Every year I look for a Christmas book to read in order to put me in the Christmas mood. This year, I found this little gem, Tolkien’s “Letters from Father Christmas” and truly enjoyed it.
It would seem that Tolkien was very devoted to his children and every year from 1920 to 1943, he would send them illustrated letters from Father Christmas. Every year the letters got longer and he would add stories of his main helper, Polar Bear. Over the years he even added characters that can be compared to characters from his books. He had the ”Snow Man”, which in real life was his gardener and ”Ilbereth” the elf, who was his secretary. There were also various other minor characters that would help him battle the goblins who rode on bats and who would also help him with Polar Bear and his many pranks.
Tolkien would write letters back as well as make drawings. He also invented this alphabet that Polar Bear found on the caves where the Goblins lived. Some say a lot of these stories were the foundation for ”The Hobbit”.
What I found truly enjoyable was that Tolkien relates to the events that happens during the years while writing to his children. 1929, he sort of mentions that Christmas will be light this year and I think he was referring to the beginning of the Great Depression. 1937, the year The Hobbit was published, he writes that Father Christmas has been VERY BUSY this year. When they move house he makes funny comments about losing their address and of course, in 1939 he writes, ”I am very busy and things are very difficult this year owing to this horrible war. Many of my messengers have never come back.” In 1940 he writes, ”We are having rather a difficult time this year. This war is reducing our stocks and in so many countries children are living far from their homes. Polar Bear has been busy correcting the address list. I am glad you are still at home!” I imagine since they already lived in Oxford and not London, the Tolkien children did not have to be displaced like so many kids who lived in London.
Even if at times some of the world history was bleak, for the most part, Tolkien kept the stories funny and upbeat for his kids. He would note as they were getting older and probably no longer believed in Father Christmas, that if they did not hang their stockings, they would not get any presents, so whether or not they believed, or even if they no longer wrote him a letter, if they wanted presents, they should hang up their stocking.
In 1943 he wrote his last letter to his daughter, Priscilla, she was 14 and I presume she no longer believed. In part of the letter he wrote,
”My messengers tell me people call it grim this year. I think they mean miserable: and so far it is, I fear, in very many places where I was specially fond of going; but I am very glad to hear that you are still not really miserable. Don’t be! I am still very much alive, and shall come back again soon, as merry as ever. There has been no damage in my country; and though my stocks are running rather low I hope soon to put that right. Give my love to the others: John, Michael and Christopher.”
This book is at times funny and sometimes a bit grim but f you are a fan of Tolkien, I highly recommend it. I am passing my copy along to a big fan in this house, Thing 2.