A review of George MacDonald’s “The Princess and the Goblin” (Strahan & Co., 1872)
A review of George MacDonald’s “The Princess and the Goblin” (Strahan & Co., 1872)
Creepmas Yule Monsters: Gryla
By Derek Newman-Stille
People think of Yule and the Christmas holiday as a time of joy and wonderment, a celebration of light, but there has always been a darker side to the holiday season, after all, it is at the Winter Solstice that we experience the darkest day of the year.
Notable Witches from Fairy Tales, Folklore, Myth, and Legend: Hekate, Goddess of Witches
By Derek Newman-Stille
Most readers probably best know Hekate from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where her name is spelled “Hecate” and she appears before the three witches, angry at their interactions with Macbeth. The association between witches and Hekate extends back long before Shakespeare and in the ancient Greek and Roman world she was frequently referred to as the goddess of witches.
Hekate was a Titaness, a race of deities before the Olympain gods and is often associated with Chthonic things (underworldly things). She is frequently depicted holding torches, and occasionally with a black dog since black dogs were offered to her as sacrifices. She has an association with crossroads and texts often portray her rituals happening at crossroads. She is often depicted as having three forms as Hekate Triformis.
Not only was Hekate considered a goddess of witchcraft, she was also associated with the night, the moon, necromancy (divination through the dead), and ghosts in general. Her approach was believed to be preceded by the howling and wining of gods and she was described as wandering along with the restless dead. Yet despite her frightful associations, she was often associated with protection and her shines were often placed at dangerous areas like crossroads and doorways (areas where things intersect). The ancient Greeks often used frightful imagery as apotropaic charms (charms to ward off evil), frequently employing Medusa’s frightening visage for this purpose, so it makes sense that Hekate, a goddess with frightful associations, would be used in a similar vein.
Her helpful form shows up in the Kore/Persephone myth. When Hades abducts Kore/Persephone, Demeter searches for the young goddess who was her daughter and Hekate aids her in her search. She is even described in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter as “tender-hearted” and “bright-coiffed”.
Hecate is mentioned in Hesiod’s Theogony where she is described as a goddess who was honoured “above all” by Zeus, who gave her shares of the earth, sea, and sky. Hesiod associates her with giving wealth to human beings, bestowing judgement, and giving victory in games.
One of the most famous witches in Ancient Greek literature, Medea, is described as a priestess of Hekate in The Argonautica, by Apollonius Rhodius. Unlike most priestesses, who learn their worship from other priestesses, Medea was described by Apollonius as learning her craft directly from the goddess. In the Argonautica, Apollonius refuses to describe the rituals Medea performs to Hekate, saying “For Medea bade them land and propitiate Hekate with sacrifice. Now all that the maiden prepared for offering the sacrifice may no man know, and may my soul not urge me to sing thereof. Awe restrains my lips, yet from that time the altar which the heroes raised on the beach to the goddess remains till now, a sight to men of a later day” (translated by Douglas Killings). For Apollonius, Hekate’s rituals were meant to be kept a mystery and veiled in secrecy. Apollonius does let slip that honey was used as an offering to the goddess. When Medea’s husband, Jason, invokes the goddess, Apollonius describes the ritual: “he dug a pit in the ground of a cubit’s depth and heaped up billets of wood, and over it he cut the throat of the sheep, and duly placed the carcas above; and he kindled the logs placing fire beneath, and poured over them mingled libations, calling on Hekate Brimo to aid him in the contests. And when he had called on her he drew back; and she heard him, the dread goddess, from the uttermost depths and came to the sacrifice of Aeson’s son; and round her horrible serpents twined themselves among the oak boughs; and there was a gleam of countless torches; and sharply howled around her the hounds of the underworld. All the meadows trembled at her step; and the nymphs that haunt the marsh and the river shrieked, all who dance round that mead of Amarantian Phasis” (translated by Douglas Killings). Hekate’s presence causes fear and dread to spread and even the sound of her steps scare away other supernatural creatures like nymphs.
