Santa’s Ho-Ho-Home Turf

When L. Frank Baum wrote about Santa Claus, he was describing a distinctly American figure, but one who was American by way of Europe. The fat, jolly, bearded man in the red suit who slid down chimneys to give gifts came largely from Dutch immigrants, with later elements added to the legend. I did some discussion of the development of the character here. And this is the Santa that Baum describes, although how he became fat isn’t entirely clear. Surely Baum’s Santa, who refused to hurt any living thing, would be a vegetarian? Then again, in a world where candy and milk-filled udders grow on trees, the difference between meat and vegetable can become rather blurred. Anyway, St. Nicholas was from what is now Turkey, and some attributes of the Santa character are thought to come from stories of Odin giving gifts. So was Baum’s Santa European? Taken in and of itself, the book really doesn’t tell us. It says that he was raised in the Forest of Burzee, then moved into the adjacent Laughing Valley of Hohaho. Not much description is given of the lands near the valley, but we do know that two noblemen in the area are the Lord of Lerd and the Baron Braun. These nobles forbid Santa Claus from entering their castles, and while the Lord of Lerd presumably relents after his daughter Bessie Blithesome pays a visit to Claus, the Baron never does. It isn’t until his son inherits the barony that it is no longer the one place Santa isn’t welcome. I wonder if the Baron Braun is related to the Burgermeister Meisterburger.

Anyway, late in the book, we’re told that, as people spread out over the world, “Santa Claus found each year that his journeys must extend farther and farther from the Laughing Valley.” In the same chapter, Baum writes, “By and by people made ships from the tree-trunks and crossed over oceans and built cities in far lands; but the oceans made little difference to the journeys of Santa Claus. His reindeer sped over the waters as swiftly as over land.” Obviously there were people all over the world from well before Santa’s time (whenever that was), but they presumably didn’t all celebrate Christmas until European settlers arrived there. If this is an indication that Santa didn’t cross any oceans prior to his old age and being granted immortality, then it seems like his most likely base of operations would be somewhere in Europe, Asia, or Africa. Then again, just because the mention of the reindeer crossing oceans didn’t occur until then doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t do it. So where is the Laughing Valley? Well, it’s next to Burzee, the forest home of the Fairy Queen Lulea. I believe Santa Claus is the first story in which Baum mentions Burzee, but he uses it again in Queen Zixi of Ix, “The Runaway Shadows,” and “Nelebel’s Fairyland.” The last of these places the fairy forest to the west of California, and “Runaway Shadows” indicates that it’s not too far from the Kingdom of Thumbumbia. Finally, on the map in Tik-Tok of Oz, Burzee and the Laughing Valley are shown to be the southeast of Oz, just across the desert from the marvelous land. James E. Haff and Dick Martin, in their expanded version of this map, include Lerd and Thumbumbia as places near the forest and the valley, as well as some lands of unspecified location from the short stories “The Queen of Quok,” “The Witchcraft of Mary-Marie,” and “The King Who Changed His Mind.” None of these lands appears to be especially magical; there’s magic at work in all of these stories, but it appears to be the exception rather than the rule. These lands could be where Santa got his start, but although the land mass on which Oz is located is often identified as a continent, travel distances in the books suggest that it’s really closer to the size of Ireland. Therefore, Santa presumably wasn’t limited to this island even early in his career. I have to suspect Baum didn’t really think through the ramifications of placing the Laughing Valley so close to Oz, but I suppose there’s no reason why it couldn’t work.

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3 Responses to Santa’s Ho-Ho-Home Turf

  1. vilajunkie says:

    I knew most of this already, but I never really got to thinking about it in the way you did. Why DO you think Baum put the Laughing Valley so close to Oz?

    • Nathan says:

      I’m not sure he put a whole lot of thought into it. The Tik-Tok map shows signs of being put together rather hastily, with Baum attempting to squeeze in the lands from all of his fantasy novels. I mean, the Isle of Phreex is on the opposite side of the map from Hiland and Loland, which doesn’t really make sense with the plot of John Dough and the Cherub.

      • vilajunkie says:

        Ah, right. Well, for an Oz-as-history explanation, you can just say that the Woggle Bug isn’t really interested in cartography so much as showing off that he knows all the names of the lands around and in Oz. And, being an insect, doesn’t really have a concept of the compass directions like a human cartographer would have. :)

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