Originally published at AiTP!
The best stories find a way of writing themselves. Not only so, but often the finished art achieves an architectonic quality beyond even the original intention of the author. Often such was seen in the works of Tolkien. Developing first a set of constructed languages and only afterward a mythology to explain their interconnection, he first developed the Quenyan root “-talát” (relating to slope/sliding) in 1918, only for decades later, in trying to excise a recurring dream about the sinking of a continent, to find himself writing regarding the downfall of Atlantis, discovering by happy coincidence that the word for “Downfallen” in his pre-existing language was none other than Atalantë, as if he was merely rediscovering a tale that was there all along. David Day hypothesizes a similar though inverse origin for The Hobbit. It is a well-known anecdote that Tolkien wrote the unforgettable first line “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” absentmindedly while grading papers, having no notion of what a “hobbit” was. Day’s thesis is that Tolkien – as a philologist – constructed the personality of his hobbit and his journey “there and back again” by first deconstructing the would be etymology of the nonsense word, as if the whole adventure already existed in those two simple syllables.
Grant Morrison’s Klaus bears similar strokes of genius. It never once occurred to me till reading this issue that the name “Klaus” might have any significance for Morrison’s character more than the tenuous historical connection to the real life Saint Nikolaos of Myra. From νίκη (“victory,” also the name of a goddess and the eponymously named clothing brand) and λαός (“people” – as in Menelaus, “wrath of the people”), Klaus is a Germanic derivation of Nikolaos, thus confirming Morrison’s claim that Klaus means “Victory of the people.” Perhaps had he not chosen comics as the medium for his retelling of Kris Kringle’s origin, synthesizing Santa and superheroics would not have been the approach his narrative took, and the more martial meaning behind the name might not have received comment. But given the demands of genre and medium, Morrison not only included such a factoid, he incorporated it into the narrative and the metatextual levels as well.
That is to say, despite the fact the superheroics belong solely to Santa, Morrison makes clear that the victory against Krampus does indeed belong to all the people. In one particularly powerful scene, Gunnar Mikkelsen, Finn’s father, strikes a devastating blow against the demon. When one of the other children ask Finn if that’s the Santa he’d allied himself with, Finn – with pride in his eyes – proclaims, “No. That’s Dad.” This conflagration of one’s own father and Father Christmas is a near universal experience among western children, each of us before being sure of the secret suspecting the truth that the unseen “jolly old elf” was all along just our parents. Morrison skillfully integrates this association, even into a world in which Santa actually exists.
It’s likewise no accident that Morrison’s script called for Santa’s sleigh to destroy the steeple of a church. Ever since separating from the historical Saint Nikolaos, Santa Claus has been a secularizing figure, with many piously-minded Christians anxious to minimize or remove the character from Christmas celebrations altogether. As a former preacher myself I’ve conversed with many couples who’d proudly proclaimed they’d never raise their children to believe in Santa, opting instead to display “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” bumper-stickers and similar tchotchkes expressing similar sentiments (oblivious to the extent to which their own celebrations continue to be shaped by pre-Christian pagan and current-day commercial influences despite Santa’s singular omission). The denomination to which I belonged took a fairly unique approach to the problem, opting instead to focus on the historical Saint Nikolaos, even publishing a children’s book about him. Many a time all the Sunday School students would be gathered at my feet, some as young as first grade, with me starting off, “Does everyone here believe in Santa? You should. He’s absolutely real. It’s just that he’s dead.”
Now tell me that doesn’t make for a jolly yuletide.
Of course, such subtle commentary on the historical and contemporary impact of a fictional character upon society is hardly the most Morrison-esque touch within this final issue. As might be expected in a series about a wolf-raising, sword-wielding, demon-slaying Santa with the healing-factor of Wolverine and stealthy-takedowns of Batman, things get somewhat weird. Notably, his sleigh, which hasn’t received much attention as an aspect of the character’s mythology since Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause tricked it out with a Cookies and Cocoa Dispenser, is here described by Krampus as “A Bright Machine from the 8-Cornered Orb! Forged by rarest thought-metals by the Eldest of my kind.” Surprisingly, or perhaps not given his excellent art on the series thus far, Dan Mora manages to render a thought-metal machine from the 8-cornered orb exactly as you’d expect it to look. His ability to keep pace with Morrison’s imagination throughout this series is an accomplishment few of the Scotsman’s collaborators can claim, certainly not with such aplomb. The last artist to put to page Morrison’s mind so skillfully was Sean Murphy; given the latter’s later work on The Wake, Chrononauts, and Tokyo Ghost, I’d not be surprised to see Mora receiving equally prestigious projects in the coming years.
Klaus’ final words perfectly summates the specific way in which this series is so wonderful (in the literal sense; it’s brim full of wonderment!):
“It’s a big world and the sky goes on forever… Watch for me, when the nights are long and the days grow cold – – when there’s a need of Light in the Darkness!”
The reader has always known that Klaus’ character arc demanded for him to become a supernaturally long-lived yuletide gift-giver. And yet, much to my own surprise, that thankfully hasn’t meant he had to surrender the adventuring spirit of a comic book superhero which defined this incarnation of the character. Moreover, Morrison marries these to aspects in this parting thought. Since Saturnalia, solstice festivals such as Yule and Christmas have always been about the conquest of light over darkness, and long before comic books stories of heroes across all cultures have been about the same. Morrison’s genius is in making explicit a connection so obvious it’s easily overlooked; so simple it becomes sublime. These are words which should permeate popular culture on the same level as Moore’s “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.” After all, there’ve been many stories told about Santa before and after The Night Before Christmas – but none of them better than Klaus.