First edition cover

The Father Christmas Letters, also known as Letters from Father Christmas, are a collection of letters written and illustrated by J.R.R. Tolkien between 1920 and 1942 for his children, from Father Christmas.

The Letters were released posthumously by the Tolkien estate on 2 September 1976, the 3rd anniversary of Tolkien’s death. They were edited by Baillie Tolkien, second wife of his youngest son, Christopher Tolkien. The book was warmly received by critics, and it has been suggested that elements of the stories inspired parts of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

Plot

The stories are told in the format of a series of letters, told either from the point of view of Father Christmas or his elvish secretary. They document the adventures and misadventures of Father Christmas and his helpers, including the North Polar Bear and his two sidekick cubs, Paksu and Valkotukka. The stories include descriptions of the massive fireworks that create the northern lights and how Polar Bear manages to get into trouble on more than one occasion.

The 1939 letter has Father Christmas making reference to the Second World War, while some of the later letters feature Father Christmas' battles against Goblins which were subsequently interpreted as being a reflection of Tolkien's views on the German Menace.


"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."
From the publisher

Publication

The letters themselves were written over a period of over 20 years to entertain Tolkien's children each Christmas. Starting in 1920 when Tolkien's oldest son was aged three, each Christmas Tolkien would write a letter from Father Christmas about his travels and adventures. Each letter was delivered in an envelope, including North Pole stamps and postage marks as designed by Tolkien.

Prior to publication, an exhibition of Tolkien's drawings was held at the Ashmolean Museum. These included works from The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and The Father Christmas Letters. The first edition was by Allen and Unwin on 2 September 1976, three years after Tolkien's death. The Houghton Mifflin edition was released later that year on 19 October. It was the third work by Tolkien to be released posthumously, after a collection of poems and the Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings. Edited by Baillie Tolkien, the second wife of Christopher Tolkien, it includes illustrations by Tolkien for nearly all the letters; however, it omitted several letters and drawings.

When the book was republished in 1999 it was retitled Letters from Father Christmas and several letters and drawings not contained in the original edition were added. One edition in 1995 featured the letters and drawings contained in individual envelopes to be read in the manner they were originally conceived to be.

Editions

  • 1976: The Father Christmas Letters. London: George Allen & Unwin; Boston: Houghton Miflin. (48 pages long, omits the letters from 1920-1924 and from 1939-1942)
  • 1995: Letters from Father Christmas. London: CollinsChildren'sBooks; Boston: Houghton Mifflin. (Facsimiles of letters with envelopes, with three previously unpublished pictures)
  • 1999: Letters from Father Christmas. London: HarperCollins; Boston: Houghton Mifflin. (Revised and enlarged edition)
  • 2004: Letters from Father Christmas. London: HarperCollins; Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • 2012: Letters from Father Christmas. London: HarperCollins; Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Reception

The reception to the first two works published posthumously had been warm, which was subsequently thought to be due to Tolkien's recent death. The response to The Father Christmas Letters was much more measured and balanced. Jessica Kemball-Cook suggested in her book Twentieth Century Children's Writers that it would become known as a classic of children's literature, while Nancy Willard for The New York Times Book Review also received the book positively, saying "Father Christmas lives. And never more merrily than in these pages." In 2002, an article in The Independent on Sunday described the work as rivalling "The Lord of the Rings for sheer imaginative joy".

Influence

Paul H. Kocher, whilst writing for the journal Mythprint, suggested that the creatures in The Father Christmas Letters may have been a precursor to those which appeared in Tolkien's later works such as the Lord of the Rings, a view which was shared by Laurence and Martha Krieg in a review in the journal Mythlore (issue #14). For example, the 1933 letter features an attack on Polar Bear by a band of goblins. The Kriegs suggested that the wizard Gandalf may have been developed from Father Christmas.

