Oh, goodness. Okay, first of all, as I begin this post, please forgive my crappy photographs. I still want to share these books, which I have since returned to the library, but I had no idea how out of focus some of the pictures were. Bad blogger. Bad photographer, too, but I never pretended to be good.
Okay. Now that my apologies are out of the way...
The only non-picture Christmas book I've completed this year is this fat, lush middle-grade fantasy, The Legend of Holly Claus by Brittney Ryan.
I checked out the picture book, Holly Claus, The Christmas Princess first. I remembered it from Christmas displays at the book store. Then I realized it was an abridged version of a much bigger book.
|The Legend of Holly Claus by Brittney Ryan, illustrated by Laurel Long. HarperCollins, 2004.|
This is a pretty fabulous book. A poor young boy in Victorian New York writes his first letter to Santa Claus. He isn't even sure he's doing it right. He's never written before because, despite his poverty, he's never felt like he needed anything. This year, though, he asks a simple question. "Santa Claus, what would you like for Christmas?" That question makes it possible for Santa (known as Nicholas) and his wife to have their one desire: a child, the first child born in The Land of the Immortals, also called Forever. This is a purely secular mythology. Nicholas doesn't have a backstory as a Turkish bishop. There is no mention of Christmas in traditional religious terms. Forever is the land where mortals who have left something memorable behind - something to last forever - go when their time on earth is through. They earn their immortality. Nicholas is the king of Forever. Mere mortals may think he lives in the North Pole, with elf toymakers, but that's just an idea he let loose. The elves are really goblins, and and The Land of the Immortals exists on an entirely different plane.
There is an evil immortal, long-banished to an underworld prison. Herrikhan can only escape if he can possess a willing, completely pure heart. He curses the baby Holly by encasing her heart in ice. In order to survive, she must always be cold. As part of the curse, no one is allowed in or out of Forever, save Nicholas at Christmas. Herrikhan secretly leaves her a magical telescope that allows her to look out into the mortal world, yet she only sees the good things. She longs to visit that world, especially The Empire City, known on Earth as New York City, to which she feels drawn. She knows it is her destiny to go there and earn her rightful place among the Immortals.
As a young woman, she finally finds her way to that city, on her own sleigh drawn by rainbow-hued reindeer. She befriends homeless children who live in Central Park, and is led to a toy store, where she finds herself a job. She has a gift for making dolls that reveal the innermost dreams of children. She is also drawn to the taciturn owner of the store, a young man who seems much older than his years. It becomes obvious that he fits into the puzzle of her life somehow. All this time, she is preparing to meet Herrikhan, hoping to survive the whole ordeal before her father comes for her on Christmas Eve.
Oh, did I mention Holly's talking animal friends? A wolf, a fox, an owl, and just to confuse things, a penguin. I know Forever is not actually the North Pole, but hey...
The black and white illustrations are courtesy of Laurel Long (see The Magic Nesting Doll). Her illustrations were enhanced and colorized by Jeffrey K. Bedrick for the picture book adaptation. The story is still very long for a picture book. I think it plays out much better in the full-length novel, however, the full color illustrations are pretty spectacular.
|Holly Claus: The Christmas Princess by Brittney Ryan,|
illustrated by Laurel Long with Jeffrey K. Bedrick. HarperCollins, 2007.
The books are no longer available new, which surprised me. They were part of the Julie Andrews Collection, which was once published by HarperCollins and Hyperion. The Collection seems to have moved to Little, Brown. Perhaps that's the reason the books are out of print? Used copies seem plentiful on Amazon, however, and my library had multiple copies of each. Brittney Ryan maintains her Facebook page, still promoting the books, although the website has gone quiet.
Anyway, the Holly Claus story is a nice Christmas fantasy, perfect for fairy lovers. It could take its place on the shelf next to L. Frank Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, another Santa fairytale origin story.
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