Book review > When Santa Fell to Earth

When Santa Fell to Earth, By Cornelia Funke, Chicken House, 2006, 173 pp.

Timeless. That’s the word for fiction of this sort. How else can a story originally published in German in 1994 and now translated into English for the first time make for such great reading? Cynics might say that it’s got to do with that Santa character stories about him never go wrong, do they? But that’s just it: Everyone knows about the fat guy in red who visits at Christmas. How can a tired old myth be revived so that it still sparkles like freshly fallen snow on Christmas morning?

For starters, did anyone say “fat guy in red?” Funke’s Santa is young, thin and laughs, well, a little more like the rest of us. And he doesn’t stand around outside glitzy department stores urging you to buy more and spend more. In fact, he’s the last real Santa, the only one who still knows that there’s more to Christmas spirit than handing your credit card to the cashier. When his airborne sleigh gets driven to Earth by a storm and his reindeer bolts off, Santa finds himself in a narrow street called Misty Close with two panic-stricken angels, a bunch of angry elves and the wintry cold for company.

And while Niklas Goodfellow for that’s what our unlikely Santa is called is waiting for his reindeer to return, he chances to make friends with two rather unhappy children, Ben and Charlotte. Ben’s relationship with his parents is going seriously downhill; and Charlotte has been having some terrible dreams, though it is never quite clear why.

Their fortunes take a decisive turn for the better once they’ve been invited into Santa’s caravan. They get treated to hot chocolate brewed by angels; they watch the elves making the world’s most beautiful toys; and they resolve to find Santa’s reindeer and bring it back. Meanwhile, there is always the specter of Gruesome Gerold Goblynch, the Stealer of Christmas, who wants nothing more than to turn Niklas into a bar of chocolate. Can Niklas Goodfellow escape the clutches of Gruesome Goblynch and his army of Nutcrackers and still make everyone believe in Christmas once again?

In this magical Christmas tale, he does, with a little help from Ben and Charlotte, of course. Funke’s 21st-century take on Santa debunks all the old notions of a plump Father Christmas squeezing his way down chimneys, bag bursting with toys in tow.

But the best things about the much-loved fable the flying reindeer, the elfin toy shop, and most of all, the generosity of spirit that Christmas stands for are left intact.

It took 12 long years for the English-speaking world to discover Funke’s heartfelt story. Some things are well worth waiting for.

Note: Suitable for children 10 years and older.