Guest Review: “Leaf by Niggle” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Baggins, otherwise known as Kim, is a 28-year-old qualified librarian from Australia, currently studying towards a Masters of Children’s Literature…when she’s not distracted by awesome YA books that she simply can’t get enough of and watching way too much TV. She shares her love of YA fiction through her blog, Baggins’s Book Blabber…and yes, she earned her nickname with thanks to the brilliant Tolkien, his portrayal of Hobbits, and her father’s belief that her preferring to stay at home and read means she is secretly a Hobbit. Like her namesakes, however, she has enjoyed many an adventure and looks forward to lots more! 

Summary (from Amazon): “Leaf by Niggle” recounts the strange adventures of the painter Niggle who sets out to paint the perfect tree.

Review: A beautiful, poignant and hopeful story, “Leaf by Niggle” is sure to touch all readers.

Niggle is an artist who wants to paint the perfect tree. He starts with just one perfect leaf. As he adds to it and creates a whole tree, through its branches Niggle can see a forest, home to an assortment of wildlife, and beyond the forest, a mountain. As Niggle works on his tree it becomes more and more, and he fears he will not complete it before he must go on his journey. Cutting into his time to complete his tree is his disabled neighbour, Parish, who needs his assistance for an assortment of things. Like many of the townspeople, Parish does not understand Niggle’s work – certainly he can not see beyond the scribbles that make up Niggle’s tree. One day while fixing Parish’s roof in the rain, Niggle gets sick, which further cuts into his time to complete his perfect tree. Before he knows it he must embark on his journey, and despite knowing it was coming, Niggle is unprepared. What follows is an adventure unlike any other.

I’m a little sad to say that before being asked to take part in this event I’d only read Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. I’m sure many can relate! Krysta recommended I read “Leaf by Niggle”, and let me tell you, I have been missing out! This is a story everyone should read at least once. It resonates with emotion that every reader will connect with in some way and it’s sure to be one that will stay with you. “Leaf by Niggle” has such a dreamlike quality to it that pulls you in from start to finish. If you’ve enjoyed any of Tolkien’s other works I highly recommend you give “Leaf by Niggle” a go, too…if you haven’t already!

Much has been discussed of “Leaf by Niggle”’s allegorical status. Tolkien himself didn’t always believe his story to be such, but no matter how you look at it, symbolism is rife throughout this wonderful story. Some believe it to be a reflection of Tolkien’s own process creating his works, especially Lord of the Rings, and I must say that the imagery of the forest and the mountain beyond definitely brought to my mind this beloved narrative. Certainly the story can be thought to represent the creation of art as a whole, and its effects and importance. What resonates the most is the allusions to Niggle’s journey and death, purgatory and heaven beyond. I think every person can relate to Niggle’s wanting to complete his work before he embarks on this ‘journey’. To create something or do something that will leave an impact, to leave something behind that will ensure we’re remembered…for me, this made “Leaf by Niggle” truly heartfelt. I especially love the idea that where he didn’t succeed in life, he had the opportunity to do so on his journey before moving on. Maybe what we leave behind isn’t huge or world changing, but it still has its place in the long run. It amazes me how deep and touching, how just so much can be related through one short story.

I also really enjoyed Niggle and Parish’s relationship. How they didn’t quite understand each other until they meet up again on their journey and have the opportunity to work together to create Niggle’s vision into something tangible and much bigger than either could have anticipated. Tolkien has such a way of creating characters that forge everlasting bonds, and “Leaf by Niggle” is no different. No matter how fantastical Tolkien’s stories, they are rooted in a real emotion that ensures a connection between his characters and readers. It’s what makes Tolkien and his works so great and celebrated, I think. Without doubt, “Leaf by Niggle” is one short story not to be missed, so be sure to read and experience it yourself.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Anthology: Tales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R. Tolkien
Published: 1 November 2009
Publisher: HarperCollins

One thought on “Guest Review: “Leaf by Niggle” by J.R.R. Tolkien

  1. David says:

    A fine review! Alas, this is another of Tolkien’s stories I haven’t read—having spent most of my time with The Silmarillion and various Unfinished and Lost Tales. But it does sound like a very touching one. Just from the simple description you give, it sounds like it has much to do with the writing process, or the creation of any art. Sometimes I think Tolkien was a little too harsh towards allegory; done well, it can be among the more natural forms of storytelling (being an ancient form of literature, as it is), and I’m not too surprised that even one of his own stories has allegorical elements.


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