Do you believe in Magic? That was the recurring thought in my head as I was watching the legendary David Copperfield live in the MGM Hollywood Theater in Las Vegas two nights ago. The question is comparable to ‘Do you believe in Santa Claus?’ This lovely YA fiction by Inkheart’s author Cornelia Funke presents a new twist to the jolly, overweight, bearded man mythology that is St. Nick who lives in the North Pole with all the elves and the equally overweight Mrs. Claus. I thought that our Yuletide post would not be complete without any allusion to the legend that is Santa Claus.
Rudolf and Twinklestar. While our legendary Santa Claus has Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer guiding him (along with Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen), Niklas Goodfellow has Twinklestar, described in the jacketflap as a “marzipan-loving but lightning-shy reindeer.” The 167-paged story begins this way:
On the tenth night of December, a terrible storm was approaching from the north. A thousand lightning bolts skewered the stars, and thunder rolled across the pitch-black sky with a sound like a derailed freight train (p. 1)
The lightning terrified Twinklestar that he broke his reins and bolted down toward the earth, rendering Niklas Goodfellow’s caravan reindeerless and crashing down toward the ground, right smack in Misty Close Street, the poor caravan leaning into the gutter with two wheels broken.
The sight of the colorful caravan naturally attracted the attention of the neighborhood children who thought that it must be some kind of a gypsy or circus caravan. It turns out that Twinklestar took refuge inside a… shopping mall of all places (primarily because of the marzipan that was being sold inside the mall). It was quite a challenge finding Twinklestar and bringing him back to Niklas – because he is Invisible. How cool is that? It took the wits and adventurous spirit of two kind-hearted children to bring him back to the caravan where he rightfully belonged. And yes, he flies too.
Gerold Geronimus Goblynch and The Grinch. If Santa Claus’ arch-nemesis is The Grinch who tried to steal Christmas, in Funke’s story, there is the horrid, business-minded scoundrel named Gerold Goblynch who happens to be the head of the Great Christmas Council, the gathering of all Santa Clauses. If you thought there was only ONE Santa Claus, you have another thought coming. How could they possibly get all the presents around the world in just a single night if there was only one of them doing all the work? The crux of the story revolves around this horrible Gerold who has turned Christmas into a Huge Business – the heart of consumerism eating away at the magic and the true spirit of Christmas (sounds familiar, huh?). This is how the angel Matilda describes the creep that is Gerold:
“He bought snowmobiles for all the Santas and turned the reindeer into salami! He conviced most of the other Santas to forget about the children’s wish lists and only take orders from the grown-ups – against advance payment of course. And on Christmas Eve they deliver everything at the press of a button.” (p. 30)
With the aid of the Nutcrackers (who function as Gerold’s bouncers/bodyguards) all the elves have been driven out of Yule Land (except for some who were ingenious enough to outsmart these Christmas goons) and there were only Seven Santas out of hundreds who stood up to Gerold. In time however, four Santas disappeared while two were dragged before the Council and “slapped with a prohibition order forbidding them to carry out any Christmas work” (p. 35). Niklas, the remaining active Santa, was brought to the Council and was on trial for a number of charges including:
“Un-Christmas like behavior… annoying behavior toward parents, destruction of presents, loud and silly singing and dancing under a Christmas tree… illegal employment of Christmas elves… conspiring with angels, continuous disobedience toward the Great Christmas Council” (pp. 33-34)
So Niklas is a Renegade Santa Claus doing things the traditional way (i.e. angels listening
to children’s Christmas dreams and elves creating the toys in the Authentic Santa Workshop). He escaped and stole Twinklestar and has been on the run ever since. Their being stuck in Misty Close Street is a clear threat to the spirit of Christmas since the likelihood of Gerold’s goons finding the One Remaining True Santa increases each day that they remain in that sleepy town. Gerold also came up with a new Christmas anthem that is meant to be the golden guidelines for all Santa Claus in Yule Land and captures his entrepreneurial spirit, turning Christmas into one huge merchandise of goodies:
Christmas, golden feast of money.
