You’d think, given the miles he has clocked up over the many centuries that Santa has been delivering presents all around the world that he’d have the whole sleigh maintenance thing down pat.
And yet, time after narratively convenient time, the big red guy’s sleigh inevitably comes a cropper, dragging his eight faithful reindeer down with him (Down Dasher! Down Dancer!) and into the world of a mere mortal or two who then play some pivotal part in getting him back on his way.
It is, truth be told, a brilliant way to get Santa in contact with people he would normally never speak with, people or in the case of Rob Scotton’s delightfully quirky tale Russell’s Christmas Magic, sheep who are in Frogsbottom Field lighting lanterns that are festively hanging from an old tree.
It is also peaceful and quiet and “not a creature was stirring”-ish when overhead there’s a great big kerfuffle, and Russell, who first appeared in 2005’s suitably-titled Russell the Sheep, goes to investigate, finding Santa splayed, along with some very confused reindeer and one totalled sleigh in Firefly Wood.
It’s a gorgeous name but a terrible situation with Russell’s instinctive first reaction that “Christmas is ruined!” which is, when he assesses the situation before him quickly becomes “Christmas is cancelled!”
Well, actually that last part is Santa’s doing, to be fair.
Perhaps it’s concussion? Perhaps sleigh crashing PTSD? Whatever the cause, the Christmas spell which keeps Santa invisible to sheep like Russell (and people too, of course) is broken, the sleigh is gone, baby gone and Santa, giving up rather too soon I think (but then shock will do that to you) exclaims “Christmas must be cancelled!”
Like many other protagonists before him, particularly those of the titular kind, Russell could just throw in the towel, resort to Christmas cancellation misery and spent the rest of his night and subsequent present-less chewing candy cane with the reindeer who, by the looks of Scotton’s fabulous art, could do with a sugar-high induced escape from reality.
But while Santa gives up, a little too quickly you’d think – where’s the contingency plan? Is there no North Pole tow truck service he can call? What are the elves doing exactly now all the presents are made? – Russell springs gloriously into action.
Mere seconds after an idea has “bounced around in Russell’s hat and settled on his head”, he is off to his workshop, where tool chest in hand he finds and smartly repairs an old car wreck until it’s a shining, gleaming, red-hued thing of present-delivering wonder.
Santa spends much Russell’s handy miracle working time lost in self-doubt and despair – his lack of resilience is more than a little disturbing but again, SHOCK, people, shock; be KIND – but is delighted to see that after hammering and sawing, banging and clattering that Russell has “sheepishly” (I love Scotton for the judicious use of this word alone) he is back on the road.
Well, the figurative one anyway.
Thing is, even after taking in the glory and wonder of Russell’s miracle new car sleigh, Santa is still cautious, afraid, it seems, to get his hopes up.
“Will it work?” he asks.
The answer is yes, and as Santa and the reindeer begin to disappear, a sign the Christmas spell is back in working order hurrah, Russell is invited along to finish what he has now started.
There is a gorgeously offbeat lunacy to Russell’s Christmas Magic which brims to extraordinary levels with so much heart and goodwill that you wonder how Scotton fit it all into one small hardcover book.
But fit it he does, and with artwork that is sublimely lush and very silly all at once – the looks on the reindeer’s faces on just about every page are worth opening the book alone – Russell’s Christmas Magic is sweet, short but utterly immersive addition to the many stories of one mere mortal helping a magical Santa and Saving Christmas in the process.
Reading the book is a joy, as you lose yourself in the evocatively beautiful artwork while being reminded, in the most heartwarmingly wonderful ways possible, of the magic and heart inherent in this most selfless of festivals (strip away the commercialisation and it’s as selfless as it gets).
Russell the Sheep is a pleasure to spend time with any time of the year but at Christmas especially so, and Scotton has a lot of fun taking us on his titular sheep’s festive adventure, one you will be more than happy to go on again and again, Christmas after Christmas.