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.
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.