Review: the Father Christmas Letters

I just re-read Letters from Father Christmas by JRR Tolkien. I read it and enjoyed it as a child. Imagine how thrilling it must have been for Tolkien’s children to receive these letters once a year – and to have to wait a year for the next instalment.

Reading it again as an adult, I was very struck by the contemporary references. In 1930 (with the Great Depression at its height), there was a shortage of toys.

In the early 1930s, there was a resurgence of goblins (though apparently not so many in England). This is clearly a reference to the rise of the Nazis, though couched in language that children could understand.

There are also some oblique references to “my green brother” and “Grandfather Yule”. The older version of Father Christmas was depicted clad all in green and decked with greenery.

Old Father Christmas [CC0, Public Domain]

Tolkien, being an expert on Middle English and Anglo-Saxon, and a devotee of “Northernness” was of course well aware of earlier celebrations of the Winter Solstice: Yule and Modranecht.

The HarperCollins (1999/2004) edition contains facsimiles of most (perhaps all) of Tolkien’s Father Christmas Letters, albeit rather small facsimiles, and full transcripts of all the letters. The (1976) edition I read as a child was larger, but I can’t remember if it contained transcripts, which are very handy, as Father Christmas’s handwriting is very shaky: you have to remember that he was around 1934 years old when he wrote to the Tolkien children!

I wonder whether they would have enjoyed my Father Christmas story, The Gift of Naughtiness.

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