Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Book Review: The Autobiography of Santa Claus by Jeff Guinn

A charming, if somewhat flawed, story, The Autobiography of Santa Claus delves into the history of Saint Nicholas as it overlaps world history, from the perspective of the jolly old "elf" himself.

Santa's voice is intriguing, and hearing his story from his own perspective was a fun gimmick, as he uses the difference between illusion (which can be explained) and magic (which can't) to describe how his personae has grown and the legends around him grew over hundreds of years.

One of the most entertaining aspects is how Nicholas collects "helpers" throughout the years.  He simply stumbles upon famous people who happen to have skills he needs in order to fulfill his mission of providing gifts to children all around the world.  For example, he recruits Leonardo da Vinci when he needs help inventing and building new toys for his expanding list of boys and girls.  Then when several writers embellish the stories and attribute Santa's speedy transportation to flying reindeer, Santa relies on da Vinci to figure out how to make his sleigh and reindeer airborne.

Mr. Guinn seems to have a "thing" for historical name-dropping.  So many other famous figures show up and are drafted as Santa's Helpers: King Arthur, St. Patrick, Charlemagne, Francis of Assisi, Marco Polo, Benjamin Franklin.  Sarah Kemble Knight familiarizes the group with the New World.  Amelia Earhart uses her talents to organize worldwide flight plans.  Theodore Roosevelt smooths the way with other world leaders to allow Santa access to other countries. Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, and many others publicize the story of Santa, increasing the anticipation surrounding the visit of St. Nick.

It's entertaining to see how Mr. Guinn incorporates various Christmas legends with historical events.  Virginia's famous letter to The Sun is included, as is Franz Gruber's writing "Silent Night."  The events surrounding the writing of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and A Christmas Carol are explained, as are the reasons St. Nick visits different areas of the world on different days, and why Christmas wasn't always celebrated everywhere (for example, the Puritans banned it, and Santa loses his magic anytime he travels too close to wars or fighting).

The biggest disappointment is the lack of character development for anyone other than Nicholas, including the person I was most interested in: Mrs. Claus.  She started out a thousand years ago or more as a girl named Layla.  Inspired by the early stories of someone sneaking into the homes of poor families at night and leaving gifts and money for the children, she took up the task on her own until the night she and Nicholas happened to hit the same tent at the same time.  So much potential for rich character here!  But they decided to get married pretty much immediately and from then on she made fat jokes about her husband, needled him about his weight and little else.  The conversations Guinn wrote between characters were rushed, stilted and trite, and almost exclusively expository.

The Autobiography of Santa Claus is a fun, seasonal read, but it just didn't reach its full potential for me.

The Autobiography of Santa Claus
by Jeff Guinn
ISBN: 9781585422654
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

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