the winner is under 18 years of age, the mailing address must be supplied by a parent or legal guardian.
Mailing address must be a location where a large envelope can be delivered. If it is returned, there will be no re-ship.
The winner will be the third person who answers all six questions correctly.
Because the calendar shows only American and Canadian holidays, I'd prefer to limit the entrants to North America. However, if you'd still like the calendar for the artwork, go ahead and give it a shot!

  • True or False: MGM bought only the rights to the book "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" when they were making their movie.
  • Which three MGM cast members later played Oz characters in other productions? (Hint: One was a parody.)
  • What was the first Oz Blu-Ray release?
  • Aside from the MGM movie, what Oz movie was released on a DVD with an audio commentary track?
  • In Disney's "Return to Oz," which Oz book was referenced for more on one of the characters?
  • The 1964 animated "Return to Oz" follows which Oz book?

The Oz Anime Series ONLINE!!!

While the film industry at first feared the rise of video hosting sites, they've eventually warmed up to the idea and seen that they can be useful. Hulu, for example, streams licensed content, so you can catch up on your favorite television shows if you've missed them recently. YouTube now streams licensed movies and television shows. And across the pond in the UK, viewers can see their favorites on the BBC iPlayer.

Jaroo, a website that streams animated content, has apparently licensed the PanMedia anime series based on L. Frank Baum's Oz series. I blogged about the series sometime back when I'd been able to see the entire English series. After that, some people asked me to upload it to a file sharing site or send them copies, but now I'm glad I didn't give in, because now they can see the series legally and free of charge.

The series is uploaded at one episode a week, so it should take a year before the entire series is on the site. The site currently has the first several episodes of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" serial, as well as the *cough*terrible*cough* 90-minute abridgement of it.

Oz fans are already asking, "Can an official DVD release be far behind?" The answer still hangs at "maybe." If the series on Jaroo gets enough views, they may consider it. The reason why Cookie Jar (the owners of the English series) didn't release it before is that they didn't feel there was enough of a demand for it. But at least now they have finally released a way for you to see it. Go look!

Some Advice for Self-Publishing Writers: A Reader's View

Self-publishing has always been a way for Oz fans to share their Oz stories. With the rise of the internet and print-on-demand sites such as Lulu, the possibilities for Oz fans to share their stories grew exponentially.

Sadly, this has proved to be a mixed blessing. While you may have Oz fans publishing their stories to share them with the world (or reprint some books), you have other Oz fans who want to set themselves up as "published authors" by using such services.

Let me set something straight: it is not an accomplishment to put a book on Lulu. In fact, major publishers will ignore your work unless you have sold very well. (And don't even think that Hollywood would like to make a movie based on your book.)

Also, I really think that the producer of the work should not be so quick to label themselves as an author. An author produces quality work, and really, a writer should not be trusted to decide if their own work is quality.

Anyone who is writing any book would benefit from bringing in an editor who can critique the work and offer corrections. And the editor's advice should definitely be heeded. A good editor is worth their weight in gold. (Sadly, they often get a lot less.) Just about every professional author still has an editor aboard, and many writers have re-written stories from scratch at the editor's suggestion, realizing that their editor was definitely right and a better story was told because of it.

When it comes to Oz stories, I have one word: research. Stay well-read in Baum and any other books you might be deriving elements from. (Make sure to respect copyright laws!) And even if your book is not intended to work with the entire Famous Forty, there is usually no need to contradict any post-Baum books. (Get a copy of "Who's Who In Oz" for some quick reference.) You might even find it helpful to read up on the lives of the authors of those books, seeing what shaped their stories.

Be very careful when you make claims about continuity. One book I recently read claimed to be in line with Baum but contradicted several points. If the writer had said he was writing a new continuity, then there would have been no problem. If you're keeping in line with Baum, there should be no need to specify that you are.

About these differing continuities: handle them well. Think "will this be a take on Oz that could interest and not offend Oz fans?" "Is this too different from Baum's Oz?" I actually have a bit of advice. If you're going to make an Oz that feels nothing like Baum's Oz, why not make your own world instead of Oz and give yourself even more freedom? (Many fantasy and science fiction writers were clearly inspired by previous authors, including Baum, and some admit it..)

Also with differing continuities: be original with your plot. No one wants a retelling of a good book that already exists in a viable form. A certain book published a couple years ago claimed to be an original sequel to "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," ignoring all other sequels, and even said the reader would need to empty their mind of any other follow-ups to enjoy this book, while the book itself was a glorified re-write of "The Marvelous Land of Oz."

Another thing that irks me is the surprising number of people who want their book made into a movie. When it comes to Oz, not even all of Baum's books have been made into successful movies. (I even noted some time back that there has not been a theatrically-released Oz movie that was a financial success upon the initial release.) And why does the writer want a movie before they've made the effort to make braille and audio editions for the blind? And how about translating it into another language? If the work is so good that it could be a film, why not make the effort to put the work out there as much as possible?