Ovid describes the shrine to Hekate that Medea visits as being deep in the forest.
In Euripides’ play Medea, the witch Medea calls upon her chosen goddess by saying “So help me She who of all Gods hath been the best to me, of all my chosen queen and helpmate, Hekate, who dwells apart, the flame of flame, in my fire’s inmost heart” (translated by Gilbert Murray) before she proceeds to kill her own children. Hekate is evoked by Medea both to help protect Jason, and then to take vengeance on his children.
The Roman playwright Seneca also wrote a version of Medea‘s story, and in it, he refers to Media setting up an altar to Hekate within her house. She invokes the goddess with the words “Now summoned by my rites, appear, you heavenly globe of night, displaying your most hostile looks, with menace in every face”, Hekate is associated with the moon in this prayer and is multifaced. Medea later refers to Hekate receiving her prayers with the words “My prayers are received: Thrice has bold Hekate vouchsafed the barking of dogs, and set off uncanny fires with her light-bearing torch”.
Hekate was frequently evoked in curse tablets in the ancient Greek and Roman world, her name inscribed on iron alongside the intended victim. The iron was then pierced with nails and dropped into areas that were considered close to the underworld like underground springs, caves, and graveyards.
The Orphic Hymn to Hekate refers to her primarily as the goddess of roads and crossroads and calls her a “tomb spirit, revelling in the souls of the dead”, yet the hymn also calls her beautiful. It reveals that she is a goddess of complexity and contradiction. She is described as norcturnal, monstrous, and repelling… but it also calls her a beautiful goddess, a youth, and a maiden. She is described as delighting in wild places and loving deer, but she is also described as a devourer of beasts.
Hekate, like magic itself in the ancient Greek and Roman world, is complex, multifaceted, and inconsistent. Her complexity may be reflected in the fact that she is depicted with three forms, not able to capture her contradictory nature in one single form.
Murder, Murder On The Wall
A review of Murder She Wrote Season 5, episode 21: Mirror, Mirror On the Wall
By Derek Newman-Stille
I have often thought that creating a murder mystery story around Snow White would be an exciting and engaging idea. However, fairy tales are engaged in constant revisioning and reimagining and I found out that my vision had already been realized, though with more realism and less fairy tale content… and it had been realized in the strangest of places – on Murder She Wrote. For those of you unfamiliar with Murder She Wrote, it ran from 1984 until 1996 and featured widowed mystery writer Jessica Fletcher who travelled from place to place solving murders. The show engaged in a lot of meta activities, engaging in cross-overs with other shows, proposing solutions for murder mysteries filmed in the 40s, and, as I discovered, even playing with fairy tale narratives.
The two-part episode Mirror, Mirror On The Wall is a fairy tale adaptation, but brought into the world of Jessica Fletcher and the fictional Maine town of Cabot Cove. Like the fairy tale Snow White, the story features attempted murder, and, of course, a poisoned apple. It is also a story that features jealousy. However, rather than engaging in the ageism of Snow White, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall features two women of roughly the same age. It does still engage in jealousy, but is instead about one writer, Eudora McVeigh, who used to be a best-selling mystery author who is now experiencing writer’s block and her jealousy of Jessica Fletcher’s rising success in the genre. By featuring two ageing women, Mirror, Mirror On The Wall intentionally disrupts the idea of older women being threatened by and afraid of younger women, instead placing the interest of the episode on the competitive world of creative writing and one woman’s fear of another’s success.
Although Murder She Wrote has anti-feminist elements, often directly criticizing feminists, it, perhaps unintentionally, brings attention to the problem of women who don’t engage in ideas of sisterhood and instead seek to oppress each other. Rather than directing her anger at a system that only favours one female mystery writer at a time, Eudora begins the episode by wanting revenge on Jessica, seeing her success as inherently threatening to her own instead of seeking revenge on her publisher who is setting her aside in favour of Jessica. She ignores the men who are oppressing her and instead turns her anger toward another female writer, not seeing the potential for a united front by both of them sharing resources and challenge the patriarchal system and male publisher who is seeking to pit them against each other.
