[LISTENED TO: December 2016] A Boy Called Christmas
This is a delightful story of Nikolas, an 11-year-old boy living in Finland in the olden days. His parents called him Christmas, because he was born on Christmas day.
Nikolas’ life has been one of terrible hardship. His mother was killed when she was attacked by a bear (a bear that lingers around their house to this day). His father, Joel, is a woodcutter. He cuts enough wood for them to survive, but otherwise things are bleak. They eat mushroom soup for every meal and, in Nikolas’ whole life, he has received just two toys: a sled and a doll with a turnip head.
The only friend that Nikolas has is a mouse named Mika. Now, this may be a fairy-tale kind of story but even Nikolas can’t understand Mika’s squeaks (although we can). Mika is constantly on a quest for cheese–even though he has never tasted it.
Joel has noticed a man, a hunter, in their vicinity. He turns out to be an excellent bowman with silver arrows. In fact, once, when the bear that killed Nikolas’ mother is nearby, an arrow flies through the air and scares off the bear, saving Nikolas’ life. The hunter finally comes to their house with a proposition for Joel.
The hunter is on a quest on behalf of the king. They are setting off to prove that Elfhelm, the mythical land of elves, really does exist. If they can bring proof to the king, they will be incredibly rich men. Joel and Nikolas believe very strongly in magic and in Elfhellm, and after much hemming and hawing, Joel decides to go on the quest.
This leaves Nikolas alone (with Mika). So Joel calls his sister Aunt Carlotta to watch over Nikolas while he is gone.
There’s a lot of villains in the story, but Aunt Carlotta might be the worst of them. She is mean from the start. She takes all of the cushions for herself and forces Nikolas to sleep outside. He is put to work immediately–gathering food and firewood–and cooking for her. And finally she reveals that the only reason she came is because if his father does return–which she doubts–he will give her a lot of money. As the section with Aunt Carlotta continues, she commits the gravest sin imaginable. And that’s when the last straw is broken and Nikolas leaves.
He sets out to find his father–it has been far too long and Joel should have been back by now. So he and Mika head north for Elfhelm.
As Nikolas sets out, he finds his father’s hat–a red hat with a white pom pom on top. He can’t believe his father lost his hat. He fears the worst, but retains some hope. He trudges along for a long time (there are lots of unbelievable things, or should I say, magical things, in this story, but the only thing I found hard to believe was that Nikolas wasn’t freezing cold in the snow in his tattered clothes). Eventually he runs into a very angry reindeer.
The reindeer snorts at him and charges him and is quite menacing And then Nikolas sees why–he has an arrow in his flank. A silver arrow which he recognizes–his father must have come this way! Nikolas pulls out the arrow and packs snow on the wound and soon, the reindeer is his buddy. And while they can’t really understand each other exactly, they can certainly communicate. Nikolas decides to name him Blitzen, since they ran into each other near Lake Blitzen. And the two (well, three, with Mika) set off North through the treacherous mountainside.
The path is so treacherous, that they are on the verge of death when they are rescued–magically–by two elves. They are Father Topo and Little Noosh. When Nikolas comes to, he sees that hey are elves and is very excited to see that hey are real. And he asks if they know his father and they if that they can reunite them. But it is not possible. Indeed, elves, once happy creatures who spread joy everywhere they went (and freely did the spickle dance) have recently undergone a chance through the leadership of Father Vodol. And now, joy and happiness are outlawed and all humans are to be put in jail.
Father Topo and Littel Noosh sense good in Nikolas, though, and they bring him to the village in hopes that he will be treated with respect. And he is, briefly. But he is soon thrown into the tower jail with a troll and a truth pixie. The truth pixie is a hilarious character because she can’t not tell the truth. And her favorite thing (the favorite thing of all pixies, actually) is watching heads explode. And, surprisingly, a head does explode in this story (even though this is a children’s story, some scenes are a mildly graphic).
But soon Nikolas is free (with a little elf magic) and is on his quest to find his father again. And find him he does–but he finds him involved in something pretty horrifying.
Nikolas has been and is on a journey. They title of the story, along with his name, the reindeer’s name, the magic toymaking elves, and many other clues, tell you what his journey is towards. But the way he gets there is wonderful and magical. Haig fits the pieces of the familiar story together–how he grew a beard, how the stockings came in to play, why he eats so many cookies and just how those reindeer learn how to fly and it is fun to recognize the character that we know and love taking shape.
There is some definite sadness in the story, but there is some wickedly funny stuff too (like the revenge that Blitzen takes on Carlotta). And the overall message is one of warmth and joy and giving–hard to fault that.
This story is charming and sweet and a very clever adaptation of a story that we all know well, but which adds a wonderful new take on it.
This audio book was read by Stephen Fry. I happen to love Fry already, so it was an exciting prospect to hear him. But I had no idea he would do so many voices. His delivery was always spot on and often very funny (presumably funnier than if I’d read it myself). He does squeaky little mice and giant trolls with the same conviction.
However, the book has illustrations (how I miss my illustrations when I listen to children’s audio books). The illustrations are by Chris Mould and the few that I’ve seen were fantastic. So although I have to recommend Stephen Fry, the print book looks like a winner as well.
Let’s hear that laugh: HA! HO! HO HO HO!