In the end, being an author, even a self-published one, is going to take a lot more work than churning out a story and putting it on a print-on-demand service. You have a responsibility to your readers that should not be taken lightly.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Hey, all

Some of you may have noticed something shocking: I haven't been online much recently! Yep, no posts on Twitter (save a few yesterday), no posts on the International Wizard of Oz Club Forums, and no e-mails.

The reason? No, I haven't sworn off the internet or Oz, the fact is, I just moved in with my sister and her husband (who shall henceforth be called Audrey and Shaun). They do have internet access, but only one modem. We're going to get a router next weekend, so we can split the connection between their computer, my computer, and the Wii (Ah-ha! You knew there was definitely some temptation there...), so until then, I'm limiting my time online to an extreme minimum to be respectful to my new housemates.

No worries, my computer is hooked up and on, so I can still work on Oz projects on it. There's also a few blogs I need to post that I can type up, so there'll be a few ready to post then.

Also, when I signed in to write this, I saw Sam has posted his first blog here. Hopefully he can help keep this blog from going completely dead until then...

See you all next week!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

My (Sam's) First Oz Blog on Jared's Royal Blog of Oz

Even though I have been granted co-authorship of posting blogs here by Jared, I still firmly believe this is his property . . . I am merely a guest. Who rarely blogs, if at all.

Plus this way I actually get to see something new on Jared's Royal Oz Blog, while i wait for him . . .

I had been asked "Why not talk about 'Sam's Take on "Wicked"?' and that is reasonable, having read the book . . . but I should make my first Oz Blog on a book from a subject I don't like? Not yet!

So something better . . . Today I went into the city to see Terry Gilliam's "the Imaginorium of Dr Parnassus" (the final film with Heath Ledger). The session was at 12:30 so I had plenty of time before the screening. Bought Brunch (you know: breakfast AND lunch in one), looked around the Queen Victoria Building (what a Christmas tree they put up!! One couple kindly asked me to take a photo of them near the top of the tree - which I did) and did a bit of $pending.
Went into JB-Hifi to see if I could get myself one or two clear double-disk DVD cases - none there! INSTEAD, I found, surprisingly . . . all three 70th Anniversary Editions of MGM's the Wizard of Oz: the 2-dsk DVD (only HERE in Aus it is labelled "sing along version" and the cover is extra decorated with the music symbols), the 4-disk DVD and the Blu-Ray. Looking on both back covers of the larger sets, they did/do have the 52-page commemorative book, but the Blu-Ray also has a CD of the movie/soundtrack . . . . I already have the songs on the 2-dsk Deluxe soundtrack (which my best friend Angelo Scandura got me)

Still deciding and waiting to get the DVD and Blu-Ray of WB's possession of MGM's adaptation of Wizard/Oz.

Hope you all liked my first Oz Blog . . . it was longer than I thought.

Oh and terry Gilliam's movie? It was good, some people around me laughed at some parts of the movie, quite stylish at times (I often wish Oz would be given detailed fashion and style in a faithful presentation, but not too overwhelming to the story) sometimes it brought to mind Alice/Looking Glass . . . IN FACT, the Disney Trailer for Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" finally showed itself on Australian Cinema screens; only this time instead of Johnny Depp/Mad Hatter laughing, came this:
ALICE (audio): That's impossible . . . !
MAD HATTER (shows face): Only if you believe it so.

White Rabbit goes on to point/tap his watch as normal.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A lovely Oz poster!

I don't normally post links to merchandise, but I got a link to this poster e-mailed to me today:

This poster was created for the Winkie Convention this year, used for the back cover of the convention book. (I remember looking at it and wondering where it came from.)

If you're interested, here is a link to where you can buy one directly from the artist, Jed Alexander. It's $14 USD, plus shipping. I'd buy one now if I wasn't moving.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bits of Oz

Sorry for not blogging in awhile. Haven't had many Ozzy topics on my mind recently.

Something that may be of interest to some readers is that I'm moving in with Audrey and Shaun, my sister and her husband, so we can help each other out. It'll be beneficial to us all. It might even loosen up finances enough for me to finally make it to an Oz convention next year!

I read an Oz book I bought, The Ork in Oz. A pretty fun story, a few faults (including that the author overlooked the Ork's name in The Scarecrow of Oz and gave him a new name, though the name Baum gave the Ork is pretty easy to miss...), illustrations not exactly to my liking, but overall, a good book.

I've also been working on the next podcast and the Oz book I'm writing. I got the plot figured out, and written the first two chapters' first draft. Don't expect me to put the book here, though, as I think it might be a fun story to read in book form. (There will be a free PDF, though.)

