The Story: Letters from Father Christmas, a stand-alone work by J.R.R. Tolkien, is a collection of both his writings and original artwork for his children as he pens under the guise of various characters from the North Pole. Collectively, these tell a story of Father Christmas’ various adventures and humorous trials to try to spread Christmas cheer to children around the world.
My Take: It’s a safe bet that most readers probably know Tolkien as an author, maybe even an essayist (especially through his observations on the fantasy genre in “On Fairy Stories” and his insight into Beowulf in “The Monster and the Critics”). But many readers (other than rabid Tolkien fans, such as myself) probably don’t know him as an artist. While Tolkien is better known for the words he penned than the pictures and illustrations he drew, this charming Christmas book is a perfect introduction as it showcases his talents in both arenas.
Letters from Father Christmas is a collection of letters Tolkien composed (under the guise of Father Christmas) to his children over the years. While Father Christmas serves as the primary figure in these “stories,” he’s also joined by an Elvish scribe and the bumbling North Polar Bear, both of whom relate fantastical, even comical, events that occur in the North Pole. As a real treat, this book contains copies of the physical letters (but not in fold-out form), a “translation” of the letters’ handwriting, and, of course, Tolkien’s colorful illustrations.
Letters from Father Christmas bursts with Tolkien’s imagination and his take on the various denizens of the North Pole is mature and inventive that, while it holds true to some of the basic folklore surrounding Father Christmas, it adds a creative slant of Tolkien’s own imagination. Because of this, both old and young readers will find much to enjoy here. For children, this will be a fun Christmas reading that takes the legends of Santa Claus to a whole new level. Adults, too, can enjoy these miniature stories’ adventures and their interesting characters. There are some very comical moments here, too, especially when the letters split into multiple voices, but the humor is mature and avoids an infantile delivery.
Likewise, this book contains an inner warmth that reveals, if nothing else, the deep love Tolkien had for his children. I would be lying if I said the last letter didn’t make me emotional yet, at the same time, Tolkien retains a sense of optimism that magic and wonder can be found in everyday life, even as a grown up.
Language – None.
Violence – None. There are some accidents and mishaps (usually the result of another character’s clumsiness) but these are intended to be comical and no characters are actually harmed.
Sexual Content – None.
Letters from Father Christmas can make for a new holiday reading tradition for all ages. For fans of Tolkien, this collection is a must. But non-Tolkien fans can find much to enjoy here, too, from the high fantasy take on Santa and his crew of slightly off-kilter elves, to the wonders of the North Pole, to the thoughtful humor and subtle insights into how “magic” can be found everywhere.