We Three Kings: Tolkien, Lewis and MacDonald at Christmas

If we book lovers were to indulge in a bit of festive whimsy, we might decide (in our mind’s eye, of course) to re-cast our literary heroes as characters from the season. George MacDonald and G K Chesterton between them would make a magnificent Father Christmas–one providing the beard and the other the belly–but  perhaps that is cheating, and hybrids should be impermissible. If we stick, then, to one character per writing genius, I think that the casting director will have quite an easy time of it…at least as far as three of the roles are concerned. MacDonald, Lewis, and Tolkien are already the “Magi” of the fantasy genre…so prepare the tea towels, dust off the zip-up-at-the-back camel suits, and, as Enya might express it, paint the sky with stars…the play is ready to begin!

But of course we can only conjure such a heady scene for a moment or two. We cannot sustain the magic, and if these literary legends ever tread the boards for our gratification, it will be in another and better world.

Fortunately, however, the three “wise men” really were such, and they really did leave us three kingly gifts. In fact they left us far more, but let us call these their “Christmas Specials”:

C S LEWIS gave us The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. There is not much to be said about it that you won’t already know. It’s certainly a Christmas read, but I won’t be deterred from reading it all year round, and to that end am inclined to paraphrase Aslan and say that “I call all times Christmas”!  Even without the appearance of Father Christmas himself (a controversial inclusion according to Lewis’s good friend Tolkien) it would still have a “Christmassy” feel, and this is one of many factors which makes it the most popular of the seven Chronicles of Narnia.

J R R TOLKIEN gave us Letters From Father Christmas. This is one of several occasions when we see the “Professor at Play” and it is as inventive, if on a smaller scale, as his great works, set in his wondrous land of Middle Earth. As the title suggests, Tolkien’s book differs from Lewis’s in that Father Christmas is not peripheral, but central, although we are also treated to some insights from his elf-secretary and introduced to the North Polar Bear and his cubs. The author’s own artwork (always delightful) is featured here too, as it is in certain editions of The Hobbit.

GEORGE MACDONALD gave us (the stories in) The George MacDonald Christmas Collection. To the best of our knowledge, these six examples of his Christmas writings have never been gathered together before in a single volume. It was one of the first books published by The Room to Roam (available here), and its blend of fantasy and realism has proved highly popular. Although Father Christmas himself does not make an appearance, “Uncle Peter”, in one of the stories, is very much like him, and instead of elves, there are the impish but benevolent “Shadows” in the concluding story of the sextet. Also included are some of MacDonald’s Christmas poems, including this simple but profound one, which I think among his best:

THAT HOLY THING

They all were looking for a king
To slay their foes and lift them high;
Thou cam’st, a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.

O Son of Man, to right my lot
Naught but Thy presence can avail;
Yet on the road Thy wheels are not,
Nor on the sea Thy sail!

My how or when Thou wilt not heed,
But come down Thine own secret stair,
That Thou mayst answer all my need–
Yea, every bygone prayer.

David Jack
David Jack

David Jack is a Scotsman who is translating all of MacDonald's Scottish novels into English, with the original Scots dialogue side-by-side. His goal is to make these novels accessible to readers who are not familiar with the Scots language.

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