Letters from Father Christmas – JRR Tolkien (edited by Baillie Tolkien) (1976)

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That was the sound of my socks being charmed off when I read this adorable collection of letters which J. R. R. Tolkien wrote to his kids from 1920 to 1942. Each letter comes from Father Christmas and each is a link in a long chain of narrative that continues from one year to the next. It’s actually really funny in places, and Tolkien really put his heart into the project.

It’s lovely to go through his correspondence and learn what happens as his four kids grow up and gradually stop sending letters to Father Christmas. FC is very stoic about this change, of course, but it was poignant to see the number of kids’ names on the envelopes dwindle over time.

And Tolkien doesn’t just stick to the typical Santa fare: he has a (not-very-helpful) helper in the form of North Polar Bear (NPB as he’s called) who ends up causing lots of inconveniences (such as uncontrolled fireworks being set off that catch the house on fire) and problems (such as flooding the bathroom), but really means well. He is one of the toughest fighters during the Goblin Wars and helps to train his two nephew Polar Cubs who come to live with him.

The home the Tolkien kids grew up in Oxfordshire.

The home the Tolkien kids grew up in Oxfordshire.

What was also really nice was that Tolkien also drew illustrations which he sent with the letters that depict some of what happened that year before.  You can also see his affinity for words and languages as his NPB invents his own alphabet and the Elf Secretary he has writes some Elvish.  There’s also a brief mention of the Hobbit being published in 1937. (The LOTR trilogy came later in his life, but I think an aficionado could probably see future mentions in these letters. I’m not that familiar with them though.)

Interesting bio fact about Tolkien: once freed from WWI service, his first job was working at the Oxford English Dictionary where he focused on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter “W”…

Seeing that it covers the pre-WWII years (and then continues for some of those after), Father Christmas’ correspondence reflects some of the world events going on so it wasn’t all jolliness and ho-ho-ho. There was meaningful mention of kids and families who were in need and who weren’t going to receive any presents. I’d be interested to know how Tolkien’s kids responded to this: did they take it for the lesson it was meant to be, or, as early teens, would they have secretly rolled their eyes and sighed?… I hope it was the former.

Tolkien seems to have really gone above and beyond his role of FC here – it was obviously a tradition that was important to him (and perhaps to his kids), and the last letter that FC writes had me with tears in my eyes…

Lovely and charming read.

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