Christmas With J.R.R. Tolkien: The Father Christmas Letters

Tolkien - Father Christmas Letters - 1976What a find! At a yard sale a good friend scored 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. If you haven’t completed all your Christmas shopping yet, there are multiple editions around that would make wonderful Christmas gifts for older children or Tolkien fans–though you might need express shipping or the hopsitality of a used bookstore.

It is a great story. From his first child’s toddlerhood to the end of his last child’s Christmas 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.

I am thrilled to own this book and wish I had: a) thought of it myself; and b) the skill to do it. So I will let the work speak for itself, posting a few examples of the artwork and some transcripts.

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. 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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16 Responses to Christmas With J.R.R. Tolkien: The Father Christmas Letters

  1. David B. says:

    Love this book! Never got one and haven’t seen it in a while, so great to see your excerpts. Merry Christmas to you all!

    Like

  2. robstroud says:

    Never knew of the existence of this gem. Thanks for alerting me to it. And, may God grant a Merry Christmas and a blessed 2017 for you and your loved ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. wanderwolf says:

    Oh! I’m so glad you shared this with us! I am going to share with my brother this Christmas. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

    Like

  4. Cardinal Doomsday says:

    I still have a copy of the 1976 edition given to me by my grandmother soon after publication.
    What a great book it is!

    Like

  5. Dana Ames says:

    There is a later edition available, with some added new material and digitally-enhanced reproductions of the letters.

    Dana

    Like

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:
  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Corey Olsen gave a very interesting, entertaining illustrated lecture on the Letters, a year ago:

    Like

  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    And the Tolkien Estate website has a very interesting essay by Baillie Tolkien, the editor of the Letters:

    http://www.tolkienestate.com/en/writing/tales-for-children/letters-from-father-christmas.html

    Liked by 1 person

  9. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    We enjoyed reading the 1976 edition together day by day annually leading up to Christmas, as a sort of appendix to the Advent Calendar – the fuller, later editions would take some more planning but could surely also be enjoyed a letter or so per day in this way!

    Liked by 1 person

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  13. Mary P says:

    What a great book it is! […] J.R.R. Tolkien,”On Fairy-Stories” (1947) […]

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I did, however, feature the Father Christmas Letters in our last season of […] […] J.R.R. Tolkien,”On Fairy-Stories” (1947) […]

    Like

  15. TechBook says:

    I did, however, feature the Father Christmas Letters in our last season of […] I did, however, feature the Father Christmas Letters in our last season of […] […] J.R.R. Tolkien,”On Fairy-Stories” (1947) […]

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