Christmas, Christmas time is here, time for joy, and time for . . . Krampus?
Yes, that old Yule time has rolled around again, a season of brotherly love, cutthroat shopping, and absolutely nowhere to park at the mall. It’s also a month for Christmas decorations, Christmas music, and Christmas stories—but times, they are a-changing, and not all the Christmas stories out there are about babies and wise men, kids with drums, sentient snowmen, or even Santa Claus himself. In recent years, some of the stories we’ve been hearing have featured Santa’s goat-footed, switch-wielding, child-stealing counterpart: Krampus.
This year there’s even a Krampus movie out just in time for the holidays. It was this movie—as well as the sack-bearing old devil’s recent rise in popularity—that spurred me to tell you about one of my favorite holiday books: Krampus: the Yule Lord (HarperCollins, October 30, 2012), by Gerald Brom. Brom’s work is not connected with the aforementioned movie in any way, but if you’re like me, and you love to see new twists thrown into old stories, this just might be a book for you.
Jesse, a tipsy, guitar-playing, slightly suicidal disappointment of a father, is in the right place at the right time—or is it the wrong place at the wrong time?—to see the strangest of sights: a snowy-bearded man dressed in a white-trimmed red suit, big black boots, and carrying a hefty-looking sack, hot-footin’ it toward—get this—a sleigh, pulled by eight reindeer. This department-store Santa is being pursued by a pack of dark, humanlike creatures who leap into the sleigh after him as it takes off into the air, spiraling up and out of sight.
I know, right?
A couple of wriggling dark bodies fall from the sky, and then, as Jesse rubs his eyes in drunken disbelief, something else plummets to Earth, punching a hole in the roof of his double-wide and leaving a small crater in his bedroom floor: the sack.
Jesse uses the sack, and its toy-producing qualities, to bring his daughter everything she wants for Christmas, no matter how expensive—causing instant suspicion and strain between Jesse and his estranged wife, Linda. The situation worsens with the reappearance of the dark Santa-chasers—the once-human Belsnickles—who spirit Jesse away to a meeting with the sack’s original owner: Krampus, the Lord of Yule. Jesse becomes entangled in the battle between Krampus and his oppressor, Santa Claus, going head-to-head against Linda, her new man, local gun-running moonshiners, small-town corruption, supernatural forces, and even the possible debasement of his immortal soul, all trying to bring his wife and daughter back into his life—pre-supposing that, in the end, he even has one.
This may look a little hokey and obvious, all laid out this way, and I would agree: from reading the above we might expect a predictable holiday tale. Brom, however, manages to combine what we expect to see with Norse mythology and wonderfully flawed characters, who are so three-dimensional they destroy the usual, two-dimensional holiday story mold, and he gives us something unexpected and fun. Is Jesse a hero? No more than any of us—and less than some. Is Krampus the bad guy? No, not really. Is he the good guy, then? Well . . . no. Not really. What about Santa? Is he the good guy or the bad guy? Well . . . it’s complicated.
’Tis the season, ’tis true, but if you’re already tired of hearing “Jingle Bells” on the radio, and you’re not in the mood for extreme shopping, maybe you’re in the mood for a story about Santa that’s not all about Christmas. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I think you might, too.