Fascinatingly, Eudora keeps referring to Cabot Cove as a little fairy tale town, pointing out the town’s perceived simplicity and wholesomeness… however, as we who read fairy tales know, there is a dark side to fairy tales, and not only does this fairy tale end in violence and murder (like so many), in this episode, the Sheriff (who moved from New York for a nice, simple life), points out one of the key issues of the show – for a small, quiet little town… there are the highest number of murders per capita. The show features about 24 episodes per year, many of them set in Cabot Cove, and lasted for 12 seasons… and there is at least one murder per episode in addition to multiple attempted murders. Cabot Cove’s quaint, dreamy, fairy tale setting is constantly being undone by murder in order to keep the show progressing.
Ultimately, like most Murder She Wrote episodes, the fairy tale storyline is secondary to the main focus on the show – murder. Ultimately, it is a story that engages with human psychology, clues, criminal slip ups, and the all-important confession.
A Pinocchio Tale That Isn’t Wooden
A review of Charlie Petch’s Daughter of Geppetto.
By Derek Newman-Stille
In their performance “Daughter of Geppetto”, Charlie Petch takes the fundamental idea of Pinocchio – “I want to be a real boy” – and turns it into a Trans tale, asking questions about what “real boy” means and the questions this poses about gender and performance.
Petch performs a one-person play, using multiple media including a sound board that lets them echo sounds and play with soundscapes to provide context for their act of storytelling, music performed by Petch, and shadow puppetry to invite the audience to think about ideas of echoed voices, overlapping waves of sound and the idea of puppetry itself (since Pinocchio is, ultimately, a puppet). Petch brings attention to the ways that theatre is made and the theatricality of theatre, breaking down the boundaries between audience and stage. They invite their audience to think about performance itself and the ways that we perform our identities off stage, pointing to the scripted way that we express gender in our society.
Like much of Petch’s work, “Daughter of Geppetto” defies simple categorization, encompassing theatrical performance, puppetry, musical performance, spoken word poetry, and fairy tale.
“Daughter of Geppetto” illustrates the craving and need for fairy tales in the Trans community and the power that fairy tales have to shift and change and adapt to new voices. For a community that is constantly being told about tradition and that we don’t fit into tradition, the idea of adapting fairy tale traditions for the Trans community is important because we need these stories. We need to play with our fairy tales and see ourselves in and through them.
“Daughter of Geppetto” is a powerful, evocative, and, yes, transformative tale. It is beautifully dark while also delightfully light and playful. It is new and innovative while also playing with and illustrating the magic of traditional tales.
To find out more about Charlie Petch, visit their website at http://www.charliecpetch.com
Check out a trailer for “Daughter of Geppetto” here https://youtu.be/YYt5NHfYB_U
By Derek Newman-Stille
She is at it again. That little old lady down the lane. She’s building them back up – her snowmen. I guess they are snow women actually. They are so realistic. They have long flowing hair and a womanish body. They look like they are ready to move. I think that’s why the kids keep knocking them down.
I don’t do it.
I wouldn’t do something like that.
But other kids aren’t like me. They find her creepy. Well, she is creepy. But they decide to treat her badly. I wouldn’t do that because she scares the heck out of me. I don’t know how they can do it.
They ask me to get into it too. They always say I’m a wimp, a fairy, a chicken just because I won’t knock over the snow women with them. Like I need to do that to show my bravery.
Plus, they really are creepy. She has created eyes for them, snow eyes that seem to look right into you. It’s like icicles through the heart.
And the lips.
The snow women have red red red lips… like the women my mom calls whores. The other kids say that they look like that because they are reddened up for a kiss, but to me they look like they have just drunk a glass full of blood and haven’t had a chance to wipe their lips.
Even though I don’t want to, I keep on walking by her house, looking at the snow women. I don’t know what makes me want to do it, but I can’t seem to stop myself.
