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NF-Lee's Gildor and Frodo

Merry Christmas ~ 2009 (featuring Father Christmas illustrations by Tolkien).

Posted on 2009.12.21 at 15:34
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Hi! I'm back both from the two-week trip to my mother's and from my recent overnighter to see the Trilogy (no symphony, just the films). I'm trying to catch up on mail and house stuff, still have loads to do for Christmas , and have not even touched the Frodo project I started last month, something to go with a jan-u-wine poem. Still, I thought I'd say "Merry Christmas" before the day slipped by.

To celebrate, here are some scans from a book I bought recently, J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator. I knew Tolkien could paint and draw, but I didn't realise how good he was. His human figures lack finesse, but he was very good at rendering structures and natural settings. If I have time, I will post some scans of his work in honour of his birthday coming up. Maybe this sort of "eye" is what makes his descriptive passages so strong.

In this post are a few images of the sort of things Tolkien made for his own children. For several years, he sent them illustrated letters, purportedly from Father Christmas (or his staff: Karhu the Polar Bear or Ilbereth the secretary elf), full of details of life--hum-drum, comical or alarming--at the North Pole. What fun it had to have been for him to write the letters and illustrate them each year, and what fun for his children to receive them. I'm sure the Tolkien household had its hard times, its unhappy times, but it had to be a delight, too, living with such an imaginative parent who took such pleasure in providing entertainment for his children.

1. Father Christmas (top) and his house (bottom), as if painted by Father Christmas, sent to John in 1920. This is from the first letter Tolkien made. It shows a very cold Father Christmas (blowing beard and coat, red cheeks and nose, ice-crusted boots) tramping through the snow with a bundle, with a second picture underneath showing Father Christmas' igloo-like snowy round house, hushed and radiant under a night sky lit by stars and a full moon. Pencil, black ink, watercolour and silver powder.

2. Envelope, addressed as if by Father Christmas, to John, 1924, with hand-done North Pole stamp and stamp cancel lines. Tolkien developed characteristic handwritings for his letter-writers. Father Christmas has a shaky, but, here, decorative hand.

3. Self-portrait by N.P.B.(North Polar Bear) Karhu, one of Father Christmas' valued associate. The shaky writing at the bottom was written by Father Christmas. Karhu wrote in "fat paw" but later, more proficient, began to write in "Arktik", with angular, rune-like characters. Note the sort of dots-and-dash style, seen again in illustrations for The Hobbit. Additional note: "Paksu" and Valkotukka" are nephews of Karhu. Pencil, black, red and green ink, 1931.

A very happy holiday to you all!

~ Mechtild


Here are links to editions of Letters From Father Christmas Amazon has for sale:


Here's the cover of the 1st edition (1976):


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bagma at 2009-12-21 21:46 (UTC) (Link)
Happy holiday to you!

The Letters from Father Christmas were my son's favourite Christmas reading when he was a little boy, and I like them very much, too. We used to read them together... *nostalgic sigh* Thank you for posting about them and bringing back lovely memories.:)
mechtild at 2009-12-21 21:51 (UTC) (Link)
You inspire me, Bagma. I only know *about* them, seen illustrations from them; I've never actually read them. I'll see if there's a copy at our library. Happy Christmas! :)
(Deleted comment)
mechtild at 2009-12-21 22:15 (UTC) (Link)
I love the whole conceit that the paintings are done by the characters themselves. I love it that they're even signed, "FC".
shirebound at 2009-12-21 22:28 (UTC) (Link)
Welcome back!

The Father Christmas letters and drawings are new to me, and I'm very happy you shared them.
mechtild at 2009-12-22 00:30 (UTC) (Link)
There are several beautifully charming illustrations, some far more complex than those I've chosen to post here. Because of Bagma's comment, I looked in our library and, although they are checked out right now, I've put my name in for a copy of The Father Christmas Letters. I hadn't even realised they were published as such. I'd only seen the illustrations. I want to read them and see how Tolkien's illustrations work with them.
julchen11 at 2009-12-21 22:37 (UTC) (Link)
Welcome back, sweetie! What a wonderful post. I never heard about The Father Christmas letters and the illustrations. Thank you so much for sharing and Happy holidays to you and your family!

Love and hugs,
mechtild at 2009-12-22 00:32 (UTC) (Link)
Read Bagma's comment. I've got a request in for a copy of them. I had seen copies of some of the pictures in anthologies, but hadn't realised the letters and images were published in their own children's book!
belleferret at 2009-12-21 23:01 (UTC) (Link)
Very cool pics, thank you for sharing!

