“Leaf by Niggle” by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Tolkien ReaderInformation

Goodreads: The Tolkien Reader
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1945


Niggle longs to complete his final painting before going on a journey he knows he must take, but his neighbor Parish constantly interrupts his work with requests for help.  As Niggle fears, he at length has to depart with his work still unfinished and with nothing to help him on his way except the record of his past conduct.


Briana has touched before on the allegorical underpinnings of Leaf by Niggle, most notably the connection to J. R. R. Tolkien’s own creative process and the obvious parallels between Niggle’s journey and the Christian afterlife.  Though it is, indeed, impossible to read Niggle without reflecting upon both these aspects, the story is so much more than the sum of its elements.  Niggle invites readers, whether artists or not, to participate in the story and go along with its characters to the afterlife, much as The Divine Comedy works by asking readers to identify with Dante-Pilgrim and take a part in his salvific journey.  The result is a powerful reflection, not merely on the role of art in society or the need to do good works or on what we might expect after death, but on how all of these aspects touch us in our own lives.  Reading Leaf by Niggle is an intensely personal experience, one of those kind felt too deeply for words to do it justice.

Not everyone, of course, may relate at first to Niggle.  He is an artist and one apparently modeled on Tolkien himself, with his reputation for getting lost in details and taking too much time to complete any given work.  However, even those who don’t feel creative or think they lack artistic talent can identify with other aspects of Niggle’s personality–his feeling of under-appreciation, his desire to spend more time on the things that matter to him rather than on the things he ought to be doing, his annoyance over the inopportunities created by his friends and neighbors.  Niggle has things that are important to him, but that are not important to anyone else, and he feels alone and he dreads lost dreams. Such experiences are not limited to the artistic.

The resolution of Niggle’s story will prove especially powerful for anyone who, like him, had a dream left unfulfilled.  It promises everything–help and appreciation and beauty and fulfillment.  It is an especially moving moment because it illustrates so perfectly how the vision of others can complement our own and how our own work can become part of something greater than we ever imagined.  Leaf by Niggle is, above all, a story of hope–a story that it says we, too, can share.

Krysta 64

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