I've also been messing about with OpenOffice, free software that includes a word processing program, and been using it to design books to give to my family at Christmas.

And I've taken a few shots at The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, the English translation of the DS game Riz-Zoawd. Nice music, nice graphics, but I've some problems. Coins are hard to find, and weapons and armor upgrades are kind of pricey. ("Money in Oz? What a strange idea! Do you think we are so vulgar as to use money here?") It's difficult to tell where you're going, where you've been, and although the trackball control is interesting, it gets a bit hard to handle.

My biggest problem are the battle scenes. I've played some turn-based battle games before, but this is the strangest I've seen it. You select which characters will fight, what they will do, and let your round of "turns" go from there. I've had times when a character will go in with a pretty high health bar and will "fall" in battle. The lack of being able to control exactly what you will do on each turn and it being unpredictable how many attacks the enemies will make during the round makes it pretty difficult. You can't make the characters defend themselves when they're being attacked, so the cost is heavy. (You can set a character to a defensive mode, but seeing as that would make them do nothing, you'll either have them attack or you'd use another character.)

Welcome to an Oz where money is there, but rare, and death is common.

Probably the most fun is you get to name your characters. My party consisted of Dorothy, Strashee, Lion, and Nick. (The Lion joins you after the Scarecrow here.)

All that Oz and nothing to say...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A little bonus

Here's a little behind-the-scenes clip from the first podcast. (I'm working on getting the next complete episode finished soon.) Visit the site here, or just use the player below, to hear a giggling American, a distracted Aussie, and a tired yet amused Scot:

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Heavy Oz Crossword #2

Sorry folks. I had to update this one. There was a blank square that was placed in a rather confusing location, and one word had one too many spaces, so I took it out. (It should not affect the rest of the crossword.) If you've already printed your crossword, just mark out those boxes by comparing your printed one with the one that's on here right now.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

My take on MGM

With the 70th anniversary of MGM's The Wizard of Oz winding down, I managed to finally collect my thoughts about it.

MGM's The Wizard of Oz isn't one of my favorite movies, Oz or otherwise, but I do enjoy it. I've read a large percentage of L. Frank Baum's works that I guess my view of Oz is pretty tainted by it... (Which is an odd term, considering that they inspired the MGM movie.)

The MGM movie is a tribute to the themes of Baum's story as much as it is an adaptation. It also pays a large tribute to the popular stage production, in its songs, costumes, and set designs. And it was made suitable for people of the late 1930's, and somehow has managed to entertain and delight audiences to this day.

But it's not my Oz! But that doesn't mean I hate it.

Baum created an entire fantasy world in his works, not just limited to Oz. From bordering countries outside the Deadly Desert to islands to places in the sky to kingdoms under the sea and underground. This world was expansive and opened the doors for many stories, only a few of which I believe he actually got to tell.

Although he made Oz a place where anything could (and did) happen, Baum set rules for his stories that followed logic mixed with nonsense. Somehow, he found the right balance that enchanted readers for 20 years. This is an element I've found missing in many Oz stories after Baum's initial fourteen.

In the MGM film, Baum's amazing world is made into a dream, that, like I mentioned above, owes a lot to stage traditions of musicals and set and costume design. While I can understand the need of this for the film audience of the day, for a well-read Baum enthusiast like yours truly, it's kind of a put-off.

All the same, it is a tribute to Baum's world and how it could be adapted to film, with songs and vibrant color. That's why I don't despise it.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Wizard of Oz - 70th Anniversary Edition DVD Review

All right, let's jump into this...

MGM's The Wizard of Oz has enjoyed a long life in movie theaters, on television, and, through the past 30 years, home video. From VHS to laserdisc to DVD, it's appeared on every home video format. Just last Tuesday, it made it's Blu-Ray debut, continuing its pattern of continuing on into the next home video format.

However, I did not buy the Blu-Ray, as I am not equipped with HD playback hardware. I did, however, get the DVD.

This is the first DVD release to have the film and special features encompass four discs. Most DVD releases use dual-layer (or DVD-9) discs, which can usually present four hours of high-quality video, but usually, most releases restrict it to about three.

Owners of the 2005 3-disc release will be struck with Deja Vu as they pop in the first disc. The menus are the same as that release, the only new special feature being a singalong feature.

The other difference from this and the 2005 disc is that the version of the movie used is different. This is taken from the new high-definition restoration, but as there is only so much DVD can show, the restoration is likely best appreciated on Blu-Ray. Here, the historic feel of the film is restored by retaining the film grain. However, there have been some touch-ups done. Some wires have been removed. (E.g. The wire animating the Cowardly Lion's tail, which I didn't notice until the 2005 release, was visible during "If I Were King Of The Forest" but has now been removed.) Overall, the way the film looks is excellent, but I'm not ready to pitch my copy of the 2005 release yet.

