• Nina Clare

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien (1976)


It was such a pleasure to read this in the days leading up to Christmas. Also known as The Father Christmas Letters, this is a collection of letters written to the Tolkien children, John, Christopher, and Priscilla, between the years of 1920 and 1943 from Father Christmas, and published three years after Tolkien’s death. As the children get older, the letters get longer, telling of the adventures and calamities of hard-working Father Christmas and his friends and enemies.

The whimsical humour of Tolkien glows through the little stories that Father Christmas shares with the children, written in his shaky handwriting, because it is 'so cold', and he is so old. A magical world is brought to life as Nicholas Christmas describes his house at the North Pole, with The Snow Man as his gardener and the North Polar Bear as his chief assistant. North Polar Bear is always getting into scrapes, accidentally turning on the Northern Lights for two years in one go, and breaking the North Pole another year by climbing up it. He includes his own funny stories and messages to the children, written in his thick writing due to his 'fat paw'. During the years of World War II, Father Christmas tells of of terrible battles with goblins, and explosions going off, breaking the moon into pieces and shaking the stars out of place.

There are elves and gnomes, talking bears, and a magical golden trumpet for summoning help when the goblins attack; undoubtedly many of the ideas that would later be fully explored in The Lord of the Rings are here in germinal form, and what Tolkien work would be complete without a new language? North Polar Bear very helpfully writes out the pictorial goblin alphabet for the children to learn.

I hadn't realised that Tolkien was an amateur artist, his drawings of the North Pole and the escapades of Father Christmas are a delight; he even drew beautiful postage stamps on the envelopes and left them dusted with snow for the children to find. Humour radiates from the words and pictures, as does Tolkien’s obvious pleasure in his children. There is some nostalgia in the letters beginning with being addressed to the eldest child John, aged three at the time of the first letter. As John grows out of letter writing to Father Christmas, the middle child Christopher learns to read and write and takes up the family tradition. Eventually baby Priscilla comes of age, until she is the only remaining child at home. The last letter of 1943 from Father Christmas is one of farewell, as he writes that she will be hanging up her stocking ‘just once more’, but he will never forget her.

These letters bring back a era when childhood seemed a far simpler and innocent time than in today’s world. But then I recall that Tolkien was raising his young family between the horrors of the two world wars. Every generation has its own particular trials; nevertheless, I was left feeling that I wished I was a small child again with all the magic of Christmas that only a child who believes in Father Christmas feels.

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