The Father Christmas Letters by J. R. R. Tolkien
(George Allen & Unwin, 1976, 48 pages)
For fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, this is the perfect book to help usher in the Christmas season. J. R. R. Tolkien composed these letters, addressed from Father Christmas to the Tolkien children, starting in the mid-1920s and continuing through the early 1940s. The first few letters are fairly short, as Father Christmas describes the difficulties he has encountered that year in preparing for Christmas. These trials always include the antics of the North Polar Bear, a clumsy and accident prone creature who is Father Christmas’ chief helper. As the years go by, the stories expand in length and breadth of scope. Father Christmas recounts the yearly struggles with goblins who tunnel under the mountains and into the storehouses of Father Christmas’ home in the North Pole. These stories show many of the themes and ideas that Tolkien would later work into his more famous books.
Each letter includes beautiful color illustration, showing that Tolkien was not only a great author but a capable artist as well. While the text of the letters themselves are reproduced in a standard type, there are numerous reproductions throughout the book of the elaborate and shaky handwriting that Tolkien adopted for the character of Father Christmas. As these letters tell their funny and inventive stories of Father Christmas’ yearly preparations, they also give a small glimpse into the life of the Tolkien family and the times they lived in. One interesting example is from the final letter, written at the outset of World War II. Father Christmas sadly notes that fewer and fewer children have been writing to him: “I expect it is because of this horrible war… at present so terribly many people have lost their homes, or have left them; half the world seems in the wrong place.” The letter ends on a poignant note, observing that though this might be the last Christmas that the children hang up their stockings, Father Christmas will not forget them: “We always keep the names of our old friends, and their letters; and later on we hope to come back when they are grown up and have houses of their own and children…”