Feature Article – An Open Letter to Nate
Educational Helps – by Laurie Detweiler and Ned Bustard
N.D. Wilson is the author
of the just-released Leepike Ridge, published by Random House—an original
mix of Robinson Crusoe, King Solomon’s Mines, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Odyssey. We couldn’t put it down.
He is also the author of a fantasy trilogy, the first volume of which is due out
this Christmas. He received his primary and secondary education at
An Open Letter to Nate
As you know, your mom and I are extraordinarily pleased with the publication of Leepike Ridge. We are very grateful to God for all that has happened, and we are very proud of you. Over the last several years, as you have worked on this project, we have all talked about it a great deal and we have all learned a lot.
You have learned how to create a fascinating story, how to get an editor to look at it, how to work with a demanding but sympathetic editor, how to adjust the timbre of your authorial voice, and so on. And you are now learning what it is like to be the author of a successful book, and not just a good one.
For our part, as we have watched you going through this, we have seen what you have learned, but we have also learned a good bit of our own. Parents of accomplished children, as well as the teachers of such kids, are always fascinated to watch what appears to be water rising above its own level. “Where did he learn to do that?” is a common thought. With you and your sisters, it is a thought we have had often.
As I have thought about this, trying to account for it, my thoughts turned naturally to the kind of upbringing you had, and the kind of education you received. This is not a glory grab—in the nature/nurture discussions, wherever you come down on the subject, it has to be acknowledged that the best educator in the world can’t put in what God left out. On the flip side, history shows plenty of instances where the worst educator was unable to expunge talents that God has insisted on bestowing. C.S. Lewis had one teacher who was well beyond tolerable pedagogical limits, and, after young Jack was removed from his school, it turned out that the man was actually insane.
All this is to say what I know you already understand. Education is not a discrete product, like a pair of guaranteed sneakers, or a new car under warrantee. So many variables go into the process that it would be a mistake of the first order for classical Christian educators to point to your success in this venture and even hint that folks can just enroll their child . . . results guaranteed. Of course not. Success in life is not a can of soda that clunks into the bin at the base of the vending machine.
At the same time, we all know that the process of formal education is not irrelevant. This is why you and Heather are doing with your kids just what your mother and I did with you three—enrolling them in Logos. We are grateful that Logos provided this for you. All good schools and homeschools will seek to do the same kind of thing. And whatever the extent of the educational relevance, we all know that it is worth sacrificing a great deal for. But understanding the exact nature of this relevance is very important.
To what extent do I think your education shaped your life, your reactions, and your writing? Tolkien once said that his stories grew up naturally out of the leaf mold of his mind. The same thing has clearly happened to you—but what leaves went down on that forest floor?
First, you received a foundational education—K–12 at Logos, and the three years it took you to work through New St. Andrews—that exhibited what I call Christian personalism. This is all grounded in the life of the triune God. Education is not a raw data dump, but rather learning from men and women who are Christians together with you, who worship with you and your family on the Lord’s Day, and who exhibit all the virtues and foibles that are to be expected in true community. Your life is characterized by fixed personal loyalties, and the characters in your books reflect those same traits. True education is not impersonal, and great writing is never impersonal. Mediocre education equips people to write committee reports with mechanical literacy while true education encourages students to find and use a personal voice. This is one of the most striking things about your writing.
Second, because it was a classical and Christian education, you were exposed, over and over again, to really good writing. You learned to read for sheer enjoyment, and you also had the experience of taking works apart and examining the pieces. Early on I noted with pleasure that you had an instinctive reaction against doing too much of this (do you remember who said “we murder to dissect”?) and you showed a real aptitude for grasping the organic whole . . . what Pascal called esprit d’finesse. This is poetic knowledge, not bare analytic knowing, and it is the telos of classical Christian education.
Third, you learned that stories were meant to be told and retold. I remember vividly one evening at dinner when your plate full of food went cold while all the rest of us ate—you were too busy retelling us some stories out of Herodotus. This same desire to “retell it another way” is woven all through Leepike Ridge, and it is one of the things that makes your story so fresh. It is fresh because you have not been distracted by anything so trivial as novelties. It is fresh because a lot of it is ancient.