She is always there in the window – the weird old woman – always looking out at me. I think that she thinks that I’m the one who keeps knocking down her snow women. But I don’t know if she is able to see at all. Her eyes are as pale as the snow women she builds and I would have thought she was blind except she keeps making these wonderful creations out of snow.
I guess she could still create them even if she is blind. She can still touch and she could create the snow women totally by feel… but her fingers would get so cold touching the snow all of the time without mittens.
I never see the old woman building her snow women. I always want to catch her at it, but they seem to form over night before any of us get up in the morning. I always see them as I walk to the school house to begin my lessons and I have tried going earlier and earlier and now I’m not only getting there before the other kids, I’m there before Ms. Sokolov and she is always telling us that “the early bird gets the worm”, so I know that she wakes up extra early.
I could see the old woman looking out at the other kids as they broke her snow women on the way home from school. I made sure to stand far away from them and tried shaking my head so she knew that I wasn’t one of them.
The other kids call her a witch, but if she were a witch, why would she let them destroy her snow woman and not do anything to them. If they really believed that she were a witch, they would be afraid of her spells and wouldn’t bother her. So, I don’t really believe them.
But they did tell a story about her. They said that she used to be a kind witch, but her daughter died one year – frozen to death in the snow during one of our harshest winters. She had spent all night looking for her daughter in the falling snow and when she found her dead, it was like an icicle went through her heart and it froze her blood so much that her skin turned snowy white and the colour drained out of her eyes. That’s when she became a snow witch.
That’s what they say, but if she were a snow witch, they wouldn’t tease her like this, especially not in the winter.
I know that all of the silliness about the old woman being a witch is just the kind of things that older kids tell younger kids, but when I found out that both Ivan and Yuri caught the flu last week, the nightmares started. I know it is stupid to believe anything like that. I know it’s just older kids being older kids, but I keep worrying. I keep remembering the way that she looked at us with her pale eyes.
I don’t really believe it. It’s just stories. They’re meant to scare us so that the older kids seem brave for wrecking snow women created by an old woman.
I’ve been trying to avoid her house and have taken other roads so that I don’t have to see her place, but I am worried she will think that I am avoiding her place because I am guilty.
Tomorrow, I’m going to walk past her place. I’m going to loudly say how pretty her snow women are. I’m going to make sure that she knows that I’m not like Ivan and Yuri.
I finally asked mom about the old woman. I told her everything that the older kids had said. I told her about people breaking her snow women. I feel like a snitch telling on the other kids, but I wanted her to know everything. I have been so afraid.
She told me not to worry and that all of the rumours about the old woman are silly, childish fairy stories. She told me that the old woman was just practicing the old custom. I didn’t know anything about the old custom and she told me that that was because it was no longer something we believed in and that it was something that was meant to scare people into being obedient like religion was.
She said that in the old custom, people would create maidens out of snow to honour Father Frost and Mother Spring. The two of them couldn’t have a child in the myth, so Father Frost built a body out of snow and ice and then Mother Spring cut her wrist and fed the maiden her blood. Immediately after drinking blood, she hopped up and came to life and the two of them had a daughter. They fawned on her, bringing her gifts and bestowing powers on her as she danced around the frosty winter world, learning about all of the animals of the winter and collecting branches from evergreen trees.
The only problem was that when spring came around again and the trees started sprouting new buds and the ice and snow began to melt, the Snow Maiden started to lose weight and became sickly. The two parents did everything they could to save her, bringing her medicines and asking wizards and witches to cast healing enchantments on her… and then they realized that she was melting as the snow melts. The two of them cried at her side as she became a puddle in front of them with just a drop of red at the centre where Mother Spring’s blood pooled.
Father Frost blamed Mother Spring for her death because it was the springtime that melted the frost maiden and he and Mother Spring warred.
