Christmas through the imagination of Tolkien

Letters from Father Christmas that Tolkein wrote for his children will be on display for the first time in the Bodleian exhibition in 2018.

© The Tolkien Estate Ltd 1976
© The Tolkien Estate Ltd 1976
© The Tolkien Estate Ltd 1976

Tolkien is perhaps best known for his astonishing ability to create vivid and engrossing worlds in his novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Having inspired so many from his home in Oxford, a Bodleian exhibition in 2018 titled Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth will reveal a whole new world Tolkien created for his children.

Christmas already carries a whole range of mythos and Tolkien, in painstakingly detailed letters from Father Christmas to his children, deepened and strengthened this world with playful stories and beautiful illustrations. The attention to detail of his stories, introducing characters such as Santa’s clumsy Polar Bear helper, shows his instinctive desire to build fictional worlds.

© The Tolkien Estate Ltd 1976

Curator of the exhibition, Catherine McIlwaine, told Cherwell that it will reveal “a side of Tolkien that many people don’t know about”. As the father of four children, Tolkien shows his dedication to sparking the imagination of children in these letters spanning 23 years, even including references to Hornby toys, a particular favourite of his sons.

The letters also reflect Tolkien’s long development of Middle Earth — Christmas gnomes become elves as time progresses. One letter, written in 1932, around the time that Tolkien finished his first draft of The Hobbit for his good friend C.S. Lewis, features thieving orcs, ransacking Santa’s grotto and stealing his toys.

© The Tolkien Trust 2012

Tolkien’s world building was fueled by an underlying desire to create a national mythology for Great Britain. “Tolkien felt that Britain was deprived of a national mythology by its invaders”, McIlwaine told Cherwell. As a professor of Anglo-Saxon studies in Oxford, Tolkien’s reverence of Beowulf as “the first great English piece of literature” shows his obsession with English mythos. Of note to scholars of English literature in Oxford University, an original type script of Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf from 1926, featuring handwritten notes, will be on display too.

Although McIlwaine notes how Tolkien sits “outside the literary canon”, she told Cherwell of his ‘influence’ on all fantasy works. Fan letters from great writers including a 19 year old Terry Pratchett will also be on display. In this regard, Tolkien’s project can be regarded as a success, from Harry Potter to Game of Thrones, works inspired by Tolkien’s English mythos have taken the world by storm just as much as Homer, Virgil, or Chanson de Gestes.

All this and more will be displayed at the Bodleian Library exhibit from June 1st 2018 until October. The Exhibition will be accompanied by a book titled ‘Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth’ published on 1 June 2018.