I’m delighted that you, Igreth, were able to take some time out of your busy schedule to speak to Five Books about stories important to Elvish culture. Where would you like to begin?
There is only one place to begin… The Elves and the Shoemaker. You, no doubt, will think of it as a children’s story – but to the elves this is one of the greatest tales ever told.
I selected this edition for its sumptuous illustrations by Jim LaMarche. The life-like detail provides the perfect backdrop to this tale of elven selflessness, hard-work and dedication to giving – in the days before heavy-duty wrapping paper cutters and automated sellotape dispensers.
Is it really all work and no play during the winter months in the North Pole? Do you elves get a moment to yourselves?
No. Elves are workers, dedicated and loyal. Certain sloppy-minded goblins might be happy to idle their lives away – goblins have a dreadful work ethic, y’know. Whereas elves work. Elves love work. Elves are proud to work.
“It astounds me how many people seem to imagine we loaf about for 11 months then bodge it all together at the last minute using a bit of borrowed fairy dust”
Every day of my year begins with a long and detailed ‘to do’ list. Nor is ours seasonal work – it astounds me how many people seem to imagine we loaf about for 11 months then bodge it all together at the last minute using a bit of borrowed fairy dust. Nothing of it. We spend the entire year preparing for Christmas. 60-hour weeks. No holidays. Logistically it’s an immense operation. Papercuts are rife. Think about that when you open your presents on Christmas morning: blood, sweat and pointy-ears.
That sounds tough.
Well, we do listen to music. Music is a huge part of Elvish daily life. We listen while we work – and at this time of year it is one piece in particular: The Nutcracker by Tchaichovsky. It is one of the great anthems of Elvish culture. We play it as loud as we can while we wrap the presents on these longest and darkest of nights.
“Logistically it’s an immense operation. Papercuts are rife. Think about that when you open your presents on Christmas morning: blood, sweat and pointy-ears”
This illustrated version of the tale by Maurice Sendak was inspired by the set and costumes Sendak designed for the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Christmas production. No Elves in the story per se but plenty of magic, fairies, mice and toys that come to life. It’s glorious.
Poetry as well as music is important in Elvish culture, I believe.
Of vital importance, all elves are poets at heart and no poem has more resonance to elves at this time of year than ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. The verse captures the magical anticipation that Christmas Eve brings. As expert gift wrappers, elves find paper engineering most impressive and this pop-up book is a show-stopper. It sends shivers of delight from our little hat bells to the tips of our pointy-toed shoes. I’m jingling just thinking about it.
For a clear insight into daily life in the North Pole, where should I look?
Father Christmas himself would write to J R R Tolkien’s children every December, recounting tales of daily life in our most northerly of homes. These letters were kept by Tolkien and eventually published in this delightful volume. My great-great-great-grandfather, Ilbereth the Elf, would often be invited to contribute. It gives elves great pleasure to re-read his magnificent accounts of life at the Pole.
Polar Bear was sometimes permitted to scrawl a note or two … barely legible – his writing was worse than a goblin’s.
Many of your choices have a historic importance to Elvish culture. Your last choice shows that dedication to duty remains as important to elves today as it was 200 years ago.
While this is obviously a work of fiction I am convinced that the author must have some connection to the North Pole – the sense of urgency he portrays feels so authentic. The sheer scale of the operation, the attention to detail… Perhaps Burningham is in fact a heavily disguised elf?
“It sends shivers of delight from our little hat bells to the tips of our pointy-toed shoes. I’m jingling just thinking about it”
This wonderful and very funny story celebrates the dedication we all feel at the North Pole – elves and reindeer alike – to ensuring that every child receives his or her present on Christmas morning.
On which note, I fear I’ve kept you too long.
Yes, yes, you have. Back to work for me. Merry Christmas one and all.
Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books (or even just what you say about them) please email us at email@example.com
Five Books interviews are expensive to produce. If you've enjoyed this interview, please support us by donating a small amount.