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Another glimpse of Tolkien

By Thomas Van (bio - articles - email) | Aug 18, 2014

On a whim, I recently went to the library and picked up a book that may interest Tolkien devotees like myself. Every year from 1920 to 1943, Tolkien wrote letters to his children in the character of Father Christmas, who sent them not just presents but lovely drawings and stories of his home at the North Pole and the various adventures and disasters he got into with his clumsy assistant, the North Polar Bear. These have been collected into a book called Letters from Father Christmas.

In most cases, alongside the text of each letter, the book includes photos of the letters themselves, which is half the fun because Tolkien not only illustrated them, but wrote in a wavering script to convey the shaky handwriting of an old man. The thick, blocky handwriting of the North Polar Bear sometimes appears, as well as the spidery scrawl of Ilbereth, Father Christmas’s elf assistant.

Typical of Tolkien, he even included a message written in the goblin alphabet for his children to decode!

The letters and pictures are charming in themselves, but also show that Tolkien paid as much attention to detail in entertaining his children as he did in his professional writing. Of course, given that The Hobbit and Tolkien’s lesser-known story “Roverandom” both developed as stories told to his children, this is not too surprising. To those of us who love Tolkien’s imagination, Letters from Father Christmas is a delightful look at how it formed his family life.

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