When children go to sleep tonight, the visions dancing in their heads will more likely be those of electronic gizmos than of sugar plums. But the kiddos will doze off believing, and that collective faith fascinates author William Joyce, who created the "Rise of the Guardians" book series that became the basis of the new DreamWorks animated movie.
"It stumps me that we as a people decided en masse without a vote that we would tell our kids about Santa Claus," Joyce says from his home in Shreveport, La. "I know where it started, but the psychology remains mystifying to me. How many things have we as a species agreed upon without discussing? And there's not even a regulatory committee that checks up on the story. Popular culture supplies the details."
Joyce sees "Guardians," which depicts an alliance between such folkloric figures as Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, as a continuation of the endless march of the characters' evolution. For Santa, Joyce traces that line from Saint Nicholas of Myra to Germanic paganism to Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" to Haddon Sundblom’s illustrations for Coca-Cola advertisements. Joyce digs all the aspects of St. Nick's development, even the ones that had their roots in commerce. But in terms of character, he does think the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of jolly at the expense of judgment.
"It was important to me to bring back a bit of the majesty," Joyce says. "When I was a kid, I thought of Santa as a guy who knows if you've been bad or good. So if I was bad, I'd be finding a lump of coal in my stocking. These days, Santa's this quaint, cuddly grandfather fellow. I prefer my Santa to have a little more blood in his veins."
"Santa and James Bond got blended in my mind when I was a kid," Joyce says. "To do what he does, all in one night, Santa must have a lot of cool gadgets, right? So when I started writing the books, I picked Sean Connery, not just for his Bond, but for movies like 'The Man Who Would Be King.' There's this huge life force that Connery gives off. I wanted Santa Claus to have this enormous capacity for joy. But if you cross him, swords would be drawn."
Joyce's Christmas wish: Have your kids meditate on that if they resist going to bed tonight.