This week our kids were given a copy of Letters from Father Christmas, by J. R. R. Tolkien. I had only become aware of this lovely collection a couple of weeks earlier and had thought it would make a wonderful present idea for them (our older two have become ardent Tolkien fans this year), so I was very pleased when it arrived in the mail as a gift from a friend of ours.
It's a collection of the Christmas letters that J. R. R. Tolkien wrote to his four children year by year, between 1920 and 1942. Starting when his eldest son was three, the letters were written to entertain his children each Christmas time. They were delivered in an envelope complete with stamps that Tolkien had designed. Each letter is written by 'Father Christmas' (along with his helper the 'Great Polar Bear') and they contain some delightful anecdotes and descriptions of life at the North Pole. Rather than being tired recitations of the usual 'Santa' cliches, they are genuinely imaginative and unique and funny (as you would expect from Tolkien).
What I really loved about the collection as I read through it last night, apart from the stories themselves, was the fact that they were written by such a great author solely for his own children. It is touching that he went to so much trouble with the stories and illustrations for his immediate family. It says something about the value of these relationships to Tolkien. There is an intimacy in the writing that comes from such a small audience as well.
I also liked the way that as a reader all these years later I could see the family growing and changing across the twenty-odd years of the collection. It reminded me how quickly children grow, and how fleeting the time is when they are young and at home and want to imagine faraway lands.
This is another wonderful book to read at Christmas time. If you like Tolkien's work, I'd venture as far as to say that it's a must!