Letters From Father Christmas – J. R. R. Tolkien

This collection of letters, written to his children every Christmas over a twenty-year period, are a true masterpiece and further proof of Tolkien’s ingenuity and literary flair. Letters from Father Christmas is an epistolary of letters sent from ‘Father Christmas’ and his friends in the North Pole to Tolkien’s children from his first-born John, through Michael and Christopher and finally to Priscilla, his youngest.

Along with some fabulously artistic drawings to accompany the letters, the main focus is on the year’s events in the lead up to Christmas each year, and the problems that have ensued (usually as a result of Father Christmas’s companion and helper, Polar Bear). Each letter is written and detailed with a poignancy and delicacy only found in Tolkien’s work; despite constantly apologising for not having very much time to write, the letters are crafted elegantly and are well thought-out. Each letter is believable and realistic, for example including reasons for the younger children as to why the letters are not written to the elder ones any longer and some plausible excuses as to why some years the children will not receive everything they have asked for, such as the year when the war with the Goblins had resulted in nearly all of the Alison Uttley books that Priscilla asked for being burnt.

You cannot read this collection without imagining what must have been happening behind the scenes: Tolkien scribbling away, writing in his different fonts for each of his characters and inventing new escapades for his children to wonder at, and his children on the receiving end of these letters, reading the responses of a man that they wrote to several times a year and who always made time to reply to them with enthusiasm and love. I know that of I was a child receiving this sort of correspondence, I would have been even more excited for Christmas every year than I already was.

It is wonderful, for anybody who is an established fan of Tolkien as I am, to see how his ideas and characters interweave between his narratives and to recognise where some of his inspiration for his characters and narrative events arose from. But what is most interesting is the last few letters in the collection written from 1939 until 1943, and to see how the Second World War affected the tone of the writing. Father Christmas euphemistically explains about his depleting stores as the reason for the lack of presents every year, and the troubles he has getting presents when he has been trying to locate children who have had to move and who have even less than themselves. It is beautiful and heart-warming to read, and despite being ended for seventy-one years, the importance and emotion of World War Two was brought straight back into my mind as I read, for which I am grateful.

The letters were often so engrossing, and the stories and characters so consistent and convincing that I occasionally forgot that I was reading a series of letters and not a story, or even an actual autobiography. The use of three different narrative voices is also inspired; the chemistry between the characters is amazing and ever so funny. The occasional passages and interjections from Polar Bear were my particular favourite.

All in all, this is a truly magical collection, and I could have decided to read nothing better at Christmas time. Tolkien’s writing is engaging and incredibly inventive and the idea itself is lovely. I highly and enthusiastically recommend this to everybody that comes across it. You will not be disappointed, whatever your age. Tolkien always provides something for everyone.

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