My son, Ezra, who truly learned to love to read by reading The Hobbit recommends another book by Tolkien: A wonderful novella for homeschooling high schoolers is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle.
Tolkien wrote this precious, short book in the late 1930. It originally accompanied his classic essay, “On Fairy Stories” in which Tolkien explains what makes fairy tales so powerful. He then captured these elements in Leaf by Niggle– an easy-to-read masterpiece.
Leaf by Niggle tells the story of a man who loved to paint. He spent his whole adulthood working on a painting that began as one single leaf, then grew into a huge, detailed painting with trees and mountains. His work was frequently interrupted by a needy neighbor and his own need to earn a living. He never got the chance to finish his greatly-loved creation because he became ill after helping his sick neighbor and soon was launched on a long “trip”.
That trip included some time in a hard-labor situation, some rest, and finally a further trip that stopped at a beautiful tree. Niggle realized immediately that it was HIS tree in his painting- only real- and then the real story begins…
Tolkien captures a good fairy stories elements:
Tolkien calls this process creation/subcreation- one place being a token of a more real place. This is a lovely concept but too long for this post (you see it often in the works of C.S. Lewis, such as The Great Divorce. Catch it explained in The Study Guide for The Hobbit).
Fairy stories often have allegorical content. While not true allegories (where everything has a one-to-one correspondence-type symbolism- as you see in A Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan), fairy tales have symbolic elements. In Niggle, one might suggest that Niggle is a symbolic Tolkien, that his painting symbolizes life on earth and the real tree symbolizes heaven.
The thing that happens to make the happen ending occur. Kind of like a backwards, happy catastrophe, if that makes sense. We discuss this more in The Hobbit Study Guide.
Leaf by Niggle is a wonderful read- sweet, delightful, and deep.
Once your homeschooler reads The Hobbit or Leaf by Niggle, have him/her write his own myth/fantasy (C.S. Lewis’ term for the fairy story) with help from 7 Sisters Advanced Guide to Short Story Writing: The Myth Fantasy.
What are YOUR favorite Tolkien books/stories?
Ok, now, just for fun, here’s an air travel safety commercial from New Zealand Airlines: