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.

Amazon.com

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

Book Review: Snowballs Make the Best Gifts

Most holiday-season picture books focus on Santa Claus and the joy of giving, or receiving gifts. It’s a heart-warming experience wrapped up in a neat little box covered in pretty paper and a bow.

The best thing about this book is the way Santa Claus delivers the best possible gift to  Yukio, the main character – an EPIC snowball fight! It’s not a toy or clothes or even a much-needed tool or box of supplies, it’s an activity!

The children in my life simply loved the snowball fight between a village of ninjas (and their ninja children) and a mysterious red-suited samurai who turns out to be the jolly-old-man himself. The best part? Santa reveals his identity through a letter left for Yukio, under the tree:

Dear Yukio,
I hope you enjoyed the EPIC snowball fight. I made it just for you.
Sincerely,
Samurai Santa

The story is fun, well-told and full of action and adventure. There’s a happy ending and an entire community of kids who enjoy the best snowball fight of their entire lives! So, in that respect, it’s an excellent book to read during the holidays – just for fun.

However, the book also opens up the concept of gift giving as an action instead of a thing. Sometimes the best presents don’t have wrapping paper or boxes or a place under the tree. Sometimes they are the time we spend with each other.

It’s an all-around excellent story.

Samurai Santa, A Very Ninja Christmas, by Rubin Pingk

Holiday Book Review: Life of Santa

This has got to be one of the best holiday season biographies I’ve ever read. Actually, it may be the only holiday-season biography I’ve ever read, since most biographies do not frame their life experiences within the context of a single holiday.

Sal Lizard is a man who spends a significant portion of his life, rear round, playing scheduled and impromptu Santa Clause performances and he is considered one of the best Santa Clause performers in the United States. His body shape and beard are real. The he actually looks so similar to Santa Clause in his regular everyday life that he frequently walks into large toys stores, to take a look around and to familiarize himself with the names and titles of anything new to the toy market, and children will start running up to him with a toy in hand, excitedly informing him that “THIS is want I want this year!”

This biography is filled with stories and anecdotes that include his introduction to the world of Santa Clause performance, many experiences interacting with people while in character and the way playing Santa Claus changed his perspective on life and the way he behaves day-to-day.

An excellent illustration of the way being Santa Claus changed his everyday life was the story of the young single mother who was to poor to buy her child a Christmas gift or a Christmas tree. She’d simply resigned herself to working through the holiday season (she was a food service worker) and not participating in the celebration. There would be no Christmas. Sal decides to help her out directly (he finds gifts for her daughter – mostly used but in excellent condition) and works with some friends to secretly deliver a tree to her front door. While those gestures are wonderful, the funny part is the fact that things just worked out that he knew this woman through his work and he changed jobs immediately after delivering the tree. So, from the woman’s perspective, this kind stranger who just happened to look exactly like Santa Clause hands her a bag full of gifts, delivers a tree to her door (in a locked building) while she is at work, and then vanishes off the face of the earth. When the woman called the company Sal had been working for, to thank him for his generosity, his former employers played along and told her the truth: He left and never came back. (shrug) Can’t tell you where he went, he was only here a few weeks.

My retelling of this story does not do it justice. It actually made me laugh out loud while getting all holiday-season warm and fuzzy inside. Correction, the entire book  achieved those goals. It’s a good-feeling biography that is simply filled with wonderful holiday-season inspired moments that encompass everything from laughter to tears.

If you are looking for a good book to read this holiday season, look no further than Being Santa Claus. It’s simply wonderful!

Quotes from this book can be seen HERE.

Being Santa Claus: What I Learned about the True Meaning of Christmas by Sal Lizard, Jonathan P. Lane