I’m having a little trouble getting into the holiday spirit this year, try as I might. Why not let Professor Tolkien give me a little push in the right direction?
Written and illustrated by Tolkien between 1920 and 1942, these letters were written for his children from the point of view of Father Christmas, his elvish secretary, the North Polar Bear, and his sidekick cubs. To go that extra mile, each letter was delivered with envelopes bearing North Pole stamps and markings designed by Tolkien.
This will likely come as a surprise to those who know me, but I’ve never actually read this before now. It’s even weirder to consider that idea when you know that there are some Tolkien scholars who believe the professor used his Father Christmas as his prototype for Gandalf. I have no excuses. I can only say I got there in the end.
Everything one could expect from Tolkien is found here. There’s a sense of wonder that comes from the telling of children’s tales that is not only more than appropriate for Christmas, it really makes me wonder what it was like growing up in the Tolkien household. Likewise, Tolkien develops his characters over the course of years through these letters, and it isn’t long before they feel like living, breathing individuals. His love of languages shines through as well, which naturally lends to the world building and mythmaking. This is one of those collections that could probably be put together over time by a number of talented writers, but this one is so undeniably Tolkien in its wit and charm.
What is also undeniably Tolkien are little bits of Middle-Earth woven into the threads of these letters. For instance, Father Christmas’ elvish secretary is named Ilbereth, there are mentions of “Arctic Quenya” for some of the writings, and my personal favorite… the Great Goblin Wars of the North Pole. It sounds like these might be the last vestiges of that race since the days of the War of the Ring, and North Polar Bear makes short work of many more of them. It’s kind of awesome to say this, but Tolkien basically out-Narnia-ed C. S. Lewis with this. Not bad for something that was never designed for public consumption.
Obviously, the audio format isn’t really conducive for seeing the original illustrations, but it’s hard to complain about the delivery when your chief narrator is none other than Sir Derek Jacobi. There have been a number of Tolkien’s shorter works released into the wild on Audible with Jacobi at the helm, which as far as I’m concerned is one of the best Christmas presents a this Tolkien fan could ask for. All I need now are the original illustrations. As those are somewhat important to this book, I’ll drop a star off my rating, with the understanding that the book itself is easily a 5 star win.