Translations

Foreign Language Translated name
Afrikaans Die Vader Kersfees Briewe
Albanian Letrat e Krishtlindjeve të Atit
Amharic የገና አባት የገና ደብዳቤዎች
Arabic الأب رسائل عيد الميلاد
Armenian Հայր Սուրբ Ծնունդ Նամակներ
Azerbaijani Ata Milad Məktubların
Basque Aita Gabonetako gutunak
Belarusian Cyrillic Лісты Святога Мікалая
Bengali পিতা ক্রিসমাস অক্ষর
Bosnian Otac Božićna pisma
Bulgarian Cyrillic Отец Коледните писма
Burmese ခမညျးတျောခရစ္စမတ်ပေးစာ
Cambodian លិខិតរបស់ព្រះវរបិតាសួគ៌
Catalan Les cartes del Pare Noel
Croatian Oče Božićne pisama
Czech Otec vánoční dopisy
Danish Julemandens breve
Dutch Brieven aan de Kerstman
Esperanto La Patro Kristnasko Leteroj
Estonian Isa jõulud tähed
Finnish Kirjeitä Joulupukilta
French Lettres du Père Noël
Galician As cartas do Pai Nadal
Georgian შობის ბაბუის წერილები
German Die Briefe vom Weihnachtsmann
Greek Ο πατέρας Χριστουγεννιάτικα γράμματα
Gujarati પિતા ક્રિસમસ લેટર્સ
Haitian Creole Papa Nowèl lèt yo
Hausa Uba Kirsimeti Haruffa
Hebrew האותיות חג המולד אבא
Hindi पिता क्रिसमस पत्र
Hungarian Apa Karבcsonyi Levelek
Icelandic Faðir jólin bréfum
Indonesian Surat Natal Bapa
Irish Gaelic An tAthair litreacha na Nollag
Italian Le Lettere di Babbo Natale
Japanese 父のクリスマスレター
Javanese Sang Rama Surat Natal
Kannada ತಂದೆಯ ಕ್ರಿಸ್ಮಸ್ ಲೆಟರ್ಸ್
Kazakh Cyrillic Әкесі Рождество хаттары ?
Korean 아버지 크리스마스 편지 ?
Kyrgyz Cyrillic Аяз ата тамгалар
Laotian ພຣະບິດາອັກສອນວັນຄຣິດສະມາດ
Latvian Tēvs Ziemassvētku burtus
Lithuanian Tėvo Kalėdos Laiškai
Luxembourgish De Papp Chrëschtdag Bréiwer
Macedonian Cyrillic ׂТаткото Божиќни писма
Malagasy Ny Ray Krismasy Taratasy
Malay Bapa Surat Krismas
Maltese L-Ittri tal-Milied tal-Missier
Marathi पिता ख्रिसमस अक्षरे
Nepalese पिता क्रिसमस पत्र
Norwegian Brev fra julenissen
Pashto سانګ رام سورت نالټ
Persian نامه های کریسمس پدر
Polish Listy Świętego Mikołaja
Portuguese Cartas do Pai Natal
Punjabi ਪਿਤਾ ਜੀ ਦੇ ਕ੍ਰਿਸਮਸ ਵਾਲੇ ਅੱਖਰ
Romanian Scrisori de CrÄ ciun tatăl
Russian ֿПисьма Рождественского Деда
Samoan O le Tusi o le Kerisimasi Tama
Scottish Gaelic An t-Athair Nollaig Litrichean
Serbian Отац Божићна писма (Cyrillic) Otac Božićna pisma (Latin)
Sindhi پيء جو ڪرسمس خط
Slovak Otec vianočné listy
Slovenian Oče Božična pisma
Somalian Masiixiga Aabbaha Waraaqaha
Spanish Las cartas de Papá Noel
Sudanese Rama Natal Sastra
Swahili Barua za Krismasi za Baba
Swedish Breven från Jultomten
Tajik Cyrillic ֿПадар Мактуб Мавлуди
Tamil பிதா கிறிஸ்துமஸ் கடிதங்கள்
Telugu ది ఫాదర్ క్రిస్మస్ లెటర్స్
Thai จดหมายวันคริสต์มาสพ่อ
Turkish Baba Noel Mektupları
Ukrainian Cyrillic Різдвяні листи батька
Urdu والد کرسمس خطوط
Uzbek Ота Рождество мактуби (Cyrillic) Ota Rojdestvo maktubi (Latin)
Vietnamese Sách Giáng sinh của Cha
Welsh Mae'r Llythyrau Nadolig Dad
Yiddish דער פֿאָטער ניטל אותיות
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