Letters from Father Christmas

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
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Tolkien's magical North Pole tales delight all ages.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value
Several letters note hardship in the world, particular dislocated children and families in need during World War II.
Positive Messages
Father Christmas is often annoyed by the troublemaking North Polar Bear, but the two clearly have great affection for each other. Despite mishaps -- from severe weather to sparklers set off in the storeroom -- he and Polar Bear always manage to set thing right and get gifts delivered on time. They make extra effort for children during wartime.
Positive Role Models & Representations
Father Christmas is a very human figure in these letters, both appreciative of Polar Bear's help and exasperated by his antics. He has great empathy for children in need, and thoughtful wishes for the Tolkien children. He's of course devoted to his mission, and overcomes every setback that comes his way. He wraps up his season with a celebration on St. Stephen's Day (Dec. 26). Older readers will appreciate the love and care Tolkien put into creating this correspondence for his children.
Violence & Scariness

Goblins sometimes attack the storerooms at the North Pole, and several accidents lead to explosions of sparklers and crackers. Polar Bear is injured, sometimes hurt or ill, and at one point is missing for days. Humor keeps the mood light, and everything always ends well.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Letters from Father Christmas is a clever collection of illustrated letters fantasist J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, created for his children. They expand on traditional stories of St. Nicholas and the North Pole, adding the accident-prone "helper" the North Polar Bear, troublesome goblins, Snowboys, and others. In one tale the Man in the Moon drinks brandy and falls asleep. There are references to war, including messengers who don't return, displaced children, and special deliveries of basic comforts to families in need. 

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What's the story?

In 1920, J.R.R. Tolkien's children began receiving handsomely illustrated letters from Father Christmas. The letters continued until 1943, when Tolkien's youngest child reached the end of her "stocking days." Father Christmas writes affectionate responses to the children's letters, and regales them with tales from the North Pole. Many feature the troublemaking North Polar Bear, who snaps the North Pole in half, accidentally sets off an entire storeroom of sparklers, and inadvertently overflows the tub and soaks the holiday packages. As world events darken Europe, trouble visits the North Pole in the form of goblins. Elves battle to keep the goblins out of Father Christmas' storerooms. Other characters include the Man in the Moon, Snowboys, and an elvish secretary.

Is it any good?

LETTERS FROM FATHER CHRISTMAS is a treat for readers of all ages. Young ones will savor hearing these stories read aloud, and teens and adults who delight in  J.R.R. Tolkien's imaginative work will enjoy seeing the North Pole through his unique lens. (There's even a goblin alphabet and a bit of elvish writing.) The letters are tender and warmhearted. And they're surprisingly funny, even when -- or especially when -- Polar Bear gets into mischief. Polar Bear often adds his own merry notes, disputing Father Christmas' version of events or embellishing a tale.
The letters are reprinted as text, making them easy to read aloud. Many of the letters are reproduced, and elements of artwork further illustrate the tales. This is a book to treasure together, and may be particularly comforting for children nearing the end of their own "stocking days." It's just as magical for grownups, who will appreciate the creativity and witty humor.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the type and illustrations complement each other. Would you prefer to see just reproductions of the letters?
  • How does J.R.R. Tolkien's imagining of life at the North Pole compare with other stories of Santa? 
  • Families may want to infuse their own holiday traditions with Tolkien's spirit, perhaps beginning a correspondence with Santa themselves.


Book details

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