This past summer, the wonderful blog Letters of Note posted a handwritten letter legendary fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien, posing as “Father Christmas,” wrote to his three boys. It was a single chapter in what became a tradition in the Tolkien home.
In December of 1920, J. R. R. Tolkien secretly began what would become an annual event in his household for the next 20 years: in the guise of a shaky-handed Father Christmas, he lovingly handwrote a letter to his 3-year-old son, John; placed it in an envelope along with an illustration of his home near the North Pole; and planted it in the youngster’s bedroom. From then on, until 1943, Father Christmas never failed to write to all of Tolkien’s four children, and with each passing Winter his enchanting stories from the North Pole became more elaborate and character-filled. In 1976 many of the letters and illustrations were compiled and released in book-form; in 2004 a far more comprehensive and beautifully crafted version was published: Letters from Father Christmas; 25th Anniversary edition.
Below is the letter of note. I promise you it’s more imaginative than any letter my parents or yours probably ever wrote to Santa on our behalf…
My dear boys,
I am dreadfully busy this year — it makes my hand more shaky than ever when I think of it — and not very rich. In fact, awful things have been happening, and some of the presents have got spoilt and I haven’t got the North Polar Bear to help me and I have had to move house just before Christmas, so you can imagine what a state everything is in, and you will see why I have a new address, and why I can only write one letter between you both. It all happened like this: one very windy day last November my hood blew off and went and stuck on the top of the North Pole. I told him not to, but the N.P.Bear climbed up to the thin top to get it down — and he did. The pole broke in the middle and fell on the roof of my house, and the N.P.Bear fell through the hole it made into the dining room with my hood over his nose, and all the snow fell off the roof into the house and melted and put out all the fires and ran down into the cellars where I was collecting this year’s presents, and the N.P.Bear’s leg got broken. He is well again now, but I was so cross with him that he says he won’t try to help me again. I expect his temper is hurt, and will be mended by next Christmas. I send you a picture of the accident, and of my new house on the cliffs above the N.P. (with beautiful cellars in the cliffs). If John can’t read my old shaky writing (1925 years old) he must get his father to. When is Michael going to learn to read, and write his own letters to me? Lots of love to you both and Christopher, whose name is rather like mine.
That’s all. Goodbye.
And here’s the illustration that accompanied the letter…
(HT: Hypervocal’s Twitter)