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Author Topic: PC343: Elf Employment  (Read 4957 times)


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on: December 23, 2014, 08:11:48 AM
PodCastle 343: Elf Employment

by Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt

Read by Wilson Fowlie (of the Maple Leaf Singers

A PodCastle Original!

Alex was seven when he ran away to join Santa’s elves.

If anyone had asked why he wanted to leave home, he would have said “I hate it
here!” (Actually, he would have said, “I’m not telling you!”, then raced into his room and slammed the door, which is one way to say “I hate it here!” in the language of seven-year-olds.)

Alex had his reasons. Even after he started second grade, his parents made him go
to bed at 7:30, even though all his friends stayed up until eight, and Fletcher didn’t go to bed until 9:00 p.m., an unmatched hour in his little boy crew. For Halloween, Alex wasn’t allowed to be Darth Vader, because his parents didn’t like him “idolizing villains,” and they made him be a Jedi knight instead. Alex made the best of it by telling everyone he was young Anakin Skywalker (a detail he kept from his parents so they wouldn’t change his costume into something stupid, like old Obi-Wan). He wasn’t allowed play dates with the two kids he liked the most, just because they got in trouble for chasing some kindergarteners and putting dirt in their hair. What was the big deal? Alex had gotten dirt rubbed in his hair when he was new, too!

Rated G.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: January 17, 2015, 07:54:33 PM by Talia »

Wilson Fowlie

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Reply #1 on: December 23, 2014, 05:34:19 PM
The first podcast story I ever listened to was by Tim Pratt (the wonderful and Hugo-award-winning "Impossible Dreams" - found for me by a good friend who knew I was looking for stuff to listen to on my commute).

That story was the reason I started listening to fiction podcasts, and then narrating them myself (thanks to Rachel Swirsky, who gave me my start, and Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind, all of whom have asked me to read some great stories over the years).

So I was particularly excited that Dave asked me to read a story by Tim Pratt. Thanks, Dave and Anna for the opportunity to read this!

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Reply #2 on: December 23, 2014, 05:49:46 PM
 ;D  ;D  ;D

I'm sooooooooo happy you were able to do it, Wilson. Ridiculously, so. I already told you this, but it bears repeating: I loved your reading of this one. Just delicious. Can't wait to play it for my kids :)


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Reply #3 on: December 25, 2014, 10:04:22 PM
For the last several years, one of my favorite Christmas presents is the Shaw/Pratt Christmas story, from The Christmas Mummy to now.

This one did indeed have a darker, unfortunate undercurrent involving parents, though I'm glad things got resolved in a good way that didn't resort to complete schmaltz.

And I'm a bit surprised that Fowlie had never read one of these. I suppose in my mind he had…..


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Reply #4 on: December 28, 2014, 02:36:56 PM
Another great story from a super talented couple!  I do hope Alex's parents learned their lesson though. :)


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Reply #5 on: December 30, 2014, 02:40:28 PM
Such good texture in this one. Dark but not too dark. Light but not fluff.

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Reply #6 on: December 30, 2014, 03:55:15 PM
Another great PrattShawmas tale. My husband and I ended up listening to the full set of holiday tales back to back during our Christmas driving (along with some of the Tim Pratt holiday stories the Drabblecast ran). The great thing about these stories is how each one you listen to instantly becomes your new favorite. Pratt/Shaw's versatility and range are extraordinary, especially when you consider how hard it is to write a good holiday tale that breaks new ground in the subgenre.

For "Elf Employment" in particular, I got something of a Roald Dahl vibe from it, with the humor/horror line, and the themes of child neglect and kids being forced to grow up too fast because the adults in their lives have failed them. I'm really glad it stayed a little more on the bright side of things, though, and I was glad it had a happy ending, even in a way for the children rescued by Santa's workshop and put to work there. Good stuff all around.

