Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Letters From Father Christmas - J.R.R. Tolkien

Letters from Father Christmas
J.R.R. Tolkien
Mariner Books
Copyright: 2004

The Amazon.com product description:
Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in a strange, spidery handwriting and a beautiful colored drawing or painting. The letters were from Father Christmas.
They told wonderful tales of life at the North Pole: how the reindeer got loose and scattered presents all over the place; how the accident-prone North Polar Bear climbed the North Pole and fell through the roof of Father Christmas’s house into the dining room; how he broke the Moon into four pieces and made the Man in it fall into the back garden; how there were wars with the troublesome horde of goblins who lived in the caves beneath the house, and many more.
No reader, young or old, can fail to be charmed by Tolkien’s inventiveness in this classic holiday treat.
We all know of J.R.R. Tolkien's main books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (formed of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King), but this little book is a neat reminder of one of Tolkien's other talents: artwork, both drawing and painting.

The letters started arriving for Tolkien's eldest son, John when he was only three years old, in 1920, and continued until 1943, throughout the childhoods of all of the author's children. The letters are charming, telling the story of life at the North Pole over the years.

Each letter is lavishly done, with different writing styles for the different people writing the letters - Father Christmas' hand is very shaky and elaborate, while the Polar Bear's is most definitely bold, and interestingly spelled. Nearly all of the letters are fully reproduced in all their glory, and the letters are also typeset for easier reading, although the different writers are differentiated by use of bold, italics etc. As well, the various details are reproduced on the plain pages: illuminated letterings, doodles, etc

In addition to all of the details of the writing, there are also a good number of full page pictures depicting the events described in the letters, all done in different media. There's pencil crayon, watercolour and others that I can't clearly identify, but they are all absolutely spectacular!

There are some intriguing moments in the letters, especially those from the 1930's and later, at least from my perspective - that's where there are some vague hints from Tolkien's other writings appearing: Ilbereth, the goblins, and even a mention of Tolkien's book The Hobbit. Really though, the Letters From Father Christmas stands independent from his other writings.

Overall, I found Letters from Father Christmas to be a charming read, both the first time I read it several years ago, and again this time, and it makes for a great gift to find under the tree, both for kids and for adults. There's something about the writing styles of the letters that just reignites the sense of wonder that is Christmas.

This edition in particular is absolutely spectacular, with all of the illustrations as well as the text of the letters and all of the rich colour. A great gift for Tolkien fans, and a wonderful read for the upcoming holiday season.

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