Book Review: Letters from Santa and the Ice Bear

JRR Tolkien took Christmas pretty seriously. He took the time to write complete letters to his children in the name of Santa. He even created a strange, spindly and unfamiliar (to his family) form of handwriting, so the children wouldn’t know they came from dad.

There’s also a collection of fun personalities that live with Santa, including the Polar Bear, who is both hapless and mischievous:

“Still [Polar Bear] is all right now—I know because he has been at his tricks again: quarreling with the Snowman (my gardener) and pushing him through the roof of his snow house; and packing lumps of ice instead of presents in naughty children’s parcels. That might be a good idea, only he never told me and some of them (with ice) were put in warm storerooms and melted all over good children’s presents!”

And very pleasant neighbors:

“The Man in the Moon paid me a visit the other day—a fortnight ago exactly—he often does about this time, as he gets lonely in the Moon, and we make him a nice little Plum Pudding (he is so fond of things with plums in!).”

In several others, the North Pole is attacked by goblins who actually wage war on the Christmas castle, but find all of Santa’s helpers are far better versed in combat than one might assume – particularly the bear. The goblin wars are exciting, but they are an unusual (and vaguely violent) perspective on Father Christmas, which made them feel a bit odd at points. If you’ve read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, than these stories will sound very familiar.

“I had to blow my golden trumpet (which I have not done for many years) to summon all my friends. There were several battles—every night they used to attack and set fire in the stores—before we got the upper hand, and I am afraid quite a lot of my dear elves got hurt…They have rescued all my reindeer. We are quite happy and settled again now, and feel much safer. It really will be centuries before we get another goblin-trouble. Thanks to Polar Bear and the gnomes, there can’t be very many left at all”

The dates on the letters range from 1920 to 1943, so Santa’s struggles with WWII are detailed in several.

“I am so glad you did not forget to write to me again this year. The number of children who keep up with me seems to be getting smaller: I expect it is because of this horrible war, and that when it is over things will improve again, and I shall be as busy as ever. But at present so terribly many people have lost their homes: or have left them; half the world seems in the wrong place.”

From both a historical and biographical perspective, this portion of the letters are fascinating – to an adult. I attempted to explain the historic significance of those dates to the children in my life and they just stared at me with blank confusion.

My only complaint about the hardcover version  centers on the illustrations. Tolkien included several pictures, illustrating the North Pole and the antics of the Ice Bear. The hard cover edition provides glossy, full-color reproductions of the handwritten letters and all illustrations, but the size of the book is slightly large than a pocket novel (about the size of an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper folded in half), so these reproductions are hard to see.

What I wish they had done was a large format, full color, 3-D version similar to the Ologies books, such as Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons (Ologies) by Dr. Ernest Drake (Author), Dugald A. Steer (Editor).

This super-fancy format would provide ample room for showing off the letters and illustrations, including little envelopes with copies of the letters included. The Dragonalogy book’s secret pockets with letters in both English and in runes are fascinating to children and just-plain-fun for us stodgy-old-adults.

There are many more quotes from this book already posted to this blog, including those mentioned above.

Book reviewed: Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Academic Aspirations

White Noise is one of those books that you find on college reading lists. Google searches on the text produce plenty of suggestions for teaching the text and bookstore catalogs have more copies of books about the novel then they have of the novel itself. This preponderance of academic interest is why I read the book – and why the story completely perplexes me.

Granted, there is plenty of symbolism, offensive dialog, absurd behavior and imagery simply waiting to be uncovered as hidden commentaries on society. It’s a veritable goldmine of possibilities for anyone writing a college level paper. While it has been some years since I read the novel, I distinctly remember noticing how very easy…noticeably easy….it would be to write an American Literature 101 paper on this book. In fact, the text seemed to be written expressly for the purpose of being discussed among academics, dissected by students and lectured upon by professors.

Don’t get me wrong, the story line was solid, the writing high quality, and the novel kept my interest from beginning to end. Yet, during those moments when I struggled with the suspension of disbelief that is necessary to truly enjoy any fictional work, it was because I had the jarring sense of collegiate preparation. It was as if the author stopped his story telling, pulled out an old wooden pointer and clearly indicated those areas where a student would be best advised to focus when writing a term paper.

This left me wondering if this book were truly a high quality work of fiction, or a convenient way to structure a literature 101 class. If it was written for the purposes of academic discussion and teaching-tool-creation, then the book as a whole seems (to me) to be an example of false quality. It is not good literature, it is a collection of examples of what good literature might look like.

True to this analysis, it presents many opportunities for quotes, which I will post to this blog; but only after I have made my own critical commentary on the academic nature of this book…and that would be this post…so…there it is.

A few quotes illustrating my comments above:

“She said I made virtues of her flaws because it was in my nature to shelter loved ones from the truth. Something lurked inside the truth, she said.”

“In a crisis the true facts are whatever other people say they are. No one’s knowledge is less secure than your own.”

“Was he a Samoan, a Native North American, a Sephardic Jew? It was getting hard to know what you couldn’t say to people.”

White Noise by Don Delillo