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Reply #7 on: January 03, 2015, 04:02:28 AM
For "Elf Employment" in particular, I got something of a Roald Dahl vibe from it, with the humor/horror line, and the themes of child neglect and kids being forced to grow up too fast because the adults in their lives have failed them. I'm really glad it stayed a little more on the bright side of things, though, and I was glad it had a happy ending, even in a way for the children rescued by Santa's workshop and put to work there. Good stuff all around.

Sums it up perfectly for me. Roald Dahl was a creepy dude! I really love the Pratt/Shaw Christmas tradition. :)


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Reply #8 on: January 04, 2015, 07:06:52 PM
I REALLY hated story. I mean, the premise was cute and the story itself was okay, but the implications of those left behind left me cold.

Full disclosure: I was not in foster care, but my parent's fostered children when I was a pre-teen and teenager. So, I've not been in the system, but I've been on the periphery, and have first-hand knowledge of what bad parenting can do to a child.

Listening to this story made me angry. What about those children in abusive homes who don't get chosen? What about the infants who are killed by a drunken significant other of their parent? What about those who are parentless, who either live on the street or in foster homes with sub-standard caregivers who won't take the kids to see Santa? What about those who don't live in a Christian nation, or whose families don't celebrate Christmas, or whose Christmas traditions involve another gift-giver, like Baby Jesus? And what about those who live in poverty with loving families, who are still starving to death, or are forced to do manual labor to survive?

And those who are taken, they trade one crap life for another? I guess it would ruin the point of the story for the North Pole to be all glitter and candy canes, but there could have been a little more joy. These kids were rescued from horrible situations, and they go straight to sorting garbage and mucking out reindeer poop? No thanks.

I do have to say, that Santa Claus voice was spot on. And I'm glad that Alex and Poppy got happy endings. I just can't shake the overall distaste that this story left in my mouth.


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Reply #9 on: January 05, 2015, 12:37:44 AM
I think I liked this story for the same reasons Maxilu hated it. In the end, Santa is a feel-good lie for parents who can afford to give their kids gifts from themselves and from Santa. They tell their kids that they deserve all the nice things they got from Santa because they're good little girls and boys and they deserve them. Poorer kids at school internalize that lie, too -- the rich kids got nicer toys from Santa because they deserve them. But at the end of the day, there is no magical elf at the North Pole who will come rescue the kids in abusive or neglectful homes. I think this story actually illustrates that pretty well. The children whose parents were really bad are rescued, only to be pressed into quasi-slavery for the rest of their lives. But the kid whose parents were just mean but in the end love him? Yeah, he has a merry Christmas.


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Reply #10 on: January 05, 2015, 03:11:41 PM
This is probably my least favorite of the Pratt/Shaw Christmas tales, though some of the previous ones have set the bar pretty high.  I still love the tradition and hope it keeps up.

While Maxila's not wrong about the implications of the story, I don't think it's fair to pile all that on the shoulders of the story--there are many things in the world that are unjust and this story isn't responsible for them.  For the story to have handled the crappy fate of every child in this way would be to imply that the story isn't representing our world at all, but a version of our world where no child meets a horrible end or has to live on in a horrible setting.

I thought it was interesting how the workshop wasn't all shiny and happy times, nor unambiguously evil.  For the kids who end up there, they're mostly rescued from horribly abusive situations and are instead dropped into semi-benign exploitation instead.  Comparative happy ending, but still not awesome.


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Reply #11 on: January 07, 2015, 07:59:24 PM
This is probably the first time I've really enjoyed a Christmas story (<-- Jew, never believed in Santa, doesn't really get what the big deal is). This one, though? It was charming.

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Reply #12 on: January 11, 2015, 02:30:25 AM
I loved this story!  Thanks for a great Christmas story! 


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Reply #13 on: February 08, 2015, 03:39:32 PM
I thought that it was interesting that Santa was very-powerful and very-seeing, but not omnipotent and not all-seeing.   Santa could tell that Alex was upset, but he admits to having to piece some things together about abuse that turned out not to be true.

Most stories either cast Santa as all-powerful or as a complete fraud.  Here, we saw Santa as very powerful and pretty magic.  But still with limits.  Calls the whole operation into some question.

A subtle and powerful story.