Mother told me that it was a story that is meant to explain the seasons and that it was created because people were simple and didn’t understand the science of nature. She said that people create stories for things that they don’t understand and that the same thing was happening when people created stories about the old woman down the lane. Kids were trying to create stories to explain an old woman who they thought was strange.
She said there were no truths to their stories and that the old woman was just practicing an old, fooling belief. She said that the old woman just believed that she was re-creating the snow maiden out of snow and probably hurting herself and pressing blood on the lips of the snow creation. She said that this is what old beliefs do – they make people hurt themselves because they believe what they are doing is for a false god.
I know that it is all silly stories like mother said, but I really like these stories. I think they are beautiful even if they aren’t true. It’s why I wanted to write the story down as soon as I heard it. I don’t believe it, but I think it is beautiful.
I have a bloody nose today.
Dusan, Fyodore, Mikhail, and Olga were talking at school about the old woman and repeating their story about her lost daughter, so I told them that they were being silly and making up stories for things they didn’t understand. I tried to explain to them the old custom and got punched in the nose for it.
They told me that because she practiced the old custom, she WAS a witch and that all witches practiced the old custom.
I tried to tell them that she was just a misunderstood old woman, but they wouldn’t listen.
They went back and smashed her snow maidens.
I wish they wouldn’t treat her like this. She was just an old woman with some silly beliefs.
But I want to believe too.
Sometimes I swear I hear whispered words in the wind at night. I used to think they were monsters hunting in the snow, but now that I know the story of Father Frost and Mother Spring, I wonder if all of these years I have been hearing the voice of Father Frost in the wind. I wonder if the ice patterns on my window are his paintings. I wonder if he is the one who brings snow. I don’t know if he is any different than monsters. It’s because of him that people freeze to death in the winter and because of him that we need to chop wood for the fire and because of him that we get the flu. If he is real. But I don’t know if that makes him a monster. Snow is beautiful. It sparkles and it tickles my tongue when it falls from the sky. It is magical even though I know that it can also kill.
I think Father Frost is like that. I think he’s magical and beautiful, but also cold and deadly.
I have made up my mind. After everyone has gone to bed, I am going to the old woman’s house and I am going to make a snow maiden in her front yard. Hopefully she will understand that I am helping her. Hopefully I will see her making snow maidens. Hopefully she will tell me a story.
I didn’t see her last night, but I felt like she was watching me. My snow maiden wasn’t as good as hers. It was just a couple of snow balls placed on top of each other with snow balls for breasts and sticks for arms. I tried to pack snow in to make her look like a real person, but the snow kept falling apart. I don’t know how she keeps her snow maidens together.
The cold hurt my nostrils and made my nose bleed again, so I did what she did and I wiped blood on the mouth of the snow maiden. I wanted her to be just like the story. I wanted her to be real.
I was out late and it was so cold. My fingers were blue by the time I got home. I could barely feel the handle for my door. They still hurt today and are pretty white, but the feeling is back in them and I can at least pick things up now. Last night, I couldn’t even move my pen.
For some reason the kids left my snow maiden alone. There weren’t any others in the old woman’s yard, but mine stood there looking like it was mocking her art work. It looked so silly in comparison to the beautiful art that she had created when she built her snow maidens. Mine just looked lumpy and silly.
I hope she doesn’t think that I was making fun of her by building my own snow maiden. I don’t know how to show her that I want to believe and that I think her work is beautiful.
I tried walking past her house a few times but didn’t see her in the window. I’m scared that she thinks she is being made fun of. I don’t want her to think that.
I’m going to practice making snow maidens tonight after bed and try to build a better one. I want to create one that she knows has been inspired by her work. I guess I also want to see if I can bring the real Snow Maiden to life too. I know magic is silly and that it comes from ignorance, but I want to believe in it.
Mother saw the snow maidens I had built in our yard. I was just practicing building them and I wanted to break them back into snow so that no one would know… but once I saw them, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t break them. It seemed too much like what the other kids were doing. And I couldn’t look at them, my snow maidens, and destroy them. They seemed to look back at me and ask me not to hurt them.