When the profit pours like honey!
Forget the wishes, throw them out,
One less thing to worry ’bout.
Surely happy little children
Are really not our aim,
Children don’t have any money,
So the parents are our game.
Spend a fortune on the presents,
So we tell them every day,
Or the love of your sweet children
Will on Christmas melt away!
Yes, their love will melt like snowflakes
Underneath your Christmas tree,
Only Gerold Goblynch’s presents
Grant their love eternalleeeeheeeyy!!
Niklas Goodfellow versus Good Ole Huggable SantyClaus. This, by far, is my favorite variation to the mythical portrayal of Santa Claus. Niklas Goodfellow is not your average, jolly, overweight Santa. He is … gorgeous. Children (and ladies), meet Niklas:
He admits that he may not be what children might expect him to look like (he IS quite young for a Santa), thus, he has a costume all ready to make him look like the traditional Santa Claus:
I like the fact that the picture of excessive consumption that is the traditional Santa is pitted against this athletic-looking, young, vibrant man who loves children. I mean, come on, how many good-looking fellows would opt for the Santa job nowadays? Zilch.
Angels, Elves, and Secrets of Santa Claus. If all old-Santa’s reindeers have special names (like Blitzen, Dasher, Prancer and so on), Funke’s story details the names of Niklas’ elves and angels. The latter are named Matilda and Emmanuel (they make a nice cup of hot cocoa and yes, they cook too) while the badly-behaved elves who seem to have a penchant for cursing (“booger-burps and reindeer poo!” “smelly goblin farts!” among others) are called “Specklebeard, Coalbeard, Goatbeard, Firebeard, Fuzzbeard, Rufflebeard, and so on” (p. 24).
I enjoyed the fact that the elves show spunk and character – they are feisty, grouchy, and extremely talented and dexterous with their hands (yes, they build the most wonderful toys). They constantly bicker with the angels who are annoyed with their ill manners and swearing.
One of my favorite parts of the book is when Goldbeard started sharing some of Santa’s little secrets to the two children of the story (Ben and his classmate Charlotte). If you ever wondered how Santa could get all the presents of all the children in the world into his sack (how could they all possibly fit in?), or what happens if a child doesn’t like a real Christmas present, or how they manage to find out for certain exactly what the children want for Christmas then you’d have to get this book for yourself.
Magic Spell Woven around the Children Charlotte and Ben. The two children
protagonists in the story are your plain ole’ average kids who have outgrown the notion of Santa Claus, yet still wide-eyed enough to know magic and appreciate it when it stares at them in the face. In fact they were misfits in the school – Ben with his leaden-tongue and Charlotte who was named Mouseface by the kids in school. Ben was described this way:
“He wasn’t any good with words. They slipped from his tongue the moment he wanted to say something. And so Ben mostly stayed silent.” (pp. 13-14)
So this is an unlikely friendship between two children who would not ordinarily have been friends. It shows how their warmth, kindness, and purity of spirit managed to help Niklas regain the true meaning of Christmas (the magic, the miracle, the sheer awe-inspired wonder of it all).
As a social scientist, I take pride in empiricism, being scientific and objective whenever I conduct my researches, and the natural (and learned) appreciation for cold hard facts. As a qualitative researcher, I have a recognition that there are multiple facets of realities that exist and that how ‘facts’ are perceived vary across individuals’ mind-sets and societally-configured spaces. I have a nine year old daughter who would always constantly ask me whether Santa Claus is real. I veer away from Richard Dawkins’ letter to his daughter who essentially destroyed everything magical in lieu of that which you can see, touch, hear, smell and feel. My standard response is: “He is as real as you wish him to be.”
Blessings to one and all for the Coming Year.Sources: Names of reindeers from http://www.santaclaus.com/santa-claus-christmas-faq.php Photo of Santa and his reindeers from http://uteschaedler.com/publishing/santas-reindeers/ Book borrowed from the Community Library in Singapore Book photos taken by me