Tolkien’s Christmas book brings back warm memories

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(Graphic by Marshall Sunner | Collegian Media Group)

“Very much love from your old friend, Father Christmas.”

This is the closing of the final letter Father Christmas wrote to any of Edith and J.R.R. Tolkien’s children, John, Michael, Christopher and Priscilla. Over more than twenty years of correspondence between the children and the Man from the North Pole, readers are taken on the real-life journey of imagination and love between a father and his children in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Letters from Father Christmas.”

With spidery handwriting accompanied by illustrations that might remind you of Middle-earth, this compilation of Tolkien’s letters has both the outlandish — such as a goblin attack on the North Pole — and the somber — as Father Christmas laments the “horrible war” as the letters drift into the 1940s. Mixed in are the joys of the holiday year after year as readers grow up alongside the children.

We can imagine their giddiness when they received a letter with the special “North Pole Postage” stamp on it. We also get the chance to see what presents they wanted and how new characters from the North Pole are introduced to them through the years. Who knew there was so much going on at Santa’s home?

After finishing the book, it is those last letters that stick with me. After the older boys have left home, Father Christmas writes only to the youngest child, Priscilla. In 1942, he begins his letter by blaming his assistant (a Polar Bear, of course) for losing her letter to him. Yet, you can hear Tolkien hanging on to the last bit of joy that the letters have brought his family over the years as, presumably, a teenaged Priscilla never wrote a letter to the North Pole.

However, it’s the last letter that’s the tearjerker, at least for me. In 1943, with the second World War raging all around and innocence lost, Father Christmas writes to Priscilla: “A very happy Christmas! I suppose you will be hanging up your stocking just once more … After this, I shall have to say ‘goodbye,’ more or less: I mean, I shall not forget you. We always keep the old numbers of our old friends, and their letters; and later on we hope to come back when they are grown up and have houses of their own and children.”

There it is. The passing of transient childhood and the acceptance of that fact by a loving father. After reading through all the comforting letters Father Christmas wrote to the Tolkien children through the years, I’ll admit it got to me.

Yet, I tend to focus on the serious aspect of things, and I do not want to leave you with only that notion of this wonderful book. For Tolkien fans, this book provides a glimpse into the personal life of the esteemed author, showing the love he had for his children. For Christmas enthusiasts in general, this is an excellent book to get you in the holiday spirit (if you aren’t already).

The tenderness found within this book will no doubt stir warm memories of Christmas, and maybe even of the letter you wrote to Santa Claus back in the day. In these contentious times, this book provided me with plenty of cheer.

In all, I hope you find the time to read “Letters from Father Christmas” once finals are over.

Speaking of finals: good luck! And Merry Christmas!

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