Since we are isolated and stuck inside during this Christmas season, I decided this year I was going to put together a list of of my favorite Christmas stories. The angle I took in putting this together is Christmas “pairings”, be it in book form or film. These are stories that seem to me to have a connection in spirit and focus, and which have inspired me over the years.
I have come up with 15 pairings of films/books in total, and my plan is to present those films one a day along with a brief reflection on why these stories resonated for me, how I see them fitting together, and what I think they can say to us in a more difficult Christmas season.
Here is my ninth pairing 🙂
KLAUS and LETTERS FROM FATHER CHRISTMAS
In the film Klaus, our central protagonist (Jasper) is the young son of a Postmaster General who isn’t taking his schooling (postman academy) or his life very seriously, relying instead entirely on his father’s fortune. Believing that his son needs a wakeup call, his father decides to send him to a remote, northern village called Smeerensburg where he must deliver 6,000 letters or else lose out on his inheritance.
Once he arrives, he discovers a town caught in a long standing fued essentially divided down family lines. Letter writing isn’t exactly a bustling business in these parts. When one family has something to say, they say it straight to the other family’s face. Uncertain about what to do, a chance encounter with an isolated and reclusive older woodsman named Klaus eventually helps to turn his life around.
At the heart of this film is a message about perspective and the ways in which the seasons of our life can cloud our perspective. For Jasper, he knows very little about what it means to struggle and needs to gain a greater awareness of the world. For Klaus, he has experienced immense struggle in his life and, in the narrowing of his own world needed to be reminded about why life matters. For the town holding a long standing grudge, they need to be reminded about the world they are handing the younger generation. What changes these perspectives is a letter, written from a young boy with hopes and dreams for the future set against his own personal struggle, which forms into subsequent letters from children (and adults) all over the town, all expressing their own hopes and dreams in their own way. Klaus’ skills at making toys and Jasper’s interest in mailing letter’s lead them into a partnership that uncovers some deep rooted secrets of their own, both of which have colored their ability to hope and dream for a better and more meaningful perspective on their life and the world.
In Tolkien’s Letters From Father’s Chrsitmas we find a long standing family Tradition meant to bring his family together in the midst of their own struggle. The book is made up of 20 Christmas’ worth of letters that Tolkien, under the pen name Father Christmas, would write to his kids (marked as mailed from the North Pole) each and every year. It starts with a simple letter and over the years grows into a world building exercise, borrowing from American and British/English/Scandivian Traditions, incorporating different languages (including Finnish, which was an inspiration for Tokien’s Lord of the Rings) and invented languages, and creating a rich world of supporting characters, including evles and goblins (precursers to the LOTR), and a bumbling Polar Bear.
As we edge closer to the final letter, what becomes clear is that these heartfelt creations were intended to inspire hope and imagination in his kids. The way he incoporates origin stories for real world events and breathes adventure into this mythological setting gives his final words, this grand “goodbye”, a powerful context. He is saying goodbye to his children’s youth while also saying goodbye to the world they once knew on the eve of the world war. The pure innocence and unrestrained imagination of these letters become a poignant reflection on innocence lost and, as the letter’s appear to long for, innocence retained and restored. These are letter’s which are meant to inform the ways in which his kids could now go out into the world and imagine it as a better place as they form their own adventures.
While the film Klaus does get a bit too distracted with needing to streamline its story towards providing neat and tidy origin stories for all of the familiar modern, American Christmas traditions (most uncomforably in how it makes the kid’s gift getting tied to being naughty or nice), it has something similar in mind in terms of how this letter writing premise is meant to evoke a reinvogorated sense of hope and imagination for the season in all of us. This is not unlike the ways in which Tolkien leans into those familiar Chirstmas traditions before weaving them into a story that looks and feels entirely new. It’s a reminder that Christmas is not meant to be bound by our past or by antiquated idea lost to time, but rather is meant to be seen as an opportunity for reinvention and recreation. The traditions become our foundation, with the ensuing adventure that they inspire being their manifestation. This is what it means to grow up. It is also what it means to grow down, especially when things are hard and we experience struggle. The way that Klaus finds a renewed opportunity to invest his time, skills and his heart represents one of the most beautiful moments in the film, with his grown up position being humbled downwards into the hopeful imagination of the town’s children. We see this equally so is the final, heartfelt letter from Tolkien to his now aged kids facing an uncertain world. No matter how dark it might seem, Christmas’s arrival is a reminder that the light still shines and that there is always opportunity to grow our perspective.