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.

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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

Evaluating a Favorite Fiction List

What does a favorites list say about a specific individual?

When a college recruiter, potential employer, first date or an acquaintance inquires about a favorite book, they are usually trying to get a sense of who the other person is on a more personal level.

I love the discussions that can develop out of this sort of question. I also remain extremely cautious about using the list itself as proof of personality, ethics or beliefs.

Beware! You have entered the land of dangerous assumptions.

There is no ‘should’ in a favorites list. It doesn’t matter what a person’s inner circle or society as a whole thinks; each person chooses according to their own private, gut reaction. The books placed on that very special shelf within my house are not the same as the books proudly displayed on the favorites shelf in your house. Every list is different. Every. Single. One.

It is impossible to evaluate an individual, based on a list of books, titles without knowing why those titles were selected.

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My Favorites List

As an example, here is a selection of titles from my own favorites list (roughly in order according to publication date):

Just glancing over this list, what jumps out at you? When this list is evaluated without discussion, the following details are usually the center of focus…

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Common literary cannons utilized by most universities:

  • Women’s literature: 3
  • Multi-cultural literature: 3
  • Native American literature: 1
  • African American literature: 1
  • Fantasy and Science Fiction: 1
  • LGBT literature: 1
  • Pulitzer prize winners: 1
  • Not recognized by academic circles: 2

The authors:

  • 5 women
  • 2 Men
  • 4 Americans

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    • 1 African American
    • 1 Native American
    • 2 White
  • 1 Czechoslovakian
  • 2 British

While this numeric evaluation is interesting and easy to identify, it is most important to remember that it has little to nothing to do with the process of selecting a favorite.

Favorites Selection Process

To understand the selection process we must examine an individual’s primary categories. For example, my definitions are as follows (links are to my in-progress book lists on GoodReads.com):

Favorite: Any combination of the following:

    • Highly memorable books that provide a strong positive feeling.
    • Books that are re-read or referenced regularly.
    • A person can’t imagine life without a copy of that text.
    • Useful to the point of being necessary for day-to-day living.

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  • Impact: Titles that significantly changed perspective or left a strong impression.
  • Enjoy: Fun to read. Highly forgettable pulp fiction that is perfect for a few hours of mindless relaxation.
  • Enjoy Plus: Somewhere between Enjoy and Favorite.

My definition of Favorite allows for the inclusion of any genre of text, not just novels. This is important to know because, under these circumstances, the question “what is your favorite book” could be answered with a cookbook, auto-maintenance manual, reference manual or anything else that happens to be particularly useful at that moment.

Reasons Behind Fiction Selections

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Because favorite novels are so intimately personal, the only possible way to truly understand the ‘meaning’ provided by a favorites list is by delving into the reasons why the individual made those selections.

In my case, every one of the novels in my list has one or more female characters who defy society’s norms to carve out a self-determined life for herself.

Sometimes the life-path resulted in catastrophe (e.g.: Wuthering Heights)  and other times it provided the best possible outcome a character could have hoped for (e.g.: Their Eyes Were Watching God). In some cases she was sexually free and aggressively confident (e.g.: Rubyfruit Jungle) and in others she was a virgin who refused to give in to peer pressure (e.g.: Voices of Dragons).

They are warriors (e.g.: Lord of The Rings), cautiously defiant and politically subversive teenagers (e.g.: Truckstop Rainbows) and strong young women who choose to live according to traditions and culture of their people (e.g.: The Ancient Child).

Whatever the circumstances, dangers or personal objectives, every one of these stories describes at least one woman who took life head-on and blazed a trail of her own making. This is a specific scenario that I am drawn to on a deep level, so the titles are placed on my favorites list.

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Properly Using a Favorites List

If you ask a potential employee, new friend or long-standing acquaintance for their favorite books list, remember that the list is the beginning of the conversation and not the end of the analysis.

Some things you wanted

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And one final word from Santa on this lovely Christmas day:

“My dear people: there seem to get more and more of you every year. I get poorer and poorer: still I hope that I have managed to bring you all something you wanted, though not everything you asked for…”

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Miles to Go

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During the final12 days before Christmas, I am posting quotes from Santa’s letters – courtesy of JRR Tolkien. It’s a wonderful book and a grand idea. I wish I’d thought of it. 🙂

“Now I must go; it is a lovely fine night and I have got hundreds of miles to go before morning—there is such a lot to do.

A cold kiss from Father Nicholas Christmas.”

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

No Planes Only Reindeer

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During the final12 days before Christmas, I am posting quotes from Santa’s letters – courtesy of JRR Tolkien. It’s a wonderful book and a grand idea. I wish I’d thought of it. 🙂

“I shall soon be off on my travels once more. You need not believe any pictures you see of me in aeroplanes or motors. I cannot drive one, and don’t want to; and they are too slow anyway (not to mention smell). They cannot compare with my own reindeer, which I train myself.”

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

War Hurts Santa

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During the final 12 days before Christmas, I am posting quotes from Santa’s letters – courtesy of JRR Tolkien. It’s a wonderful book and a grand idea. I wish I’d thought of it. 🙂

The following was written in 1939:

“I am very busy and things are very difficult this year owing to this horrible war. Many of my messengers have never come back.”

The following was written in 1940:

“We are having rather a difficult time this year. This horrible war is reducing all our stocks, and in so many countries children are living far from their homes. Polar Bear has had a very busy time trying to get our address-lists corrected. I am glad you are still at home!”

The following was written in 1941:

“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.”

The following was written in 1943:

“My messengers tell me that people call it “grim” this year. I think they mean miserable: and so it is, I fear, in very many places where I was specially fond of going; but I am very glad to hear that you are still not really miserable. Don’t be! I am still very much alive, and shall come back again soon, as merry as ever.”

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Good-by from Santa

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During the final 12 days before Christmas, I am posting quotes from Santa’s letters – courtesy of JRR Tolkien. It’s a wonderful book and a grand idea. I wish I’d thought of it. 🙂

The following is a note from Santa to a child who is getting to old to play the Santa-stockings game:

“A very happy Christmas! I suppose you will be hanging up your stocking just once more: I hope so for I have still a few little things for you. After this I shall have to say “goodbye”, more or less: I mean, I shall not forget you. We always keep the old numbers of our old friends, and their letters; and later on we hope to come back when they are grown up and have houses of their own and children.”

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Poverty Limits Santa

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During the final 12 days before Christmas, I am posting quotes from Santa’s letters – courtesy of JRR Tolkien. It’s a wonderful book and a grand idea. I wish I’d thought of it. 🙂

“I am not able to carry quite as much toy- cargo as usual this year, as I am taking a good deal of food and clothes (useful stuff): there are far too many people in your land, and others, who are hungry and cold this winter.”

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Santa and Clocks

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During the final 12 days before Christmas, I am posting quotes from Santa’s letters – courtesy of JRR Tolkien. It’s a wonderful book and a grand idea. I wish I’d thought of it. 🙂

“It is a good thing clocks don’t tell the same time all over the world or I should never get round, although when my magic is strongest—at Christmas—I can do about a thousand stockings a minute, if I have it all planned out beforehand.”

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Moon Man and Plums

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During the final12 days before Christmas, I am posting quotes from Santa’s letters – courtesy of JRR Tolkien. It’s a wonderful book and a grand idea. I wish I’d thought of it. 🙂

“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!).”

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien