The Advent Calendar of Literature: Day 5

Yesterday, we looked at Jean-Paul Sartre’s first play, and what was unexpected and Christmassy about it. That yielded us a surprising Christmas-themed literature fact concerning Sartre. Sartre is famous for, among other things, being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964 but refusing it. (Sartre said that ‘a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution’.) Today’s writer had the opposite Nobel experience: although he was nominated for the honour by his friend C. S. Lewis, his work was turned down on the grounds of poor storytelling.

That writer was J. R. R. Tolkien. The idea that, in the words of the Nobel Prize committee, Tolkien’s work  ‘has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality’ would surprise many of his millions of devoted Hobbit2readers. Especially, one suspects, a fair few of the devoted fans of his work who will be eagerly anticipating the third film in the three-part adaptation of his book The Hobbit – subtitled The Battle of the Five Armies – which will be in cinemas in the UK next week, and the US the following week.

But Peter Jackson’s adaptation is not the first time Tolkien’s The Hobbit has been adapted for the screen. It was made for the small screen back in the 1970s – and this is where the Christmas link comes in. The first TV adaptation of The Hobbit was produced in 1977 by Rankin/Bass – the same company that created the stop-motion ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’, a 1964 animated film of the popular song.

You can watch a Youtube clip from this adaptation here. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the casting is the fact that John Huston, famous for directing The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen, voices Gandalf. The same company would go on to adapt the third part of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in the 1980 animated musical film The Return of the King.

But we’ll leave you with this video – a Youtuber’s compilation of Santa’s worst moments from the 1964 Rudolph special. As the Youtuber says, ‘In the 1964 Rankin Bass Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus was a huge jerk. He actively encouraged discrimination and was self-centered.’ We’ll let you judge for yourself, but remember if you’re too harsh on him, he might not bring you your presents. But then again, if the compiler of the video is right, perhaps you’re better off not receiving gifts from such a guy.

Image: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Teaser (author: BagoGames on Flickr), Creative Commons.


  1. Pingback: 24 Amazing Literature Facts for Christmas | Interesting Literature

  2. Very interesting. I had known about Sartre and Tolkien’s relationship with the Nobel Prize, but John Huston as Santa Claus? That is just over the top! These advent posts are just great. Thanks for taking the time.

  3. I love the Rankin/Bass version,Peter Jackson’s is ok too but I liked His Meet the Feebles better

  4. I’m loving every word of these Christmas posts (hence tweeting them faithfully each day!) – thank you for all the work which goes into producing them :)

    • Thanks, Ken! It’s great to get feedback on this – I’ve had a great time at Interesting Literature Towers putting this string of daily facts together. And thanks for tweeting them – greatly appreciated!

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  7. Interesting. I never did think Tolkien was all that great of a writer – glad to see the Nobel Prize committee agreed with me.