On the subject of Santa Claus

Posted on December 9, 2011 (Subscribe to Blog)

As Christmas draws near, two separate readers of Island of Fog – one in North Carolina and the other over in England – have expressed concern over something that Robbie says to Hal and Abigail. It's a simple line of dialog that made sense when I wrote it and makes sense now... but it's something I might need to remove.

To all young readers out there, either stop reading now or bear with me while I explain! Here's the bit of dialog in question:

      Abigail didn't appear surprised. She pulled the scarf from her mouth. "What about the sea serpent?"
      "There is no sea serpent," Robbie retorted. "And there's no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy either, in case you're wondering."

Readers, it's important to note that this is simply Robbie's personal opinion about Santa and the Tooth Fairy, not necessarily a statement of fact. Notice that neither Hal nor Abigail respond; it's just something Robbie blurts out, something he believes.

Let's face it, if you grew up on a secluded foggy island cut off from the internet and TV and everything else we take for granted, then your knowledge of the world would probably be a little different. In that situation, would your belief in Santa Claus be stronger or weaker? If, like Hal and his friends, you believed you were among the few remaining survivors on the planet, would Santa still be around to visit at Christmas? Or, assuming he was still merrily delivering parcels to whomever was left to receive them, would he in fact be able to devote more time and attention to those poor children on the island?

In terms of the story, I don't think Robbie's statement is unexpected. He's twelve years old and questioning the way of the world. But at least two adults I know of have chosen to skip the sentence when reading to younger children. One has suggested I remove the sentence from the next printed edition.

The thing is, Island of Fog is fiction and features all manner of strange creatures. Without wanting to spoil the story for those who haven't read it, a Tooth Fairy is actually perfectly feasible given that Abigail turns out to be a faerie herself! Of course, Robbie is unaware of this fact at the time, but you have to wonder if he reconsiders the existence of the Tooth Fairy later on in the story. Hal could just have easily have said "Dragons aren't real!" only to eat his own hat halfway through the story.

The answer is simple: Santa Claus, like the Tooth Fairy and all other fantastic creatures, DO exist. They just reside in another realm. Just because Robbie thinks he knows everything doesn't mean he's right.

So now I face a dilemma. Should I leave Robbie's statement alone, or remove it? Is it a point of interest worth discussing in a classroom or at bedtime, or does it just complicate life for parents?

More to the point, I wonder how many younger readers have simply ignored the statement in the knowledge that Robbie is clearly wrong about the whole thing. If so, is this a case where "enlightened" adults needlessly worry and fret over a throwaway line of dialog?

Would parents be as worried if Abigail openly disputed the claim that sucking one's thumb makes it smaller? – or that if you make a rude face and the wind changes, your face will stay like that?

In my stories, all these things are probably true. But I'm just a writer and I can't control what Hal and his friends believe. I can't help it if they blurt out ridiculous claims; I just have to trust that the reader will have the sense to know what's real and what's not. I mean, we all know that dragons and unicorns aren't real. But Santa Claus? Well, duh! Who else is going to bring your Christmas presents?

Robbie can be such a doofus.

Comment by JOSEPH on Friday, December 9, 2011...

Personally, I think the dialogue is fine. There are plenty of children that don't believe in Santa Claus, so what if Robbie is one of them? You can't make everyone happy, so just do what you think is best for the story.

You could also have a cameo appearance from Santa Claus and/or the Tooth Fairy in a later story. Robbie could then proceed to eat his words and the children reading (as well as Hal and Abigail) could point and say, "I told you so!" It worked for Narnia. Perhaps a short story centered on Christmas time is in order? Just a thought.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Friday, December 9, 2011...

Hehe! Thanks, Joseph. I don't think I can ever include Santa (he just doesn't fit somehow) but I can't see why the Tooth Fairy shouldn't make an appearance, perhaps even in one of the series novels. :-)

Comment by BRIAN B. on Friday, December 9, 2011...

Oh Lordy, here we go with the demon haunted world. I am sure many authors get the cranks' letters too. Twelve is well old enough to be told the truth, never mind having doubts. We should also tell kids the truth about God too. If every writer was to capitulate to the cottonball mob, everything would be sanitized and safeypoos.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Friday, December 9, 2011...

Whoa! Did you say 'cranks'? These are my dear readers we're talking about! Have some respect, man! :-)

And to be fair, I'm talking about 8 and 9-year-olds in this case (although I didn't specifically say so in the post). I can see both sides of this; I just wanted to test the water and see what others thought. I can safely say you're opposed to the idea of editing that dialog!

Comment by BRIAN B. on Friday, December 9, 2011...

Yup! Maybe you could send a page with the "corrected" text to those dear readers so they could glue it over the original. ;-)

Comment by JOSEPH on Friday, December 9, 2011...

I agree Santa Claus wouldn't really fit. At least, not by that name. Perhaps Nicholas or Kris Kringle. Or the other world could have its own legend similar to a Santa Claus, in which that legend leaked over into our world to give us ours. There are always ways to make something fit if you really wanted it to. If you don't, then that's another matter entirely.

Comment by ROGER ESCHBACHER on Sunday, December 11, 2011...

If I was 8 or 9 years old, I would recognize that Robbie was being kind of a dope about the whole thing. Obviously, Santa Claus exists. Everyone knows that!

Comment by RALPH CORDEROY on Tuesday, December 13, 2011...

Substitute "God" for "Santa Claus"? That may upset young children less. :-)

Comment by MICHELLE on Tuesday, December 13, 2011...

Oh Lordy! What a decision to make! I completely get the parent's worry and why their reaction would be worrying you. I know your characters are 12 but your readers aren't.

Despite that, I think most parents are already armed with a standard response - I know I am - my 7 year old has been asking if they're real since he was 5 and it doesn't worry me that the line is there.

... and rationally (in an adult mind) the book itself makes the comment mute because if the kids believe what Robbie says then they also believe he really is a troll, the Earth was poisoned and instead of extra hair at puberty you get scales or feathers.

If you're really worried about it then I'd be adding a line rather than removing one. Hal and Abigail's reaction to the comment could fix the problem.

Good luck with this curly problem Keith.

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