The letters Tolkien wrote to his children in the role of Father Christmas were not originally intended for publication. The posthumous publication reproduces a selection of the texts and illustrations. The second, more comprehensive edition of 1999 contains the letter texts in their original version.
The first letter dates from Christmas 1920, when Tolkien's first son, John, was three years old, and the last one from 1938 (in the 1943 reprint). By this time, the three sons have outgrown such Christmas rituals and daughter Priscilla is already eleven and later 14 years old. Tolkien draws stamps on the envelopes and writes impressive addresses in scrawly script. This elaborately interlaced script is, of course, an artifice to keep his children from recognizing their father's handwriting. Tolkien draws pictures of the North Pole, an ice palace, the team of reindeer, and the helper, the clumsy polar bear. Many a year Father Christmas has far too much to do, but he always gratefully mentions the letters the four Tolkien children have written to him. He also worries if the presents are right. Most importantly, he uses text and pictures to create a faraway Christmas world where presents are chosen for each child, wrapped, and sent on their way. Over the years, Tolkien invents more and more companions, a snowman, an old cave bear, friendly elves, cheeky goblins, and the polar bear's nephews who are up to nothing but mischief. Many a little fantasy has certainly crept into the letters from his "Middle Earth cosmos", e.g. the elf Ilbereth, who later actively supports Father Christmas as Chief Secretary. Tolkien also adds contemporary references, for example when he mentions war and suffering of the people from 1939 on.
These "Letters from Father Christmas" are not a picture book in the true sense of the word, but their wonderfully affectionate tone, their narrative continued over many years in text and pictures, form an impressive testimony to "art for children".
J.R.R. Tolkien (John Ronald Reuel Tolkien), born in 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa, died in 1973 in Bournemouth, Great Britain, is considered the best-known representative and "forefather" of modern fantasy literature.
Tolkien came to England in 1895. He began drawing intensively as a boy, but never received any formal artistic training. He studied classical and English philology at Oxford. From 1920 he taught in Leeds, and from 1925 to 1959 in Oxford. In addition to his scholarly activities, he wrote literary texts and illustrated them himself. His best-known books are "The Hobbit or There and Back Again," 1937, and "The Lord of the Rings," 1954/55, each translated into more than 40 languages. Both books are based on his continuing studies of ancient languages and sources, which led him to develop his own mythological cosmos. Written as a children's book, "The Hobbit" features Tolkien's own drawings, as do his other texts written for children.
Wayne G. Hammond, Christina Scull: J.R.R.Tolkien Companion and Guide, 3 vols. London: Harper Collins, rev. ed., 2017
Wayne G. Hammond, Christina Scull: The Art of the Hobbit by J.R.R.Tolkien,
London: Harper Collins, 2011