While many readers are eagerly anticipating this month’s release of "The Hobbit" in movie theaters, and possibly rekindling an acquaintance with the book, this season consider adding J.R.R. Tolkien’s Christmas classic, "Letters from Father Christmas" to your family’s reading list.
Whether you have been a long-time Tolkien enthusiast, or are merely passing acquaintances, "Letters from Father Christmas" deserve a spot on your bookshelf, if for no other time than the holidays.
The book is a collection of letters Tolkien wrote for his children in England each year between 1920 and 1943. Each Christmas, a letter arrived for the Tolkien children containing stories of the North Pole, fully decorated with elaborate stamps and designs.
Tolkien, as Father Christmas, wrote on the antics of his special helper, P.B. (the initials for Polar Bear), the hard-working, responsible elves, and the dangerous attacks of the goblins who threaten the sanctuary of the toy workshop.
Each letter was illustrated by Tolkien himself, often depicting entire scenes from the letters, and fully colored.
The stories are delightful, filled with the daily excitement and challenges that must come with a workshop that produces toys and goodies all year long.
There was the time that P.B. got into the candy, and the year that goblins nearly destroyed the workshop and Christmas very nearly didn’t come. Each year, however, Christmas did come, and Father Christmas always found time to write his letters.
Several paperback editions of the letters are now in existence, but if you can splurge a little, find Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s hardback edition from 1995. Letters actually fold out from envelopes on each page and reveal Tolkien’s whimsical handwriting and magical drawings.
Obviously, the letters were written with young children in mind, but one of the things I love about Tolkien was his resolute conviction that fairy tales had a message for adults as well children.
His view was that fairy tales were not an escape from reality, but a reminder of what is true in life that we tend to forget.
In "Letters from Father Christmas," there are certainly imaginative tales of dancing polar bears, serious elves, and handsome reindeer, but too there is Father Christmas’ concern that he may not be able to come this year – perhaps the goblins will win, perhaps the disturbances on earth will prevent him from coming.
Just as the Tolkien children waited in breathless anticipation to see if Christmas would really come, it certainly it does, if only by a hair’s breadth. In his telling of the age-old story of good triumphing over evil, Tolkien reaffirmed that it does still, especially at Christmas.