Review: Letters from Father Christmas / Author: J R R Tolkien / Publisher: HarperCollins / Release Date: September 27th
You'll all be familiar with the way you can buy a kid a present and he'll end up playing with the wrapping paper instead. One suspects it must have been a bit like that with Tolkien's Father Christmas letters, which he wrote for his children over a period of more than 20 years - because the best parts are definitely the envelopes.
The reproductions in this book show just how stunning these are, with their coloured lettering, hand-drawn franking marks and hand-painted North Pole postage stamps. The stamps, in particular, are miniature works of art, sometimes painted directly onto the envelope, sometimes stuck on, complete with carefully serrated edges – a philatelist's dream.
The second best parts are the illustrations accompanying the letters, with their elegant yet child-friendly designs and glowing colours, now looking better than ever in this revised edition. The letters themselves rank a lowly third in interest. In theory, they show Tolkien's imagination working organically as, over the years, he expands Santa's set-up, giving him a maladroit helper in the form of Polar Bear, then an elvish scribe to shoulder some of his paperwork and various other background characters, plus some evil gnomes to put his fur-trimmed boot into. But in practice there's a sameyness to Tolkien's jokes about gluttony and bone-breaking pratfalls which soon grows wearisome if you read more than a few missives at a time. Still, Tolkien fans might well want this smart new edition for their Christmas stockings.