December 7, 2012 by Heidi
Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time!
Title: Letters from Father Christmas [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. by Baillie Tolkien
Standing: Stand alone.
Genre: Epistolary, Children’s, Holiday
Published: December 14th, 2010 by HarperCollins (Originally published 1976)
Format: Kindle Edition; 113 pages.
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
In 1920, when J.R.R. Tolkien’s eldest son was only three years old, his children began to receive a series of letters from the North Pole. Each year they would arrive with special postage stamps and drawings, bearing the shaky handwriting and stories of Father Christmas. For the next 22 years, the Tolkien children would correspond with Father Christmas, sending their wish lists and best wishes and receiving in return love and stories like no others.
Letters from Father Christmas is a very short and quick read comprised of photographs of the envelopes, stamps, letters, and drawings that J.R.R. Tolkien created in the name of Father Christmas for his children. Published posthumously, the collection was edited by Baillie Tolkien, his daughter-in-law.
If you are looking for unexpected charm, warmth, and unabashed fun this holiday season, Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas provides just that. There is at least one letter for each year, some short, some long, and some years brought several letters from October or November through the season. The letters portray the adventures of Father Christmas along with his bumbling companion, the North Polar Bear. Our dear friend Polar Bear is constantly involved in all sorts of shenanigans ranging from setting off two years works of fire works in one go so that there will be no northern lights for two years, to falling asleep in the tub with the tap running so that all of that year’s presents get flooded. As time marches forward, the North Pole becomes increasingly habitated by Snowbabies, Bear Cubs, Elves, Gnomes, and insidious Goblins. There are epic battles, parties, and no small account of jovial scenes that will charm adults and children alike (in fact, I would suggest reading this one as a family).
As an adult fan of Tolkien’s work, Letters from Father Christmas gives one some very interesting insight into the writer’s home life. Clearly he was a man who loved his children very much. Many years the mishaps at the North Pole are used to help explain away the reality that the children do not receive everything they have asked for. One particular year, Father Christmas mentions not having as much room in his sleigh for presents because he is carrying food and blankets for those many children who are hungry and cold on Christmas Eve; a very subtle but powerful reminder to his children that they are rich in home and family regardless of how much they receive Father Christmas even mentions one year that he was going to bring them “Hobbits” since he was bringing it to many children, but figured that they would have lots already. The latest letters take place during WWII, which Father Christmas speaks of with great distaste and blames for his dwindling stores. Here is one short letter from that time, which also alludes to the many adventures we’ve had to this point:
near North Pole
Christmas Eve 1940
My Dearest Priscilla
Just a short letter to wish you a very happy Christmas. Please give my love to Christopher. 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!
I wonder what you will think of my picture. “Penguins don’t live at the North Pole,” you will say. I know they don’t, but we have got some all the same. What you would call “evacuees”, I believe (not a very nice word); except that they did not come here to escape the war, but to find it! They heard such stories of the happenings up in the North (including a quite untrue story that Polar Bear and all the Polar Cubs had been blown up, and that I had been captured by Goblins) that they swam all the way here to see if they could help me. Nearly 50 arrived. The picture is of Polar Bear dancing with their chiefs. They amuse us enormously: they don’t really help much, but are always playing funny dancing games, and trying to imitate the walk of Polar Bear and the Cubs.
Very much love from your old friend,
While I honestly cannot recommend the Kindle edition of Letters from Father Christmas as you lose too much of the charm and beauty of the colorful artwork, I do recommend picking up a more recent publication as earlier editions omitted some of the letters and drawings that have been included in more recent editions.