By David Morrell (Donald E. Grant; 1983)
In which David Morrell, the master of relentless and oft-horrific thrillers, tries his hand at a Christmas-themed Children’s story. Running 71 heavily illustrated pages, this is a short book, and, it must be said, pretty good for what it is. The sentimental subject matter may seem unsuited to Morrell’s sensibilities, but his famously spare prose works quite well in relating this tale–as do the sumptuous illustrations by R.J. Krupowicz, which recall, variously, Edward Gorey and Norman Rockwell.
Framed as a winter bedtime story told by a loving father (presumably Morrell himself) to his children Sarah and Matthew (the names of Morrell’s own children) the core concept is a highly involved but intriguing one: Santa Claus, residing in an alternate universe North Pole, is at the end of a hundred year cycle in which he, as per tradition, climbs a hill and disappears into the mist blanketing its dark side. But before he does so Santa needs to nurture Father Time, who is born each New Years’ Eve and lives but a year, aging at an extremely accelerated rate–and eventually becoming the Grim Reaper–prior to making his own way over the hill and into the mist the following New Years’ Eve.
Father Time’s latest incarnation is a bit mischievous. He forgets to tend to his major duty, which consists of turning over the hourglass that regulates the flow of time. Such irresponsible behavior is worrisome, given that Santa is about to make his way over the hill and will need Father Time to look after the North Pole in his absence. Another, more pressing problem is that Santa needs to find a replacement for himself, which is proving quite difficult, as everyone he queries is selfish, preferring to receive rather than give.
Thus, like so many Christmas stories this one is very concerned with the spirit of the holiday, which is apparently in ever-present danger of being obliterated by avarice. That David Morrell, one of the toughest writers of all time, allowed himself to be affected by such sentiment can be encouraging or worrisome, depending on one’s point of view. Myself, I much prefer the harder stuff, although I will give Morrell credit for trying something different.