‘Carnivale’ Creator Daniel Knauf on ‘Gingerland,’ His Christmas Cookie of a Tale

‘Carnivale’ Creator Daniel Knauf on ‘Gingerland,’ His Christmas Cookie of a Tale September 4, 2023

Storybook gingerbread people.
From ‘Gingerland’ (art by Zelda Devon)/Courtesy Daniel Knauf

Writer/producer Daniel Knauf, creator of HBO’s Carnivàle, has abandoned his Los Angeles hometown for South Florida. But his latest writing project, Gingerland, transports readers to the mountains of upstate New York — and into a world far different than his fans may expect.

What Is Gingerland?

If you were a fan of the fantastical, mystical, sexy and violent Dust Bowl carny world created for Carnivàle, then you may be surprised to learn that Gingerland is a Christmas tale meant to be read by parents to their children (and no, not in an ironic way).

There’s a sprinkling of fairy-dust magic — and a lot of frosting — with the lightest touch of Knauf’s edginess … just enough to keep this sweet tale from turning saccharine.

It’s listed as having been written by the late P.J. Hummel of Lake Winibigoshish, Minnesota, with Knauf merely as the publisher (yes, Knauf did really write it).

We Start with Gingerbread Children

Three gingerbread children accidentally escape their home inside an enchanted gingerbread recreation of a mountain lodge. They enter the larger world, and they discover that outside forces threaten the very existence of Gingerland (and the full-size lodge). They must find new allies — both human and gingerbread — to save it.

I recently did a video interview with Knauf, whom I’ve known since Carnivàle days 20 (!) years ago. Once I add to my meagre stock of video-editing skills, I’ll post some of that, but in the meantime, I didn’t want to make you wait to hear about what he’s been up to.

And he’s not just been up to creating a fluffy little Christmas story.

Says Knauf:

You have three gingerbread kids. They’re gingerbread cookies, and they’re siblings … [They live in this] perfect little world. And Christmas is always right around the corner. They fall through a hole in a butter-brickle floor in a gazebo on a hill of Gingerland …

But it turns out they discovered that their entire world is a holiday diorama contained in a case inside the lobby of an Adirondack hotel.

(Editor’s note: The book actually says the hotel is in the Catskill Mountains of southern New York State, and Knauf was indeed inspired by the Mohonk Mountain House, also in the Catskills. But the name of the hotel in the book is the Saranac Mountain House, and Saranac Lake is actually in the Adirondacks, in northern New York. I know you don’t care, but I’m from northern New York State, so … back to Knauf’s quote, already in progress.)

Now they know that Gingerland is really, is constructed, it’s fake, and the only way to truly grow, and the real world is where growth happens, spiritual growth or opportunities for courage.

You’re going to run up against situations and people that are unpleasant, and you have to overcome those. And in overcoming them, you become a better person.

The Art and Charm of Gingerland

Knauf doesn’t have plans for a film adaptation right now, but he has put out videos showcasing artist Zelda Devon‘s vintage-style illustrations for Gingerland, and another (so far) in which the au–, sorry, I mean, the publisher, reads an excerpt.


Gingerland is available in installments for subscribers of Knauf’s Substack (several early chapters are free for all to read). We’re fast approaching the point where the whole book will be posted, so this may be the perfect time to hit that subscribe button.

So, Is This Just Another Christmas Tale With Zero Jesus?

Technically, yes. But, one chapter is called The Second-Best Christmas Ever, and we should all know what the best one was.

Also, asked about this today, Knauf texted:

Like A Christmas Carol, (and Christ’s parables) Gingerland is an allegory that celebrates and promotes positive Christian values like love of family, charity, generosity, kindness, good will and empathy — and condemning avarice and cruelty — without gratuitously presenting Christian iconography. This makes it more accessible to a wider audience.

And, although this is a tale set at Christmastime, Knauf is actually making a different point.

He says:

And it wasn’t until I finished the book, I realized I’m not writing about gingerbread people here. This has too much resonance, and it’s connecting up with things and books. Usually when you find a book seems to resonate, it’s usually embodied in the theme.

And it wasn’t until actually I talked to you, and you were saying, “I don’t think you’re writing about gingerbread people here.” And so, I kind of put my thinking cap on and looked at it again.

I did a little analysis and said, “Oh, I’m writing about the Internet.” I mean, this is about how we spend increasing amounts of time on the internet. We block people that we find disagreeable, and we tend to build this sort of self-referential bubble that is not reflective of the real world.

Meanwhile, there are some entities, some people, some organizations and corporations and governments that live outside the Internet. They live outside that bubble, and their intent is maybe doing your world harm. And if you live inside the bubble, you’re not as aware of that. You’re just sort of a happy kind of patsy.

And it’s not until you start living outside more that you begin to recognize, “Oh, OK, well, there’s some nefarious things happening here.” But more than that, it’s only then that you are actually interacting in a real way with people and with things. You can’t smell a flower on the Internet.

Is Gingerland Just for Kids?

Soon after Knauf sent me the book, I read the whole thing while sitting in an airport and thoroughly enjoyed it. Kids should love it, but it won’t be a chore for parents to read it to them (or for people who are not parents to read it).

Says Knauf:

It’s this beautiful sort of … allegory that’s disguised as a children’s book, which you can read to children, and they’ll enjoy it on one level, but for adults, it presents something else.

Nothing that’s going to disturb children or families, but if you’re looking, you’ll see it’s a little bit of an edge. I like to think of it as Roald Dahl-lite. …

This book’s not meant to be read by children. It’s meant to be read to children. And ideally, if it was like, if I had my wish come true, it would be that every Christmas, four days before Christmas, there’s four parts to the book, every night, that families would sit down, and mom or dad or grandma or auntie or whoever the preferred adult is, sits down and makes a tradition of reading this story to their children every Christmas.

And it’s a sweet story with a good message and entertaining.

Click here to learn more about the world of Gingerland.

And, here’s another excerpt … read by the “publisher.”

Image: From ‘Gingerland’ (art by Zelda Devon)/Courtesy Daniel Knauf

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About Kate O'Hare
Based in Los Angeles, Kate O'Hare is a veteran entertainment journalist, Social Media Content Manager for Family Theater Productions and a rookie screenwriter. You can read more about the author here.

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