Previous research has demonstrated that Tolkien was well-versed and well-practiced in the use of etiological myths in his world-building activities. But we should remember that Middle-earth was not his sole Secondary World; in fact, one of the most interesting can be found at Tolkien’s version of the North Pole, in his Father Christmas Letters. As might be expected of Tolkien the impressive collection of astronomy in the letters is largely scientifically accurate, especially concerning the aurora borealis, the northern lights. This paper explores the instances of auroral references (in text and illustration) in the Father Christmas Letters and connects them to real-world etiological myths and folklore as well as actual auroral displays visible in England, demonstrating how closely Tolkien’s depictions follow scientific reality despite their whimsical nature.


This is a companion piece to my conference paper "Everything I Ever Needed to Know about the North Pole I Learned from Father Christmas..." previously published in JTR 16.2. In this paper (expanded from a different portion of my keynote address at the 2023 Oxonmoot) I specifically concentrate on Tolkien's use of astronomy, especially aurorae, in the Father Christmas Letters.



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