They were just blobs of snow, but I still couldn’t break them.
Mother was angry and thought that the old woman had started building the snow maidens in our yard. I think that even though she said magic was silly, she really did believe. At least, she believed a little bit. She didn’t break the snow maidens. Instead she piled snow around them, making a wall of snow so that people couldn’t see them. But I wonder if she was trying to keep people from seeing the snow maidens or trying to keep the snow maidens from seeing her.
She spent the night pacing, which she does when she is really bothered by something. She was extra cranky with me, yelling at me for eating my food too loudly and not having any manners.
I couldn’t stay still though. I kept going to the window to see the snow maidens even though I couldn’t see past the wall of snow.
I still hadn’t made them quite right. They still looked too lumpy and these ones didn’t have any blood on their lips because my nose had healed up. But I really loved them. I feel proud of what I made. I hop that the old woman at the end of the lane will be proud of the snow maidens I am going to build in her yard. I want her to know I don’t want to mock her.
I finally met her!! And she was so kind. Her name is Snegurochka. She came out into the yard when I was building my snow maidens and she was dressed in a light blue dress covered in white patterns that looked like the frost that forms on the window. Her dress seemed to reflect the moon like the snow does when it is full and it makes the snow look bluish. Her face and hair were so pale that she looked like she was the moon herself.
She thanked me for building a snow maiden on her yard and told me that it meant a lot to her because so many of the other neighbourhood kids kept destroying her snow maidens. I told her that I thought that was very cruel of them and I wanted to surprise her with some snow maidens that I had made but that they weren’t as good as hers.
It was weird. When I said it, she had tears in her eyes and told me that the snow maidens I made were perfect and that they would get better with time. She asked me if I wanted to learn about snow maidens and then offered to build them with me to help me learn how to make them the way that she did.
As we built them, she helped to guide my hands across the snow, telling me about the feel of the snow and its consistency and that our hands are like the spring, which is needed to melt the snow a little bit to help to form it into better shapes. She told me that powdery snow couldn’t work for building a snow maiden and that it needed to melt a bit like the breath of spring. I even breathed on the snow with her to melt it a bit to create the snow maiden’s hair and shape her eyes.
It felt like we were breathing life into something.
It felt a lot like magic.
She told me the old story about Father Frost and Mother Spring, but she told it differently. She said that the Snow Maiden had to melt in the spring, but that she didn’t die. Instead, like snow transforms into water, she transformed into the new Mother Spring and that she would die again in the autumn and then be built up out of the snow when it feel on the ground. She told me that the world needs the seasons to change so that it can live and grow.
The snow maidens we were creating were ways of showing that we respect the seasons and commit ourselves to growth and change.
She told me that tomorrow was the winter solstice and that it was the longest night of the year, but that it was also the time when light would start coming back to the world. She taught me that I should burn a candle on the solstice as a way to bring back the light with a little bit of magic.
It didn’t seem like stories when she told it. It didn’t seem like something made up or something silly. She didn’t seem stupid like mother said people were who believed in things like this. She seemed magical.
We built our snow maidens throughout the night until my fingers were blue and I lost feeling in them again. I asked her how she dealt with frozen fingers and she said that hers were frozen long ago by age and by years of making snow maidens.
I asked her about blood and whether we should poor blood on the lips of the snow maidens. She told me that she would give an offering of her blood and give the warmth of spring to the snow maiden, but it was up to me whether I would do the same.
I wasn’t sure about giving blood until she took a knife out of her dress and cut her finger tip and let blood fall on the lips of the snow maidens. It seemed that they smiled a little more with the blood and seemed a little bit less like snow and a little more like living things, so I wanted to share my blood too. I took her knife and cut my finger and then let it drip right alongside the drips of blood from her fingers.
They seemed to turn their heads a little toward me as I dropped blood on their lips. They seemed to look deep into me.
It could have just been the cold that made me think that the snow maidens looked at me, but it felt like magic. It felt like I had done something and created something.