Fourth, you understand that there is no mechanical reason why these good things had to happen to you. You could have had a fantastic manuscript sent back to you by thirty dozen publishing houses. This is just another way of saying that this is all the blessing of God. If the Lord is not mailing the manuscript off, the one who flogs his literary agent does so in vain. Your mother and I have rejoiced to see your genuine faith in the sovereignty of God.
I know that you have wanted to be a wordsmith since you were in sixth grade. I am glad that the love of words took hold early because words really are a versatile wonder. They can travel fast, solid and hard like a musket ball, and hit the target with a satisfying thwack. They are like willow branches, flexible and supple. They can bend, and stretch, and flex, and grow, and shrink. They are rigid and fixed, and can carry the weight of eternal things. They are liquid, like the water of baptism. Occasionally they snap in two, like the word cleave apparently did. How can one word mean “to make one into two,” what a butcher does to a piece of meat, and also mean “to make two into one,” which happens when a man cleaves to his wife? Who was responsible for that set of definitions exactly? But whether their accomplishments happen often or rarely, words can do all this because they are, together with us, fellow creatures—creatures of the Word, who is the Second Person of the triune God.
You have been graciously called to a vocation that images the Incarnation of this Word every time you sit down to tell us another story. You have a real gift in doing this, and I trust that you will be doing it for many more years. Be faithful to Him, and your stories will always reflect what they need to reflect.
With great respect and love,
Over the course of a year, I probably read about five hundred children’s books. Some are good, some should never have made it off the printing press and a few are in the GREAT category. When Doug Wilson first told us about Nathan’s book, Leepike Ridge, which didn’t have a name at the time, I thought, that will be a fun read, but I was also a little nervous, because what if I didn’t like it. I read so many books and at some point you think, haven’t I read this already, because the same story seems to be told over and over again.
I want you to know that when I started to read the manuscript, I couldn’t put it down. I have no problem unabashedly telling you that you need to buy this book. This is the result of classical education and a gift from God. Be prepared to leave the pile of laundry in a pile, the dirty dishes in the sink, because once you start reading this you will not stop until you hit the last page. And please don’t punish your children if they stay up past their bed time. After all, summer is upon us. And for the mothers and fathers reading this book, it will be a huge encouragement to you, to continue doing what you are doing in educating your children.
Like I said earlier, summer is upon us. After reading Leepike Ridge I can guarantee you that your child will be planning an adventurous summer. Click here to access our download page. Then click on the Raft Races link under Free Helps for some related summer activities. While on the subject of fun, adventurous summers another book to give serious consideration to is The Ultimate Building Book in the Veritas Press catalog. And you’ll never hear, “Mom, I don’t have anything to do.”
Hope you enjoy your summer,
Free Travel Chess Set
With every June order of $150 or more, you may have a free magnetic travel chess set. You and your children will love it. When placing the order, simply ask for it. (If you place your order on our web site, send us an email with your request.) And enjoy long rides with your kids while they develop their thinking skills.
Q. What would you recommend doing with my children over the summer to keep them up to speed? I don’t want them to forget all they learned this year.
A. We are asked that a lot. If you have been learning the history and Bible, continue to throw your timeline songs on as you drive around, or the geography songs. For math, get a hold of some fun workbooks like Daily Math Practice or a fun math computer game that will keep their minds engaged. Revenge of the Logic Spiders is a great game for this. And it goes without saying, read lots of good books. The main thing to keep in mind is that education does not need to be done in a formal way to continue, just look for opportunities and teach children to enjoy the wonder of the world God gave you.
Q. I have heard about your
Teaching Training Conference in
A. Absolutely! Any homeschooler would benefit greatly. You will learn how to teach much of the curriculum that we recommend by some of the best teachers around. Then we have some great homeschool moms who will help you see how to make it work at home. Lora Thompson, in particular, has been homeschooling five children with the Veritas curriculum, and she will be a great inspiration to you. Even if you have been teaching the Veritas curriculum for a while, you will learn some new techniques that are sure to help. For details about the Teacher Training Conference, see the Announcements section below.
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