When he wasn’t content with the plot he was weaving, Jonathan started on a second story, this time Gnome had an alter ego, a boy named Steven (yes, the name of his friend who questioned our choice to learn at home).  He originally wrote Steven as a sort of bad guy—he grabs the mayor by his shirt collar in one scene—then changed his character to the hero.  A generous offer, in my opinion, but also a very healthy working out of complex feelings for his Smaug-friend. 

Jonathan also realized that to become a great writer you have to read great writers.  He noticed that when he began to write again, he borrowed not only from Tolkien, but also from two other favorite authors:  J.K. Rowling and Clyde Robert Bulla.  I was quick to point out (with perhaps more relish than was called for) that none of the novels adapted from the Pokémon movies made it into his mix. 

We read the final chapter of The Hobbit on a cold, rainy March morning, curled up by the fireplace.  We were sad to say goodbye to our friends (but thankful that Tolkien didn’t let the story stop there).  As I looked back over the last months, I realized what an impact that little guy had had upon my little guy.  Bilbo had encouraged Jonathan to start writing again, to trust his imagination.  Bilbo had broken the Captain Underpants curse, and Jonathan was choosing to read C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew instead.  And Bilbo gave Jonathan the courage to confront a dragon of his own, one who twisted words to make him doubt. 

But the most important thing I hope Jonathan learns from Bilbo Baggins is that it takes courage to say yes to adventure.  It’s so much easier at times to just stay where we are, in those tight little corners where routine outweighs risk.  When I looked at the path the hobbit had started us down—the fact that Jonathan had time and space to explore the different interests sparked by the book—I was reminded of the adventure I said yes to four years ago, when I tossed Jonathan’s kindergarten application in the trashcan.

Adventure can be scary and unpredictable, but the more you continue in it, the more you lose that sense of fear and doubt (and the less you care about being late for dinner). You begin to gather up your internal resources with confidence.  And then one day, you realize that when you gave up the hobbit hole of a traditional classroom, you introduced your son to the whole world.

Amy Hollingsworth received her B.A. degree in psychology and English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her M.A. degree in Education/Counseling and Human Services from Regent University. Amy  teaches psychology at Mary Washington College while continuing to home school her two children, Jonathan (9) and Emily (7).  She and her husband Jeff, a pastor, live in Fredericksburg, Va. She has written extensively on home schooling and parenting issues for The American Partisan, Christianity.com, Home Education Magazine, Reconciliation Press Online and numerous educational Web sites. Her article, "Behind the Mask:  What the Phantom of the Opera Taught Us," was recently featured in the book Christian Unschooling.

You can email Amy at amyhollingsworth@yahoo.com

Original publication date: November 2, 2001