Christmas in July with J.R.R. Tolkien (1976)

Tolkien - Father Christmas Letters - 1976What a find! At a recent yard sale a good friend (@RhonDawg) found a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Father Christmas Letters and she was good enough to give it to me. Published by his daughter-in-law in 1976 on the 3rd anniversary of Tolkien’s death, this is a stunning collection of art and humorous writing. I decided that this was such a neat find that I couldn’t wait until real Christmas came around to share it. Besides, there are multiple editions around now that would make wonderful Christmas gifts for older children or Tolkien fans, and waiting until Christmas would make it too late.

The premise is simple: from his first child’s toddlerhood to the end of his last child’s innocence, Tolkien wrote letters from Father Christmas each year. These letters were carefully delivered to the Tolkien family mantel each year. They include beautiful art, hand-drawn stamps, the hilarious antics of a polar bear, and personal notes in Father Christmas’ shaky handwriting. The children received these letters each year with delight and wonder, finding themselves lost in the myth as long as they could.

Rather than doing a real review–I am thrilled to own this book and wish I had: a) thought of it myself; and b) the skill to do it–I will let the work speak for itself, posting a few examples of the artwork.

On this page, Father Christmas writes to 3 year old John in 1920:

tolkiens-father-christmas-letters-pageDear John,

I heard you ask today what I was like & where I lived. I have drawn ME & My House for you. Take care of the picture. I am just off now for Oxford with my bundle of toys–some for you. Hope I shall arrive in time: the snow is very thick at the North Pole tonight:

Yr loving Fr. Chr.

The polar bear is a fan favourite. Here he has tumbled down the stairs. The note from Father Christmas began: “What do you think the poor dear bear has been and done this time? Nothing as bad as letting off all the lights.”

Tolkien-FatherChristmas-polar-bear

The reference to “letting off all the lights” was 1926, where the Polar Bear set off “the biggest bang in the world, and the most monstrous firework there has ever been.” Chaos ensued in the North Pole. The beautiful cover image is of the Aurora Borealis fireworks that only Santa Claus could keep in his basement.

Tolkien Northern Lights

While most of the book is typescript, there are a couple of examples of copies of the original letters. Here is one in the introduction, a letter of 1933. It tells of peril, where Christmas was almost lost to Goblin attack. The Tolkien Christmas has more elements of violence than the average!

Tolkien Father Christmas Letters forematter

There is another letter in a later edition (2001) that is a neat read. The transcript is in this 1976 edition:

Cliff House
Top of the World
Near the North Pole

Xmas 1925

My dear boys,

I am dreadfully busy this year — it makes my hand more shaky than ever when I think of it — and not very rich. In fact, awful things have been happening, and some of the presents have got spoilt and I haven’t got the North Polar Bear to help me and I have had to move house just before Christmas, so you can imagine what a state everything is in, and you will see why I have a new address, and why I can only write one letter between you both. It all happened like this: one very windy day last November my hood blew off and went and stuck on the top of the North Pole. I told him not to, but the N.P.Bear climbed up to the thin top to get it down — and he did. The pole broke in the middle and fell on the roof of my house, and the N.P.Bear fell through the hole it made into the dining room with my hood over his nose, and all the snow fell off the roof into the house and melted and put out all the fires and ran down into the cellars where I was collecting this year’s presents, and the N.P.Bear’s leg got broken. He is well again now, but I was so cross with him that he says he won’t try to help me again. I expect his temper is hurt, and will be mended by next Christmas. I send you a picture of the accident, and of my new house on the cliffs above the N.P. (with beautiful cellars in the cliffs). If John can’t read my old shaky writing (1925 years old) he must get his father to. When is Michael going to learn to read, and write his own letters to me? Lots of love to you both and Christopher, whose name is rather like mine.

That’s all. Goodbye.

Father Christmas

Thanks to Letters of Note for the transcription. Here is a picture of the original letter:

tolkien-original christmas letter

Also included in this letter are these pictures:

tolkien-christmasmas-letters 1925

I hope you will find a copy of this book for yourselves. They really are a delightful read and a wonderful Christmas project idea. Thanks @RhonDawg for this gift! I’ll leave you all with just a few more pictures:

Tolkien Father Christmas Letters 1933 tolkien-christmas illustrations Tolkien-FatherChristmas-polar-bear 1931

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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17 Responses to Christmas in July with J.R.R. Tolkien (1976)

  1. I hope I do find of copy of this. It is amazing. This is the ONE “Christmas in July” email I’m glad I opened!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I never thought but this title might put people in mind of stores that sell unfashionable clothing or kitchenware shops filled with things no one needs! Oh well–I’m glad you fought through the mental attachments to “Christmas in July” to check in.

      Like

  2. jubilare says:

    I love this book. It’s adorable! And true to Tolkien form, dabbled with languages and alphabets. ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cherish your sharing of it. Today is ever bright : D

    Liked by 1 person

  4. loritischler says:

    Agreeing with the above comments, I add that your delightful sharing has helped cool me off (in Houston’s ubiquitous heat and humidity–over 40C with H.I.) and given me hope that a cooler end is coming. Beautiful post: Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Aonghus Fallon says:

    This was a childhood favourite – I’m pretty sure we even had the same copy. I’d fogotten all about polar bear!

    Like

  6. robstroud says:

    What a wonderful treat. Thank you so much for sharing it. I was totally unaware of this treasure.

    Like

  7. Hanna says:

    Well that was adorable. 🙂 I can’t get over all the detail in those drawings. I had no idea what a talented artist Tolkien was!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    What a delightful ‘serial’ this is! And how lovely that we have all been allowed to share in this bit of intimate domestic mythopoesis (for nearly 40 years, now)! We only caught up with the later, “complete edition”, fairly recently, but for years we enjoyed annually reading a letter a day from this first edition, leading up to Christmas, like a sort of extra Advent calendar.

    And I see there is also an “Enhanced Edition”:

    Liked by 1 person

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