It is my pleasure to greet everyone a very Merry Christmas. I send you pixie dust and faerie glamour – from my family to yours. And in keeping with the season, I have a very special Christmas book to share with you all.
These letters from Father Christmas were painstakingly written and illustrated (and lovingly collected and kept safe by the Tolkien brood) from 1920 to 1943. These postcards and letters are obviously sent from the North Pole as the gorgeously hand-drawn stamps indicate.
Dusted with snow and elfin sprinkle, the letters come in regular basis each year despite the presence of the war rearing its ugly head in the late 1930s. There is very close attention to detail in the writing as could be seen in Father Christmas’ wobbly writing, albeit still in beautiful cursive lettering because he’s ancient (“lots older than your great-grandfather”) and quite cold too.
The reader could also see the Tolkien family gradually growing through the artfully-created letters. First there was only John, then there was Michael Hilary, then came Christopher. In 1929, it became “Dear Boys and Girl” with the presence of Priscilla. In fact in 1927, Father Christmas noted “My dear people: there seem to get more and more of you every year.”
Father Christmas also gives the children an idea of how his home looks like. And he constantly talks about his companion, Polar Bear who acts as a form of comic-relief, super-hero, endearingly-mischievous character with unforgettable antics each year. See him above falling down the banisters. The North Polar Bear named Karhu (shhh, that’s a secret, only very few people know that) would also write the children letters in a distinctive handwriting, and he apologizes that his spelling is not very good because he speaks only Arktik in the North Pole.
The letters become increasingly ever more fantastical with the presence of goblins who are forever trying to steal the Christmas gifts to be given out to the children of the world. Then there were Snow-elves, Snow-men, and the charming and cuddly newphews of Karhu named Paksu and Valkotukka. Father Christmas sure knows how to craft great stories and with exquisitely designed hand-drawn typography and colourful illustrations to boot.
During the later years, Father Christmas took on a secretary named Ilbereth, an elf who always gets into tiffs with the Chief Assistant Karhu who calls the elf nothing more than a little errand boy. Ilbereth’s handwriting is more a spidery scrawl while Karhu’s is more angular and with words grossly mispelled. The characters would even argue amongst each other in the letters, particularly the two assistants. Karhu would often write small asides in Father Christmas’ version of events on the mishaps that the Polar Bear gets to be involved in practically every year.
What amused me to no end though was how Polar Bear actually created a Goblin Alphabet from the markings found in the caves where the goblins lived and where Karhu got unbearably lost.
He would even write the children using these letters, providing them a key from which to decipher the scrawled encrypted notes.
My husband and I tried to figure out exactly what age JRR Tolkien must have been when he started writing.. err, when his children started receiving these letters from Father Christmas himself. As Tolkien Senior was born in 1892 and the letters started coming in 1920, he was around 28 when this started and around 51 years old when the letters stopped coming.
From the letters, one could see that the Tolkien children loved receiving books for Christmas, while the boys seemed to enjoy receiving firecrackers and train sets.
It seemed that the children also wrote very long letters, not just about the things that they want for Christmas but about the every day things that go on with them at home and in school. Father Christmas also provides a caveat about him not being able to magically conjure all the presents that they desired:
We have both, the old Polar Bear and I, enjoyed haing so many nice letters from you and your pets. if you think we have not read them you are wrong; but if you find that not many of the things you asked for have come, and not perhaps quite as many as sometimes, remember that this Christmas all over the world there are a terrible number of poor and starving people. (p. 68)
Father Christmas also shared how deeply affected they were by the war:
We are having rather a difficult time this year. This horrible war is reducing all our stocks and in so many countries children are living far from their homes. Polar Bear has had a very busy time trying to get our address-lists corrected. I am glad you are still at home!
The reader could also see how Father Christmas would only be writing to Priscilla during the later years as the older boys have ceased hanging up their stockings. This was particularly heartbreaking, seeing the letters written initially to three boys and a girl to finally just the little lady of the household.
I would leave Father Christmas’ letter to Priscilla in 1943, the last one, for you to discover on your own. Suffice it to say that it pinched my heart a little bit, and it saddened me to see the correspondence at an end.
This is truly a precious book, dear friends. Destined to become a family favourite. Best read aloud to wide-eyed children (and starry-eyed adults) who fervently believe they are stardust.
Merry Christmas from all of us here in GatheringBooks!
Letters from Father Christmas with illustrations by J.R.R. Tolkien. Published by Harper Collins Publishers, 2012. Book borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.
Read-a-Latte Award: 255 (150)