Wishing Season: Holiday Tales of Whimsy and Wonder, by Renee Carter Hall – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer
Wishing Season: Holiday Tales of Whimsy and Wonder, by Renee Carter Hall
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, December 2015, trade paperback $7.99 (125 pages), Kindle, December 2014, $2.99.
This little collection presents seven gentle short fantasies “for all ages” about the Christmas spirit. The title implies that these may cover the different holidays of the year, but they are all about either a snowy Christmas, a snowy winter, or Santa Claus – in any case, stories to read while relaxing in a warm home during a snowy December. If you want to read them aloud to small children; why, some of these were originally heard as broadcasts of the Anthro Dreams Podcast. Two tales, “The First Winter” and “Santa’s Summer Vacation”, are written especially for this booklet. Wishing Season itself was published as an e-book for the Christmas 2014 season, and as a trade paperback for Christmas 2015.
Hall’s tales are imbued with a modern Christmas mythology – that of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Grinch, It’s a Wonderful Life, and all those animated movies and TV specials showing Santa’s elves as having automated the North Pole.
In “The Gingerbread Reindeer”, Santa’s eight reindeer are having trouble pulling the sled of presents on Christmas eve because Rudolph has broken a bone and can’t lead the others. Boreas, the spirit of winter, enchants a little girl’s reindeer gingerbread cookie into Cinnamon, a gingerbread real flying deer to replace Rudolph. When the Unmaker, the anti-Christmas, attacks, it’s Cinnamon who saves them all.
“The visitor bore the form of a frost-elf, slender and sharp, with knowing eyes, but his body faded like silver fog at the edges. Boreas was winter given shape, the power by which the run was made each year, by which time was frozen for a single night while magic was worked for the young. It was not often that he appeared.” (p. 11)
Hall’s evocative writing makes you wish that her original characters like Boreas and Cinnamon were permanent parts of the Christmas spirit – though we could do without the Unmaker.
The main character in “Special Delivery” is Philip Cottington, the Easter Bunny. (Think of movies with the Easter Bunny like Hop and Rise of the Guardians.) When a child’s letter to Santa Claus is misdelivered to him in December while he’s preparing for the next Easter, he decides to deliver it to Santa personally. He is unfamiliar with the North Pole in December. (Or at any other time of year.)
“Then the snow stopped stopping. It came down steady, a haze of white flakes, and the wind grew colder and sharper. Soon Philip was not so much running as swimming through drifts of snow, and it was still piling up. His robin’s-egg blue vest was soaked through, and he thought bitterly that winter was a ridiculous time for a holiday. Still, he struggled forward, stopping only to catch his breath and make sure that the letter was still safe in the basket. It was a little wet from all the snow, but it was all right.” (p. 26)
Conditions get worse. Philip is rescued from disaster by Snowskimmer, a snowshoe hare. The freezing brown bunny and the warm white hare complete the journey to Santa together just in time.
Holly in “Holly’s Jolly Christmas” is a young reindeer who works in the mail room in Santa’s workshop, making sure that the children’s letters from all over the world are properly received. It’s an important job, but what she really wants is to become one of the eight flying reindeer who pull Santa’s sled on Christmas eve.
“‘It isn’t fair.’ Holly knew she’d said it a hundred times every year, but she also knew that Garland didn’t mind. ‘They should at least have team-choosing, like they did in the old days.’
‘Yeah, but they’d still win. No offense.’
Holly sighed again. ‘None taken.’ She knew it was true. Sure, she could fly as well as anyone, but the team was in better shape than any of the other reindeer. They had to be. A short flight here or there was one thing, but Santa’s team rode the Eve Stream, the magic current that allowed them to travel the world in one night. And that took more skill than any untrained reindeer could hope to have.” (p. 38)
Santa is too busy to listen to her, but with the encouragement of Garland, her reindeer boyfriend; Pyx, her elf friend at Sugarplum’s sweets shop; Frostbite, a motherly polar bear; and Caitlin, a little human girl who wants to play baseball, she gets her wish.
“An Older World” is the bittersweet tale of Jakob, a toymaker whose own young daughter has died and who imagines her in every little girl who comes into his shop at Christmastime. The unfinished lifesized wooden horse that he had been carving for her brings him to the world’s beginning.
“The First Winter” tells of the fight between First Bear and Death, and why ever since all bears have hibernated every winter.
“Nativity” is another bittersweet tale, only two pages, about a lonely orphan girl who finds better release in becoming a real unthinking sheep for the Christmas pageant.
“Santa’s Summer Vacation” is a comedy. Mrs. Claus insists that Santa take a summer vacation to the tropical isle of Serendipity to relax for next Christmas. He does, but he takes Fussbudget, his gloomy head elf, with him.
“Fussbudget sat on the edge of his chair, trying to decide whether the shell he was holding was more of a pinkish peach or more of a peachish pink. Between shell sortings, he glanced up nervously, watching Santa water-ski behind one of the reindeer as it skimmed across the calm sea. It looked incredibly dangerous.” (p. 97)
As it happens, things go wrong both at the North Pole and on Serendipity, leaving Santa needing to take a vacation from his vacation.
Here are seven new tales to go with your Christmas favorites of yuletide magic. Read them one at a time during Christmas week.