When I got home, I crawled over the little wall that mother had made around the snow maidens in our yard and I breathed on them and squeezed a little bit more blood out of my fingers for each of the little snow maidens I had practiced creating. Somehow they seemed more beautiful now.
This morning, Mother noticed that my fingers were pale and thought that they might be frost bitten. She made me stay home from school today and has had me put them in hot water all day. It burns and my fingers feel like they are melting when they are in the water.
She still had to go and work at the dress shop, so she finally left me alone for the afternoon but told me that I should keep heating up water and putting my fingers in it or I would lose them to frostbite. I don’t want them to hurt any more, so I haven’t put them in any water since she left.
I keep looking at them, those white fingers and keep thinking about the pale snow maidens. I wonder if I am becoming like them. I wonder if when the blood was dripped out of my fingers that the snow might have gotten in. I keep thinking about Snegurochka and her old, pale, white hands and wonder if the snow got inside of her as well.
Mother would say I am being foolish and letting myself get hurt for belief in something silly. She would say that it is unscientific to believe that the snow was within me. She would remind me that people who are unscientific believe in things like magic and end up hurting themselves because of it. She would see my fingers as proof of my silliness and the threat that I pose to myself.
Where she would see frostbite, I was starting to see transformation and magic. The tingling of my fingers felt like change. It felt like I was becoming something new.
I don’t think it is such a bad thing.
Father Christmas’ Childhood
A review of Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2015).
By Derek Newman-Stille
Matt Haig’s adorable children’s book A Boy Called Christmas sets out to fill in the details of holiday tradition and fill in gaps in the folklore and mythology of Father Christmas (the British name for Santa Claus), and specifically to fill in details that would be relevant to his target audience by asking the question “What would Santa Claus’ youth be like?” The story starts with an 11 year old boy living in poverty who has been nicknamed Christmas because his birthday fell on Christmas and takes him on a magical quest fuelled by his belief and his desire to see his father who had gone to the North. Like many magical quest narratives, he undergoes the traditional fantasy narrative of picking up helpers along the way. These helpers allow him to encounter the “Other” and learn from those experiences, becoming changed by the animals and supernatural characters he brings along with him on his voyage.
Haig follows the tradition of writing Santa’s life as a fantasy tale that was established by L. Frank Baum in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. He provides details to his tale, specifying where each of Father Christmas’ traditions come from as he battles the monstrous and spreads joy. Most tales have tended toward leaving gaps in knowledge and leaving it up to the reader’s imagination, rather than setting down specific origins for Santa’s behaviour as Baum and Haig have done. Haig’s tale details how Father Christmas first gets his red hat, why he first begins putting toys in stockings, how he comes to acquire toys from elves, how he begins to use his distinctive laugh, and, perhaps most importantly, what motivates him to believe that he needs to spread joy through gift-giving.
Yet, A Boy Called Christmas isn’t just a detailled mythology. In choosing a boy living in poverty with only a turnip carved like a doll as a toy, he brings attention to issues of poverty and how they affect children, while also bringing attention to the fact that many human “naughty” behaviours have come from living under constant oppression. His character, Father Christmas, uses his knowledge of human nature to begin searching for ways to increase human happiness and decrease misery and he situates expressions of joy and caring as the central feature for a better society (one that shares resources and takes time to enjoy life).
Haig initially portrays the elves in this narrative as people who have become xenophobic and joyless as a result of fear mongering by the elf newspaper and explores the power of overthrowing regimes that are based on isolationist policies and racism. As much as this is a story about Christmas, it is also a tale about revolution and calling into question hate-based and fear-based discourse.
This is a book of enlightenment – not just because of the happy, joyful content, but because it reminds readers that they have the power to stop being afraid and make positive changes. It is a book about growing up as an individual, but also growing up as a society.
To discover more about Matt Haig, go to http://www.matthaig.com
To find out more about A Boy Called Christmas, go to http://www.matthaig.com/a-boy-called-christmas/