Happy holidays to you!
mechtild at 2009-12-22 00:33 (UTC) (Link)
A joyous holiday season to you, Belleferret, especially today on the darkest day of the year, up here in the northern hemisphere. :)
telstar_gold at 2009-12-22 00:45 (UTC) (Link)
What wonderful drawings, and so unmistakeably Tolkien! I've heard of the letters but never read them. If they're as charming as these pics, I'll have to treat myself!

Oops, forgot to say - Happy Christmas to you! :))

Edited at 2009-12-22 12:45 am (UTC)
mechtild at 2009-12-22 01:31 (UTC) (Link)
Happy Christmas to you, too, Telstar! I added a few links at the bottom of the post, so that readers could click open examples of copies that can be purchased. I'm getting a copy from the library, but if I really love them, I'll probably buy a copy of my own.
frodosweetstuff at 2009-12-22 10:36 (UTC) (Link)
Awwww, I love those drawings and letters. :))) Thank you for posting. :)))) I have a stack of Christmas card with these drawings on them.
mechtild at 2009-12-22 12:54 (UTC) (Link)
You do? What a find! I've never seen these images on cards.
pearlette at 2009-12-22 11:05 (UTC) (Link)
I have that book. :)
mechtild at 2009-12-22 12:56 (UTC) (Link)
Somehow, I thought you might. When I read Bagma's post and saw that all these family letters had been published in a book, I thought, "I'll bet Pearl's got these." :)
mole_caz at 2009-12-22 11:53 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for sharing these and a Very Happy Christmas to you and your family to *hugs*
mechtild at 2009-12-22 12:58 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, Mole Caz. I hope you are yours are feeling better and will be able to enjoy the holidays to their fullest. :)
melyanna_65 at 2009-12-22 22:25 (UTC) (Link)
I so love this book, Letters from Father Christmas, I have a normal edition and a miniature edition that's really cute. Tolkien's creativity had no limits.

Thank you for this lovely post. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, dearest Mech!

*hugs you*
mechtild at 2009-12-22 23:13 (UTC) (Link)
"Tolkien's creativity had no limits."

Yes, to that! He really was an amazingly creative, gifted person, wasn't he? How lucky for us and for hundreds of thousands (millions?) that he had this passion for his secondary world. His contributions to his field as a scholar and don were not negligible, but the world would be a far poorer place if he had not expressed himself in written and graphic art.
maeglian at 2009-12-23 16:45 (UTC) (Link)
Dear Mechtild, I'm wishing you and yours every possible holiday happiness, and a rewarding and exciting new year!

I hope your daughter will be with you for the holidays and that your mum is doing reasonably OK.

We've had lots and lots of snow here - I actually was thinking of the photos I've seen from your neighbourhood and wondering whether that is just as snowy there now. Do keep warm and snug! :-)
mechtild at 2009-12-23 17:29 (UTC) (Link)
Maeglian! *virtual hug*

No, our daughter on her ship patrolling the waters off Alaska (from the photos, it has a breathtakingly beautiful coast) and won't be home. I think they'll all have a good time, though, opening their presents from home and having a big Christmas party hosted by the galley. She seems to be really liking her life in the Coast Guard.

Here there is very little snow cover, maybe an inch or two, very sparse. But a storm is due to hit tomorrow, Christmas Eve. While we all want a white Christmas, so many of us, and/or our families and friends will be travelling tomorrow, no one is praying for it to be a huge dump.

My mom is not doing too badly in health, but is in a lot of pain and quite debilitated from her arthritis, much more so than when I was there in May. She is still hemming and hawing about coming here, it's such a wrenching transition to contemplate, but when I was there in November she seemed to be accepting it as an inevitability. She still would rather just die there, in her home, but I don't think she's going to get her wish. Except for her disability from pain, and increasing difficulty finding the words she wants (resulting from her small stroke a few years ago), she does not seem to be at death's door. But as the Rolling Stones sang decades ago, even if they were too young to understand it fully, "What a drag it is, getting old."

Speaking of health, I hope you are feeling pretty well, Maeglian. I know you've been through some rough patches, even scary ones, but I hope you are doing well now.

Happy Christmas, and a better coming year!

~ Mechtild

Edited at 2009-12-23 05:30 pm (UTC)
whiteling at 2009-12-24 11:59 (UTC) (Link)
A very Merry Christmas to you too, Mechtild!

