Letters from Father Tolkien.


John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892, in Bloemfontein, South Africa, and died on September 2, 1973, in Bournemouth, England. He grew up in the waning days of the Victorian Era, and died along with the Swinging London. He saw the horror of the war, and the memories of his experiences as an officer in World War I were sublimated in his fiction. As he wrote in the Introduction to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings: “it seems now often forgotten that to be caught by youth in 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead”.

He started writing stories for his children as early as 1920, when he first sent to John, the eldest son, a letter purporting to be from Father Christmas. The letters were written over a period of 20 years to entertain Tolkien’s children each Christmas. He also created the envelopes, and designed his own stamps. In the letters, Tolkien documented the adventures and misadventures of Father Christmas and his helpers. There are some similarities between the early letters and The Hobbit. Even more, Laurence and Martha Krieg in the journal Mythlore suggested that Gandalf himself may have been developed from Father Christmas.


Cave Drawings with Goblin Graffiti from the Father Christmas Letter of 1932.

In the letter for 1932, Father Christmas rescues the North Polar Bear from the caves and finds Goblin wall paintings. It’s a wonderful piece full of mammoths, bison, and goblin scribblings. Tolkien wrote: “must be very old, because the Goblin fighters are sitting on drasils: a very queer sort of dwarf ‘dachshund’ horse creature… I believe the Red Gnomes finished them off, somewhere about Edward the Fourth’s time.” 

It has been suggested that the painting was copied from Baldwin Brown’s The Art of the Cave Dweller: A Study of the Earliest Artistic Activities of Man. In his work, Brown emphasized that the primitive hunter must naturally have become a keen observer of nature. The first cave paintings were found in 1870 in Altimira, Spain. The Lascaux Caves, near the village of Montignac, in France, contain some of the best-known Upper Paleolithic art, estimated in 17,300 years old. During the Pleistocene and the early Holocene, most of the terrestrial megafauna became extinct. It was a deep global-scale event. Europe witnessed the extinction of several large mammalian herbivores, such as steppe bison Bison priscus, woolly mammoth Mammuthus primigenius, woolly rhinoceros Coelodonta antiquitatis and giant deer Megaloceros giganteus. The patterns exhibited by the Late Quaternary megafauna extinction (LQE) indicated a close link with the geography of human evolution and expansion.

Tolkien also anticipated some of the tenets of modern environmentalism in the imagined world of Middle-earth and the races with which it is peopled.


The Father Christmas Letters. By J.R.R. Tolkien; Allen and Unwin (1976).

THE ART OF THE CAVE DWELLER: a study of the earliest Artistic Activities of Man. By G. Baldwin Brown. John Murray. 1928. pp. xix, 280. 18s.



The Chañares Formation and the origin of dinosaurs.

The Chañares Formation (© 2012 Idean)

The Chañares Formation (© 2012 Idean)

The Chañares Formation crops out in the Ischigualasto-Villa Unión Basin, formed along the western margin of South America  during the  breakup  of  Gondwana. It represents one of the most continuous continental Triassic succesions in South America. These beds were explored by Alfred Romer and Jensen (1966) in their report on the geology of the Rio Chañares and Rio Gualo region.

Located in Talampaya National Park (La Rioja Province), the Chañares Formation is characterized at its base by a sandstone–siltstone fluvial facies with distinct lower and upper levels. The lower levels are composed of light olive grey fine-grained sandstones with abundant small brown carbonate concretions. The upper levels include fine-grained sandstones and siltstones that preserve vertebrate remains (Mancuso et al., 2014).

Geological map of the Chañares–Gualo area in Talampaya National Park (From Marsicano et al., 2015)

Geological map of the Chañares–Gualo area in Talampaya National Park (From Marsicano et al., 2015)

Volcanism played an important role in the generation and preservation of the Chañares Formation’s exceptional tetrapod fossil record. The diverse and well-preserved tetrapod assemblage includes proterochampsids, pseudosuchians, ornithodirans, large dicynodonts and smaller cynodonts. Almost all dinosauromorphs are preserved in diagenetic concretions that erode out of a thick siltstone interval 15–20 m above the base of the formation, and include Lagosuchus talampayensis, Marasuchus lilloensis Lewisuchus admixtus and Pseudolagosuchus major.

Analysing the ratio of U–Pb inside the zircon crystals found in the rocks assigns the Chañares Formation to the Late Triassic, specifically the early Carnian (236–234 Ma), between 5 to 10 million years younger than previous estimate. This also suggests a similarly age for the lower Santa Maria Formation in southern Brazil, because it shares with the Chañares assemblage a variety of tetrapod genera and species unknown from anywhere else. The new results provide the basis to construct a robust framework for calibrating the timing of macro-evolutionary patterns related to the origin and early diversification of dinosaurs in Gondwana (Marsicano et al., 2015). It also suggests there was little compositional difference between the Chañares assemblage and the earliest dinosaur assemblage from the lower part of the Ischigualasto succession, where dinosauromorphs (including dinosaurs) are a minority, with synapsids still dominant. Only 15 million years later dinosaurs begin to dominate the ecosystem.

Artist’s reconstruction of the Chanares environment during the Middle Triassic. (From Mancusso et al., 2014. Art by Jorge Fernando Herrman.)

Artist’s reconstruction of the Chanares environment during the Middle Triassic. (From Mancusso et al., 2014. Art by Jorge Fernando Herrman.)



Marsicano, C. A., Irmis, R. B., Mancuso, A. C., Mundil, R. & Chemale, F., The precise temporal calibration of dinosaur origins, Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1512541112 (2015).

Brusatte SL, et al. (2010) The origin and early radiation of dinosaurs. Earth Sci Rev 101:68100.

Mancuso AC, Gaetano LC, Leardi JM, Abdala F, Arcucci AB (2014) The ChañaresFormation: A window to a Middle Triassic tetrapod community. Lethaia 47:244265.

Romer AS, Jensen J (1966) The Chañares (Argentina) Triassic reptile fauna. II. Sketch of the geology of the Rio Chañares, Rio Gualo region. Breviora 252:1–20.