I found it odd that one special feature on Disc 1 was simply repeated: "Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration Of Oz" relates how the film was restored for the 2005 release. As this is a completely new restoration, the retaining of this feature feels odd.

Another odd thing is that while the supporting cast of The Wizard of Oz is profiled in a series of features called We Haven't Really Met Properly, no biographical information about the star, Judy Garland, is presented anywhere on the set. Also retained is an animated storybook adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, narrated by Angela Lansbury and using the original illustrations by W.W. Denslow, the audio commentary, as well as an isolated score and effects track, and the original mono audio track.

The singalong feature, for most viewers and movie collectors, is not of much interest. You can choose to watch the movie with subtitles that change color in time with the songs, or watch clips with the songs and the subtitles running.

Disc 2 is a complete copy of the second disc of the 2005 editions, down to the menus. All of the special features are the same. As this is also the second disc of the special 2-disc release, it offers an array of special features that would make a 2-disc set satisfying. Notable features are The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, Memories of Oz, Because of the Wonderful Things It Does: The Legacy of Oz, deleted scenes (though only one, an extended version of "If I Only Had A Brain," is a true deleted scene), test footage, trailers, and a variety of audio-only features.

Disc 3 offers new material for owners of the 2005 3-disc set. First off is a career profile of director Victor Fleming, the director who received the sole screen credit for The Wizard of Oz. Given that it encompasses his entire career, and not just Oz, I was expecting it to also appear on Gone With The Wind's upcoming release. I've since discovered that it is not listed among the features on that release.

Also new is a 10-minute segment covering the Munchkins receiving their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It's a great tribute to what may sadly be one the diminutive actors' last big events.

Then, there's the movie The Dreamer of Oz from 1990. This has never been released to home video, but the copy Warner Brothers procured for the release was sadly not of the highest quality. There's a flickering scan line effect going on, and the picture almost looks double-exposed, with one exposure slightly off register, and a little faint. It is a watchable release, however.

The Dreamer of Oz follows L. Frank Baum from the time he met Maud Gage to the success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It is told by Maud Gage Baum at the premiere of the 1939 movie to a reporter who recognizes her. (The 1939 scenes are in black and white, while the scenes retelling Baum's life are in color.) However, the movie is a dramatization of someone's life, and as usual, many points are fictionalized. Perhaps I find these more irritating than most viewers would, as I've done a lot of research about Baum and his works, but I tend to take Dreamer only for entertainment value.

The disc is rounded out with three features from 2005's third disc: the 1910 Wonderful Wizard of Oz silent film, Ted Eshbaugh's 1933 Wizard of Oz cartoon, and a documentary about Baum's life that made its debut on the 2005 set.

Disc four is Warner Brother's version of a DVD set that has been released and re-released by many different companies: it presents the four silent features based on the Oz stories.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz was the first film produced by the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, and here, you get a clean transfer. However, the feature has not been scored, and the elegant title screen, missing or marred in other releases, is shown darkly (although it is seen clearly in disc 3's Baum documentary).

The Magic Cloak of Oz is actually an adaptation of Baum's Queen Zixi of Ix, given a bit of an Oz connection in name only. (The book was part of Baum's extended Oz universe, so it's not too much of a stretch.) Warner's release here now offers the longer version that has been previously only been in private collections and screened at Oz conventions. It is longer with more shots, and some humorous scenes. Sadly, it shares Patchwork Girl's problem of no scoring, and the transfer is rather dark, and some intertitles are very hard to read.

The other two features, His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz from 1914, and the 1925 silent fiasco The Wizard of Oz from Larry Semon, are directly ported over from the 2005 sets, with scorings. An improvement over the last set is that chapter breaks are now present for all the silent features.

There is also a digital copy disc with a standard definition copy of the MGM movie. I have not evaluated this, as I do not have a portable video device and do not intend to keep the movie on my computer.

The four discs are housed in folding case, that lists the special features, is colored mainly in green and silver, and decorated with a photograph, artwork, and some quotes. Each of the discs shows Dorothy and one of her four friends as she met them.

When it comes to new material, some owners of the 2005 3-disc may feel disappointed, or put off of getting this set.

There were several printed materials included with the 2005 3-disc Collector's Edition, but none of these are reproduced here. Instead, we have a scaled-down reproduction of the original lavish campaign book for advertising aid to promote the film, the production budget is reproduced, and there is a 52-page full-color book by John Fricke about the production of the film, something, he even notes, has already been very well documented. My copy had some weird black streaks on some of the pages. There is also the watch in a tin. With a green strap, it has a beautiful faceplate. (My wrists are too large for it, though.)

This is all housed in a lavish box decorated with publicity photographs. The box set containing the DVDs can be lifted out and stored on a shelf (and the 2005 3-disc Collector's Edition can be put in its place).

Overall, a nice package!