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Art: JRR Tolkien
An Oxford exhibit will feature decades of illustrated letters from “Father Christmas” to the children of Middle Earth wizard JRR Tolkien.

This is more of a Christmas post, but as the exhibit won’t go up until next summer, you have time to plan a trip to Oxford, England, to see JRR Tolkien’s illustrated Father Christmas letters. They will be on display from June 1 to October 28, 2018. If you can’t go, there is a heavenly array at the Guardian.

Maev Kennedy writes at the Guardian, “In December 1920 Father Christmas wrote a letter to a modest house in the Oxford suburbs, enclosing a watercolour sketch of his own rather more exotic domed snow house, approached by a flight of steps lit by ice lanterns. ‘I heard you ask Daddy what I was like and where I lived,’ he wrote to three-year-old John Tolkien, and as the family grew to four children, he continued to write every Christmas for 23 years. …

“The illustrated letters continued to arrive every Christmas Eve, sometimes delivered by a postman who had been persuaded to include them with the more boring letters and cards, sometimes materialising on the hearth rug with a handmade stamp. Some years Father Christmas was evidently very busy, and could only pass on the briefest snippets of news, and other years, when he had time on his hands, he could include elaborate multi-layered paintings. One showed his reindeer and sleigh arriving over the Oxford skyline – ‘your house is just about where the three little black points stick up out of shadow on the right.’

“Many recount the adventures of his friend and helper the Polar Bear – in 1926 he accidentally switched on all the Northern Lights – or the goblins who attempted to steal the stored presents in 1932. In one letter Polar Bear ‘found a hole in the side of a hill & went inside because it was snowing.’ He slid down a rocky slope, more rock fell on him, and he could not climb back: ‘But almost at once he smelled goblin & became interested & started to explore. Not very wise for of course goblins can’t hurt HIM but their caves are very dangerous.’

“The snow, the entrance to treacherous caves and the smell of goblin will be instantly familiar to readers of the book Tolkien was working on at the time, The Hobbit, the first of the adventures of Middle-earth. …

“Catherine McIlwaine, Tolkien archivist at the Bodleian, [says,] “There couldn’t be a clearer demonstration of how important his family was to him. He was orphaned from the age of 12, when his mother died, and then he spent years boarded out in lodging houses in Birmingham.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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