Thank you for posting those wonderful Tolkien illustrations, I didn't know them. I just love his style, simple, yet tremendously attentive to the details. Lovely!
mechtild at 2009-12-24 16:11 (UTC) (Link)
If I have time, Whiteling, I'm going to post some of the watercolour and pencil studies he did, of natural scenes or buildings or designs, also included in the book. Except for drawing people, he was pretty good!

Happy Christmas, Whiteling, and I hope you are feeling up to snuff, not wearing yourself out.
(Anonymous) at 2009-12-24 21:24 (UTC) (Link)
...I'm sure the Tolkien household had its hard times, its unhappy times, but it had to be a delight, too, living with such an imaginative parent who took such pleasure in providing entertainment for his children.

Oh yes! I love Tolkien's little message on the last card: 'This is all drawn by NPB. Don't you think he's getting better? But the green ink is mine - and he didn't ask for it.' Just charming.

Thanks for sharing these, Mechtild.

Have a Joyful Christmas, and I hope you and your family enjoy a healthy, happy and prosperous 2010.

~ Blossom.

mechtild at 2009-12-25 01:04 (UTC) (Link)
A happy Christmas to you, too, Blossom!

I ordered a copy of "The Father Christmas Letters" from our library. The copies they have are out, of course, since they are Christmas books. "Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator" has a lot of plates from the letters, but I'd love to see the rest. I'd especially like to see how the illustrations fit what Tolkien wrote.
Estë   (or ST for short)
este_tangletoes at 2009-12-25 15:43 (UTC) (Link)
Welcome back, Mechling! A Happy Christmas to you and your family.
I love Tolkien's illustrations.


P.s. How are Angelo, Elsa and Charles doing?
mechtild at 2009-12-25 15:56 (UTC) (Link)
Merry Christmas, Este!

The cats are fine, even though they all have their health issues. We've come round to seeing the truth of the accusation that the Siamese is a weak breed, health-wise. But they are so fun, and funny, so people-oriented and playful and quirky, we're gluttons for punishment. None of them have anything life threatening, we hope, just things that need daily attention from me and periodic trips to the vet's (ka-ching: $$$).

I hope you and your husband are doing well, Este. I still think of you often, every time I walk by my copy of Whiteling's drawing of Este, framed on my wall.

~ Mechtild
Lavender Took
lavendertook at 2009-12-26 00:17 (UTC) (Link)
I love Tolkien's artwork--his style is so distinctive. I need to get the artist book sometime. I read the Father Christmas Letters when I was a teen and searching for everything Tolkien available in the '70's. I bet I'd like them even more now.

I'm sorry Elsa and Charles are still having health issues. I hope you're all snuggly together today though. Merry Christmas! *hugs*
mechtild at 2009-12-26 18:45 (UTC) (Link)
I am looking forward to getting my library copy. If I think I'll want to read it regularly, I'll buy my own copy.

Elsa and Charles aren't sick in the sense of suffering. It appears their colds when they were kittens that went on for months and months, in the opinion of my new, talented vet, were caused be a feline herpes infection. Like human herpes (as in cold sores, etc.), it's viral (which is why the colds never responded to antibiotics except for secondary infections). It never goes away, it's always in their blood streams, even if it's mostly dormant, coming to the fore when very young or old, or in stressful circumstances or other illness. But a side effect of it, the vet thinks, has been their ongoing gingivitis. Elsa's was terrible at six months and I got it under control with enzymatic rinses, toothpaste and gels. Nevertheless, she'd built up so much reactive plaque and tartar on her teeth I had to have them cleaned, to give her a fresh start, and she was only 15 months old! Her teeth are actually fine; it's the gums. As if she's allergic to her own tartar and mouth acids, which the vet thinks is a result of the herpes, which can interfere with the body's immune functions. Otherwise she seems absolutely fine. Charles finally got over his crusty nose, but he still sneezes a lot, Elsa, too, but not nearly as much. And now Charles has began to develop gingivitis, too, but nothing as bad as Elsa so far. But he now he gets rinses and gels. This is an everyday thing. Angelo, too, developed bad gums last year. His teeth and gums had always been fine. Now I wonder if he didn't get their herpes infection (it's contagious), and that's why his gums are acting up. He's also on watch for kidney disease. His brother died five years ago from kidney cancer. Angelo's levels have been elevated this year, more so at his last check-up. He's having fluids once a week to see if the levels come down. He doesn't act sick, so we wouldn't have known but for a routine blood panel for his teeth-cleaning in August.
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